This season has been rough so far for the New Orleans Pelicans. Starting the year 0-8 and ranking near the bottom of many statistical categories, they looked destined for the lottery. Head coach Alvin Gentry was rumored to be on the hot seat even with key contributors like Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday out. Overall, it just wasn’t looking good for the Pelicans.
Even with Anthony Davis posting monstrous stat lines, the Pelicans weren’t having success on either end of the floor. They were playing close games with seven of their first eight losses coming by 10 or fewer points. But it just looked and felt disjointed as the Pelicans didn’t have a consistent second or third scoring option.
Since that winless streak of eight games, the Pelicans are now 4-2 against teams that are collectively 27-24. Two of the wins coming against an inconsistent Bucks team and an injured Celtics team, but the other two have come back-to-back with the help of Jrue Holiday.
As most are aware, Holiday’s wife, Lauren, suffered from brain cancer while she was pregnant. The team let Holiday miss as many games as he needed to tend to his wife and soon-to-be child. It was announced last week that he’d return against the Portland Trail Blazers after his wife recovered from successful brain surgery and gave birth to the couples’ first baby.
Since Holiday’s return, the Pelicans are 2-0 and averaging 117 points per contest. Both wins came against the Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets, teams that both have playoff hopes (and made the playoffs last year). The Pelicans’ body language and on-court performance look much improved. So what’s changed?
The simplest answer would, of course, be Holiday’s return. While that’s the most obvious and identifiable change, there’s also many indirect effects that have happened with his return. The team, which was already lacking depth, can now take a breath and players can fill roles that suit their particular skill sets more.
One of the most underrated team characteristics in the NBA is knowing your role and creating an atmosphere where players feel comfortable. Guys like Tim Frazier, Langston Galloway, Terrence Jones and E’Twaun Moore were having to step up and take some of the offensive burdens off of Anthony Davis, something they didn’t look comfortable doing. This is when you start to see hesitant shots, bad body language and laziness on defense. But now, with Holiday back, they can feel more comfortable in their roles. This, in turn, creates a confident team, which we’ve seen glimpses of over the last few games.
The offense is shooting 49.4 percent from the field since Holiday’s return, which is a significant improvement over their season average of 43.8 percent. It’s apparent on the court as well. The players look collectively more confidence since Holiday’s return and they’re taking better care of the basketball, averaging two fewer turnovers per game. It’s not jaw-dropping statistics, but it all adds up.
With Davis and Holiday on the floor, the Pelicans are a remarkable plus-26.5 and are scoring 123.3 points per 100 possessions. While these numbers are skewed because of the small sample size, they still indicate that the team is significantly better with Holiday in uniform. Having two go-to offensive threats should help the role players on this team play within their respective roles, which is already paying off for the Pelicans.
Both Holiday and Davis will be the keys to this team playing well. Holiday is averaging career highs in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, points, assists and assist to turnover ratio. He looks to be in mid-season form after the emotional offseason and could be entering the most crucial year of his career. At age 28, Holiday is a soon-to-be free agent with a lot to prove. Known as a player who’s never reached his full potential, he could be in line for the biggest season of his career.
With Gentry still coaching this team and Evans’ return imminent, this team has a chance to put their early season woes away. The Pelicans aren’t going to be a top-four seed in the West but they’re trending in a positive direction. As long as Davis and Holiday can stay healthy, this team could build off this streak and try to salvage what has been a difficult season.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.