Jrue Holiday can't take bad shots.
No, literally. He couldn't do it if he tried. On a struggling Pelicans offense currently ranked 26th in offensive rating (ORtg) and devoid of consistent scoring options, Holiday should be the last person on this team (ok, maybe second to last) concerned with his shot selection. Outside of a recovering Tyreke Evans, whose time in New Orleans is widely considered to be nearing its end, there are no proven scorers outside of the city's resident superhero, Anthony Davis.
Yet Jrue, the Robin to AD's Batman, often endures stretches where his shot exudes little confidence, leading to in-between shots and forced passes. Following a miss, Holiday frequently puts his head in his hands or shakes his head disappointingly. His lack of confidence on the floor, when struggling, is evident. As seen below, the Pelicans have actually posted a better ORtg with Holiday off the court since his return, meaning they score more points per 100 possessions with him off the floor than on. (Take note, however, that they are elite defensively and have a net positive rating with him on the floor. Jrue is currently fourth among perimeter players in defensive win shares.)
|Pelicans Since 11/18/2016
Ideally, you don't want your starting point guard and potential building block holding back your offense. But there are indications that this isn't an issue of ability alone.
To start, the mantra in New Orleans under Coach Alvin Gentry is ball movement, yes, but also to frequently get the dang ball to your almost-seven-foot-basketball-freak-of-nature. This sounds smart, and it is, but it can often lead to players passing up quality looks to give the ball to AD for a tougher shot. Holiday is a willing passer, and passes to AD a lot; this, in part, leads to some indecision on the court.
This is a typical Holiday sequence. Jrue can dish a great pocket pass, and with a weapon like Davis, it can lead to great results, But with the angle and that sort of space, Holiday should attack the rim more aggressively and often. He has great size and decent burst.
This is also the first season *knock on wood* where Holiday is on track to stay healthy for an entire year in New Orleans. His tenure in the city has been marred with inconsistency. There have been injuries, different coaches, and different systems. Last year when he returned, he came off the bench. He missed preseason and the first twelve games of the season to care for his wife, after Lauren had successful brain surgery, and his newborn child. This season, he's at the head of Gentry's fast-paced offense, which runs counter to Jrue's methodical, probing approach. Add all of this up, and it's not the best recipe for a player to be in rhythm.
Jrue posing an offensive threat is important, though. And it's not as if his presence isn't making an impact; the Pelicans are 15-13 when Holiday plays, as opposed to 2-13 without him. He makes a difference, but with his contract expiring at the end of this season, the team must determine if he's worth a contract in the $20 mil/year range. With such a crucial decision nearing, the Pelicans should make it a priority to unlock their point guard's game and get him comfortable.
One way Gentry can do this is experiment with staggering Jrue and Davis' minutes. Of Holiday's 824 minutes played (excluding the Brooklyn Nets game that Davis missed), a whopping 717 have come alongside AD. That's 87%. Factor in the amount of times Davis has left games early, and you realize Gentry rarely plays Holiday and Davis separately. This is sensible, as coming into the year Holiday was considered a key to unlocking an effective Brow. As seen below, Davis was substantially more efficient with his point guard.
|15/16 Season With Jrue
|15/16 Season Without Jrue
|16/17 Season With Jrue
|16/17 Season Without Jrue
|With Jrue Since Small Ball
|Without Jrue Since Small Ball
That same connection hasn't quite materialized this year. Davis' numbers are actually slightly higher with Holiday off the court, and the gap has actually widened since the Pels switched to the small ball lineup on December 26th.
Giving Jrue a couple of nightly stints with the second unit could allow him to get in more of a scoring rhythm. This also allows you to spread out your best players, ensuring you have quality on the floor as frequently as possible. Other teams employ this tactic with their stars—Toronto, for example, allows both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to lead bench unit shifts.
This could have the same effect as it did last season, Jrue's best as a Pelican. Holiday came off the bench for 42 of his 65 games, running shifts with both the starters and the second unit.
In the instances this season that AD has been absent due to injury, an admittedly small sample size, Jrue has looked more comfortable and aggressive. An example of this was the Brooklyn Nets game on January 12th, when Jrue scored 10 points in the first quarter on 4/6 shooting. He ended with 21, going 7/15 from the field, including 4/6 from behind the arc.
This version of Holiday, attacking the rim and punishing defenders who go under screens, is what the Pelicans need nightly. Is the absence of Davis the reason for Holiday's increased comfort? Maybe it's that simple, maybe not. But there is also a sense that he's still grasping Gentry's offensive system.
Per ESPN's Zach Lowe, Gentry said he thinks Jrue “can do it,” i.e. run the system, "but sometimes he becomes more of a scorer than we would like." An interesting statement, considering Holiday is the most established scoring threat on this team outside of Davis and Evans, who’s had a few too many knee surgeries.
The Pelicans don't need high scoring volume from Holiday, but they do need him to be consistent and at ease while serving as the initiator of the offense. Giving him a stretch each game where he can "get his own" can help get him in rhythm.
Getting mentally right is crucial to finding consistency in your shot, and perhaps running with the second unit effectively will translate to Jrue’s court time with AD. A few great consecutive outings could be all Jrue needs to get rolling.
To make this work, Gentry could allow more time for Evans and Davis to play together. Since December 26th, those increased Davis metrics with "Jrue off" have come with Evans handling the ball. On the macro level, the Pelicans have struggled with both Evans and AD on the floor, posting a 96.3 ORtg. In their 14 games played together, they've only averaged 6.7 minutes on the court per game, and it's usually divided up into short stints. Perhaps this combination deserves a bit more of a run each game, as the Davis-Reke pick and roll has been potent in the past, and Davis himself has been good with Tyreke on the floor. Subbing Jrue out for Evans a bit earlier in the first quarter, and then bringing Jrue in a few minutes before Davis in the second quarter, would do the trick.
It would at least serve as a sufficient holdover to try Jrue out with the second unit. Regarding how Jrue has performed this year without AD on the court, there simply isn't much data available; the only lineup to have logged more than 10 on court minutes is Holiday, Solomon Hill, Terrence Jones, Dante Cunningham, and Langston Galloway, a lineup that has registered 14 minutes over 2 games. That unit has been both good offensively and terrible defensively (116.0 ORtg, 116.4 DRtg).
One pairing that might deserve more run is Holiday and guard E’Twaun Moore. While this duo has struggled when played together season (98.8 ORtg), on paper it’s a combo that should be effective. Both have decent handles, can shoot and pass, and can defend.
With an important decision looming, the Pelicans should be aiming to enable Holiday to flourish in Gentry's system. There's a better player lurking underneath the current pretty good one. He's shown flashes of being a capable running mate next to AD, and there is a sense that the organization wants to bring him back. Even in the midst of a somewhat disappointing campaign, he's been really, really good defensively and still made a substantial impact, and the offensive issues might be mendable—he just needs to get out of his own head.