Prior to Jrue Holiday’’s return to the New Orleans Pelicans, the team was 2-10 with losses against non-playoff teams like the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic among others.
Anthony Davis was posting monster numbers, but he wasn’t getting anywhere near enough help from his supporting cast to lift the Pelicans to victory on most nights. In addition to missing Holiday, the team was also without Tyreke Evans (right knee surgery and blood clot in his calf) and Quincy Pondexter (left knee surgery).
Getting Holiday back in the starting lineup has changed everything for New Orleans. With Holiday, the Pelicans are 5-4, with impressive wins over the Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. The team is playing much better with their 26-year-old floor general.
Holiday had missed the first 12 games of the season while his pregnant wife was battling a brain tumor. Thankfully, their child was born healthy and Jrue’s wife, Lauren, had brain surgery to remove the tumor. With that scary episode in the past, Holiday is once again with the team and playing at a high level.
This season, Holiday is averaging 15.4 points, 6.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals, while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range. He’s first in the team in assist percentage (38.1 percent), and he’s second only to Davis in true shooting percentage (53.8 percent), usage percent (26.7 percent) and offensive box plus/minus (1.7).
Not only has Holiday’s return helped the starting lineup, it has also strengthened the bench. The team can now return Tim Frazier and Langston Galloway to the bench rather than forcing them into the starting five. While a toe injury recently kept Holiday out of Monday’s double-overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it doesn’t seem serious and the point guard should be back in the lineup soon.
Talk to anyone around the Pelicans organization, and it’s clear that Holiday’s presence has helped the team immensely.
“We’re definitely more balanced [since] we got Jrue back,” forward Terrence Jones said. “He’s penetrating and creating for himself and others, and it’s just making us an entirely different team offensively. And on the defensive side, for the guards he’s applying a lot of pressure [on them] and making it tough for those guys to get into their offense.
“You get a key piece back to our team with Jrue, and you can see things starting to flow on the first and second unit… I [felt] more comfortable out there knowing he was out there.”
Frazier did a good job of filling in for Holiday while he was out. In 21 games as a starter, he averaged 11 points, 7.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and one steal in 31.4 minutes per game, while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. While Holiday’s return means Frazier will return to a sixth man role, even he’s excited to get Jrue back.
“Jrue coming in brought a huge spark for us and we’ve just been rolling with it,” Frazier said. “A lot of it is confidence. Guys are shooting the ball with confidence and playing hard. A lot of it is just coming out and playing hard with execution. We believe that we’re a good team; we knew that all the way. Now it’s starting to click for us.”
The chemistry between Anthony Davis and Holiday is obvious, and head coach Alvin Gentry believes his team is more comfortable when their two leaders are on the floor together.
“I just thought having him out there, it’s just a calming effect,” Gentry said. “And obviously having him out there with AD, that combination is really good for us.”
Davis has been incredible this year, averaging 31.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals while shooting 50.3 percent from the field. However, even the NBA’s best players can’t win on their own, so Holiday’s contributions have led to more wins and taken some of the burden off of Davis.
One thing that Gentry had stressed prior to Holiday’s return was ball movement and a balanced offensive attack. When Holiday returned, he felt Gentry’s adjustments made it easier for him to get acclimated and shake off the rust that comes from sitting for so long.
“These guys made it easy for me,” Holiday told reporters. “We were trying to get into the rhythm and I think the way they were moving the ball before I came [back] just kind of helped. They were all really encouraging, and they were passing the ball and looking for me so it felt good.”
Holiday believes that a big reason for New Orleans’ recent success is their end-of-game execution. The team is doing a much better job holding onto leads.
“We are starting to close games out,” Holiday told reporters. “When we get up down the stretch and we have the lead, [we] keep that advantage – making the right plays and not having turnovers. Or when we do have a turnover, we get a stop on the other end. We are just executing down the stretch better.”
Holiday missed Monday’s game with his toe injury and he’s questionable to play Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Gentry has told his team that they need to continue competing regardless of who is in the lineup. Remember, this is a Pelicans team that was decimated by injuries last year, so they know a thing or two about playing shorthanded. Gentry doesn’t want his players using injuries as an excuse.
“We’ve just got to keep fighting – no one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Gentry said. “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve got to dig ourselves out of this. It doesn’t matter who’s hurt or not playing. We’ve got to find a way to win games.”
The Pelicans are currently in the Western Conference’s 12th seed, but they are only five games back from the eighth seed. They are hoping to return to the postseason this year after missing the playoffs in 2015-16 with a 30-52 record (due in large part to significant injuries).
Holiday is in the final year of his contract with the Pelicans, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
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