If Jrue Holiday were to be drafted onto any team in any era of the league he would make that group better. Holiday’s NBA modus operandi for most of his career: compete every night and do whatever you can to help your team win. It’s no secret that he revels in defensive acumen. For Holiday, making the All-Star team as a 22-year-old would pale in comparison to the opportunity to snag Defensive Player of the Year.
He has the chops to be that caliber of a defensive stud, though players his height rarely receive recognition. Of the 37 award winners, just three players stand at or below Holiday’s 6-foot-4 stature: Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, and Gary Payton. Payton was the most recent recipient in 1996. Since then, only players officially listed as a forward or center have received the honor.
Holiday has garnered less prestigious accolades in his ten seasons – the aforementioned All-Star appearance in 2013, All-Defensive First Team in 2018 and All-Defensive Second Team in 2019. His game leaves an impact on the best players in the league, including Kevin Durant and James Harden. Both have remarked in post-game interviews that Holiday is one of the league’s very elite on defense.
To only focus on Holiday’s defense does an injustice to his overall impact. Jrue Holiday has been one of the league’s most dynamic guards throughout the decade, even while struggling through 25 games this season. He peaked during the 2017-18 season, averaging 22 points per 36 minutes and shooting 60% from the floor. In the first round of the playoffs, against the Portland Trail Blazers, Holiday defended Damian Lillard and limited him to 18.5 points per game on 35% shooting. In the next round, against the eventual-champion Golden State Warriors, Holiday was tasked with guarding Durant.
That short stint may be the most successful season in New Orleans’ expansive NBA history, including the 1970s Jazz teams. The only other consideration is the 2008 Chris Paul Hornets outfit, which also fell in the semifinal round. So far this season the Pelicans have floundered, and at the time of this writing have lost 13 straight games. They’ve struggled mightily defensively, and currently rank 29th in the league overall. Last season the Cleveland Cavaliers allowed 117.7 points per 100 possessions – the worst mark in league history. So far, the Pelicans are allowing opponents to score 115.5 per 100 possessions.
When General Manager David Griffin took over the Pelicans front office in the spring, he offered high praise for Holiday. In an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio, Griffin likened Holiday to Steve Nash (Griffin worked for the Phoenix Suns at the time when Nash won back-to-back MVPs) in terms of potential consideration for the MVP award. Holiday entering the MVP conversation, considering the level of play from Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Harden, seems implausible. The statement is more a testament to the level of credibility Holiday has acquired from the most respected figures across the league.
Given the slow start this season (in light of the series of sustained injuries) for the Pelicans, some might opine that Holiday has peaked already. The data suggest that Holiday’s impact reached elite territory for a guard over the past two seasons. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Pelicans were +12.5 in 2017-18 and +14.3 in 2018-19 when Holiday was on the floor, in the 96th and 97th percentiles among all guards, respectively.
In terms of availability and regular-season impact, Holiday’s strongest season may well have been 2017-18 when he played 2,900 minutes and transformed New Orleans on both ends of the floor. 2012-13 is the only other season in which Holiday reached the 2,900-minute mark so far in his career. The Pelicans allowed a stingy 98 points per 100 possession in Holiday’s 2,900 minutes in 2017-18 (not a small sample size). Then Pelican Anthony Davis posted his highest points per shot attempt figure – a measure of how many points are scored per 100 shot attempts – that season as well. 72% of Davis made shots were assisted on that season, the highest mark in any of his past four seasons. You can bet that increase was in large part due to Holiday.
The inconvenient truth for Griffin and the Pelicans is that Holiday’s timeline does not align with the franchise’s. New Orleans drafted 19-year-old phenom Zion Williamson in June, a week after offloading Anthony Davis for a host of young assets and draft picks. Brandon Ingram – one of the young players included in the deal – has risen to an All-Star level. Ingram enters restricted free agency this summer, where he’ll certainly command a max contract. Griffin will likely take that number and commit to an Ingram-Williamson duo, surrounded by New Orleans’ upcoming myriad of draft assets.
The Pelicans are by no means restricted from keeping Holiday, Ingram, and Williamson and remaining under the cap. This leaves the door open for Griffin to make any number of moves. Holiday’s contract favors the Pelicans until it balloons to $40.7 million in 2022-23. Holiday has a player option the summer before, which may change the calculus depending on New Orleans’ trajectory.
With the opening of trade season on Sunday, December 15, Holiday was among those mentioned across the rumor mill. It’s inevitable in today’s NBA for a player in his athletic prime, on a semi-tradeable contract, bound to a roster that is already 15 games below .500 to hear whispers. There are contenders who need a two-way option at point guard, including the Lakers and Heat.
The Lakers would be the best fit for Holiday’s skills. Acquiring him would cement their status as the Western Conference’s best team. A three “guard” rotation of James, Holiday and Rajon Rondo would ensure the Lakers lineup featured playoff level talent at point guard for 48 minutes a night. They would have to let go of some of their fringier early-season contributors in a deal – Alex Caruso being the prominent candidate. It is nearly impossible for the Lakers to give the Pelicans any more of their future draft assets. Holiday is from the Los Angeles area, and his interest in returning home could factor into the equation.
Miami makes more sense on paper, given the plethora of middle-sized contracts that could help facilitate a deal. The Heat would not necessarily have to include Goran Dragic, though he seems like the obvious candidate. Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Tyler Herro are all untouchable after hot starts for each individually. Justice Winslow is another option in a deal – one who would fit in well on the versatile roster David Griffin is trying to outfit.
Nearly all of the league should be interested in Holiday given his contract and age. The Bucks, Raptors, Wizards, and Nets are other possible suitors who could offer a respectable trade package. Three of the four already feature a prominent option at the point guard position. Griffin has already refuted rumors and scorned the idea of entertaining any outside options for Holiday.
Regardless of the jersey Holiday dawns later in the season, he’ll directly improve the team’s chances of qualifying for a postseason birth. Griffin will be reluctant to part with his star guard when he still has two years and a third-year player option remaining on his deal. The Pelicans are playing the long game now, and any promise of eminence from Williamson this season could alter Griffin’s perspective. Over the next two months, a lot of talks will center around Holiday and the Pelicans’ future. With the team’s general manager, the #1 overall pick, and the city of New Orleans behind him, you can count on Holiday doing what he does best – competing.