The Pelicans’ Clipped Wing

By Andrew Lang

The New Orleans Pelicans’ acquisition of point guard Jrue Holiday was supposed to be the difference maker for a franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2010/11 season. Now, almost two years later, Holiday’s future is mired in uncertainty and his value has been anything but obvious.

When the Pelicans acquired Holiday at the cost of two first round picks, it was viewed as a move that could help the franchise improve. Many saw Holiday as someone who could be the two in a one-two punch with teammate Anthony Davis. However, Holiday has only been able to play in 71 of the team’s games since his acquisition.

When New Orleans acquired Holiday, he was coming off the best season of his career. Holiday had earned his first career All-Star berth after averaging 17.7 points per game, 8.0 assists per game, and 1.6 steals per game for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Holiday was a young, long, and athletic guard. It was thought that since he would only be 23 years old in his first season with the Pelicans, he could grow with the rather young core the Pelicans had in place.

Now though, Holiday has been dealing with injury problems for two seasons and his future is unclear. In his 71 games with the Pelicans, Holiday has posted averages of 14.8 points per game, 7.5 assists per game, and 1.6 steals per game. Those numbers are quite good but still worse than his All-Star season in Philadelphia.

However, the Pelicans have managed to stop up in Holiday’s absence this year. The Pelicans are tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. New Orleans also own the tie-breaker having beat the Thunder in the season series 3-1. Tyreke Evans in particular has been important in filling the void left by Holiday’s absence.

This year, Evans has posted 16.6 points per game, 6.5 assists per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 1.2 steals per game. Those numbers in many ways seem more valuable than those that Holiday puts up but Holiday still has value to this team when he is healthy.

Whether the Pelicans like it or not, Holiday looks to be part of their future. His contract runs through the 2016/17 season and the trade market for a point guard who has missed more than half a season for the last two seasons likely won’t be too favorable towards the Pelicans. The numbers might suggest that the team should move forward with Evans as their starting point guard for the future but the advanced stats cloud the picture in that regard.

Holiday has Evans beat in a number of categories. Holiday’s win shares per 48 minutes of .119 come in higher than Evans at .078. Holiday’s box plus/minus is a 2.3 to Evans’ 1.7. Holiday beats Evans out in PER, true shooting percentage, assist percentage, steal percentage, and posts a lower turnover percentage as well.

Those numbers seem to indicate Holiday is the better player. The tape in many ways validates that as well. Holiday has a defensive rating of 107 with Evans’ coming in slightly higher at 108. Holiday is clearly the better defender of the two though. Holiday played in two of the Pelicans four games against the Thunder. In those two, he was often matched up against Russell Westbrook. In the first game, Westbrook posted 21 points, 7 assists, and also 7 turnovers while shooting 30.0 percent from the field. In the second game, Westbrook posted 29 points, 8 assists, and also 5 turnovers while shooting 37.0 percent from the field.

In the third and fourth games against the Thunder, Holiday was injured and didn’t play. Eric Gordon and Evans each spent significant time guarding Westbrook. Westbrook though seemed unphased by the defense as he set his career high in scoring (since surpassed) each night. In the third game, Westbrook put up 45 points, and 6 assists, as well as 6 turnovers, while shooting 58.1 percent from the field. In the fourth game, Westbrook put up 48 points, and 11 assists, with only 3 turnovers, while shooting 53.6 percent from the field.

Holiday may not be healthy right now, but Holiday can still be valuable for the Pelicans. After all, Holiday is only 24 years old. The trade for Holiday seems like a failure right now, but the story is not yet fully written. He is still young enough to bounce back from these injuries and become the two in a one-two punch with Anthony Davis. After all, the Pelicans are in a battle for the eighth spot in the playoffs. There is still significant room to improve as a team. Jrue Holiday can still be the difference maker for the New Orleans Pelicans.

*All stats and information are from basketball-refrence.com

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