New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans need an aggressive Jrue Holiday now, more than ever.

As the regular season is still less than a week away, The New Orleans Pelicans and Jrue Holiday are approaching a critical stage together. A majority of the pressure placed on the Pelicans to succeed this season falls on the backs of coach Alvin Gentry, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis. However, due to a massive contract extension and the need for consistent help around NOLA’s two stars there’s an argument Holiday has just as much pressure. For him to live up to it, Holiday will need to show a sense of aggression that he has never portrayed before.

Twenty years ago Jrue Holiday would have probably been a great guard in the NBA. With career averages of 14 PPG and 6 APG coupled with a strong defensive presence, Holiday would have fit in with virtually any team. Today, in a game run by the point guard position, the veteran has become somewhat of an afterthought. Holiday has seen both a vast amount of tough luck injuries, and an all time family crisis that makes you wonder in a city known for it’s voodoo, if Holiday is cursed in NOLA.

Holiday, a known family man, with a smile that can light up any room, is without a doubt the type of guy you would prefer your daughter to date. Unfortunately, what is in doubt is his position as a “star guard” on a team. In today’s age fans like their guards menacing, a little flashy, and equipped with a signature pose after a big play. With Jrue Holiday, as competitive as he is, he would probably be focused on helping you place it back together.

When the New Orleans Pelicans signed Jrue Holiday to a 5 year $126 million deal this offseason criticism was heavy, but their message was clear. As much as the team was handcuffed when it came to other solutions, they truthfully believed in Holiday. While Jrue is currently being paid like a top ten point guard, the Pelicans don’t necessarily need him to play like one. They do need him however, to be the team’s third best player behind Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

That doesn’t require him to average 20 points and 10 assists a game, nor does it require the “alpha male” mentality many wish he had. His performance against Chicago in the latest preseason game would suffice. Holiday put up 19 points, 5 rebounds and three assists in that game. On the defensive side, he was just as effective finishing with 3 steals and a very impressive 2 blocks. New Orleans will take those type of performances any day of the week.

I mean, who wouldn’t?

What they cant afford is the Holiday that showed up, post trade deadline last season. He averaged 13 PPG, 7 APG, shot 30% from three and, on top of all this, not a single important offensive category improved other than free throw percentage. The problem was, after Cousins came into town, Holiday became more passive and less aggressive, specifically in regards to attacking the basket.

Holiday managed just 1.7 free throw attempts in comparison to the 3 he averaged before Cousins joined last February. He also averaged more three point attempts (4.5) with limited success. This preseason, that pattern hasn’t changed much as Jrue has shot a combined 4 free throw attempts in 3 games versus 14 threes.

Game three alone was different for Holiday however, as he not only moved the ball fluently, but persistently attacked the rim. Additionally, he only attempted two three’s. Not implying that the point guard should overall take less three’s, but he does need to assert himself more frequently.

For example, out of the top 150 players in free throw attempts last season Holiday ranked 116th. What’s even more intriguing is that out of the players that finished under Holiday, only two averaged more minutes with less attempts. There were also well over 50 players that played less minutes but either tied with Holiday or averaged more free throw attempts for the season.

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Some nights he’ll even have to shoulder the load when AD and Boogie are off. The Pelicans finally have a dominant duo that can carry the team every night, they just need a third option. A backup plan if you will!

That third option isn’t meant to build the house, but just help hold it together. This summers addition of Rajon Rondo should allow Holiday to spend more time off the ball. This should help him focus more on scoring and penetrating, and less on running the offense. There was also a hope that less ball handling would leave Jrue fresher on the defensive side of the floor where his responsibilities are expected to increase. That plan isn’t projected to change.

In their first game without Rondo, NOLA stayed true to their gameplan. Often setting their offense up through point center/unicorn DeMarcus Cousins. There also were zero restrictions on who brought the ball up.

Basically, whoever secured the rebound had free reign to initiate the offense. In previous years the Pelicans lived and died by pick and rolls, off-ball space, and post entries. That’s often how Holiday would create his opportunities as a playmaker. This year, the ball will predominantly swing from corner to corner. Because of this, Holiday will have more off-ball opportunities to “selfishly” create for himself.

Last season only 27 percent of Holiday’s jump shots made were assisted, 31 percent of his layups. The hope is that if those numbers increase, not only will we see a better Jrue Holiday, but a better Pelicans team. Even with Rondo, the Pelicans talent drop from four to five was significant.

Without him, their fourth best player is arguably E’Twuan Moore. No disrespect to him, but that isn’t ideal for the average team looking to compete in the loaded west. For Jrue that entitles more responsibility and pressure on him than perhaps any team’s third best player has in basketball.

It’s hard for one to be a shadow when in the spotlight. The pressure hasn’t changed much for Jrue since he arrived in New Orleans, the team is still at their best when he’s healthy and present. The Pelicans need him now, more than ever to be present, and attacking. With Holiday approaching his first season in New Orleans with a clear mind and a healthy body, there’s hope that he will.