Jrue Holiday shows signs of living up to big contract with Pelicans
With their three-game winning coming to an abrupt end in Atlanta and the Memphis Grizzlies in town having won their previous two against them, the New Orleans Pelicans were once again in need of a bounce back win.
This time it wasn’t Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins playing the role of hero.
Last week I wrote that Jrue Holiday was the Pelicans’ mid-season Most Valuable Player. His improvement and development as the perimeter scoring compliment to Davis and Cousins has been perhaps the most surprising part of the season thus far.
Holiday continued to show his value by scoring a game-high 27 points (21 in the second half), as well as eight assists to only one turnover, five boards, and a blocked shot.
Over his last five games, during which the Pels have gone 4-1, Holiday is averaging 25.6 points on nearly 60 percent shooting (44 percent beyond the arc), 5.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.4 steals.
As Memphis cut the Pelicans’ 15-point halftime lead down to two after three quarters by making a team-record nine three-pointers, one couldn’t help but feel as if New Orleans was about to do it again. Another double-digit lead ready to be squandered. Another inferior foe about to send the Pelicans to unexplainable defeat.
Davis and Cousins were essentially neutralized by the Grizzlies’ defense in the second half, combining for 15 points on 12 shot attempts. So, Holiday stepped up. Big time.
He scored the first points of the final period on a driving dunk, taking a foul from Dillon Brooks in the process. His old school three-pointer gave the Pelicans a little breathing room with an 86-81 lead.
With the lead down to three, and just over eight minutes left to play, Holiday found another gear. A hard-driving layup started a three-minute stretch where he would score 8 of the Pelicans’ next 11 points. When it was finished, New Orleans was in front 103-96.
Holiday would add one more basket for good measure and the Pelicans would add another notch to the win column, improving to 24-21 while holding the seventh spot in the Western Conference.
“Anthony (Davis) told me to be aggressive,” Holiday said after the game. “He told me to get to 20 points and we would win, so I just listened to the captain and did what I could to help the team.”
“I really just take the opportunity that’s given…It’s just so easy when they key in on two people. It’s pretty much just leaving me with one person.”
Whatever chances the Pelicans have of making the playoffs or advancing may rest on the shoulders of the eight-year veteran.
In 45 games, Holiday has topped 20 points 19 times. In those games New Orleans is 11-8 (.578 winning percentage) compared to 13-13 when he doesn’t.
“We know how much he means to this team on both ends of the floor,” added Anthony Davis, who picked up his 24th double-double of the season. “Toward the end, Jrue’s been kind of taking over for us.”
Expected to play more off the ball this season with the addition of Rajon Rondo, Holiday has resumed his duties as the primary ball handler for the Pelicans, particularly down the stretch. He played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter against Memphis at the point.
Holiday and his 5-year, $126 million contract were the targets of ridicule in November when he averaged 16 points per game. But since Dec. 1, he’s putting up 21.5, ninth best among guards who’ve played 20 games or more in that time.
“He’s been incredible,” said DeMarcus Cousins, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds. “He took a lot of heat in the beginning of the year and he just stuck with it. He remained solid throughout it all. He worked his tail off and now he’s playing some of the best basketball of his life. You’ve got to appreciate guys like that. We knew, eventually, it would come around; he’s found his stride and he’s been incredible.”
His production has remained high even as he plays nearly 38 minutes per game due to the Pels’ lack of depth at the point guard position and his stellar defense. He also leads the team in +/- over the past two months.
In any other season, Holiday might be joining Davis and Cousins at the All-Star game in Los Angeles next month, but the overall quality at the guard position out west probably leaves Holiday on the outside looking in.
But, the player who has seen injury, personal challenges, and professional disappointment will remain the most even-keeled member of the Pelicans. Holiday views himself as fortunate to be surrounded by talents like “Boogie and the Brow” and stays focused on the journey as much as the destination; never too high, never too low.
Holiday is growing right before our eyes into the top-50 player he was projected to be before the season began. Maybe it’s time we start to believe in New Orleans’ “other” Jrue.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…