This article was first published on SLAMonline.com
The Pelicans bet big on Jrue Holiday to be one of the top point guards in the League.
By Lev Akabas
The Pelicans dished out a hefty $126 million on July 1 to keep Holiday in town for at least four more seasons (five if he picks up his player option). “We think his best years are ahead of him,” GM Dell Demps said of the 27-year-old Holiday at the press conference announcing the signing.
The Pelicans didn’t have much of a choice. Jrue was the only starting-caliber guard on the roster, and a tight financial situation left New Orleans unable to replace him with a free agent of comparable quality.
The Pelicans didn’t just re-sign Holiday out of necessity though. The guy was an All-Star at age 23 and is one of the most reliable players at his position when he’s healthy. Only five point guards have averaged 16 points and 7 assists per game combined over the most recent five seasons. Jrue Holiday is one of them. The others? Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and John Wall—all of whom will appear much higher on this list.
Holiday isn’t outstanding at any one thing, but he is good at a lot of things. At 6-4 with a 6-7 wingspan, he has great physical gifts for his position, which helped him lead all point guards last season in blocks per game. He can stroke it from downtown, allowing him to play off the ball, but he can also handle and dish well enough to assume a traditional point guard role.
In addition to getting buckets when he needs to, Holiday can impact the game without taking a lot of shots due to his leadership and high IQ. His assist-to-turnover ratio is always better than 2:1, and his effective shooting percentage is consistently around 50 percent. So he’s a particularly good fit alongside superstar big men Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The Pelicans see Holiday as the third member of their young big three.
No matter how you slice it, Holiday makes his team better. Last season, the Pelicans were 32-35 with Holiday on the floor, but a dismal 2-13 without him. Their net rating per 100 possessions dropped to minus-4.8 when he was out of the game, down from a respectable plus-0.9 with his skills at work.
The big question mark for Holiday is whether he can stay on the court. Holiday hasn’t played 70 games in a season in four years. Not a great sign for someone who is in his prime. Last season, however, was an improvement—Holiday did take several weeks away from the team to care for his wife after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but otherwise he missed only three games with a toe issue.
After two straight losing seasons and with Cousins entering free agency next summer, the Pelicans need to start winning now. They fully expect Holiday to blossom into a star point guard. Now it’s time for him to prove that he is worth it.
2016: Not Ranked
2015: Not Ranked
2014: Not Ranked
2013: No. 42
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.