(? The Ringer)
Is it fair to say New Orleans’s Jrue Holiday is underrated at this point? He’s had several instances of strong recognition in his career, including an All-Star appearance and two All-Defensive Teams, as well as praise following his twenty points per game season last year and a great display of defense against Damian Lillard in the 2018 Playoffs. However, question marks have been raised about the validity of his impact. Holiday’s luck-adjusted RAPM in the last three years has been higher than all but one player in the NBA. The dichotomy of his lesser forms of recognition versus supposed impact led me to set out to answer an important question surrounding his true value: what are the percent odds Jrue Holiday provides a random team to win a title?
Holiday’s scoring is one of the strongest indicators of his role: the offensive engine of a moderate offense. Although he plays the shooting guard position, Holiday acts like a point guard in the Pelicans’ offense. He’ll often receive the rock at the perimeter, specializing in either the wings or up top. Holiday typically attacks the basket with very slow drives. He sizes up the defense instead of immediately penetrating to the rim, and this action spurs ball movement on the perimeter and improves New Orleans’s playmaking, as we’ll examine later on. Holiday is exempt from his less pressurized drives by his agility near the hoop. He’s neither particularly explosive nor quick, but his ability to maneuver his hips and sides creates several shots in the paint. However, Holiday converts on a mere 59% of attempts at the rim with his lowest efficiency from within three feet of the rim in three years.
Particularly unique to him in a group of elite NBA players, Holiday rapidly declined in scoring efficiency from last season. He surged in the category from the 2017 to 2018 seasons, posting a +1.4 rTS%, a +3.5% increment from the previous season. The season afterward, Holiday was just below league-average at -0.2%. During 2020, that figure dropped to -2.4%. What created this mostly unforeseen deterioration in scoring efficiency? If we look at his shooting locations in each of the past two seasons, a clear trend emerges that may explain some of Holiday’s shooting deficiencies.
Provided by PBPStats, there are two clear distinctions between the two charts: Holiday’s lack of efficiency in the paint and mid-range attempts in the 2020 season. Perhaps there is a “poor-luck” nature to his woes in the post; Holiday’s efficiency from within three feet of the hoop is the lowest it’s been in the last three seasons. However, considering Holiday’s efficiency in that range this year would surpass each of his marks from his first eight seasons, it’s safer to refrain from a “poor-luck” perspective. Rather, it’s more likely Holiday’s efficiency is stabilizing after two anomalous seasons in the paint. Due to his subpar efficiency and volume that doesn’t compensate for the missed opportunities for his shots, I wouldn’t recognize Holiday as a “good” scorer in the NBA, but his attributes in this facet contribute toward a larger range of team offense.
Holiday’s ability to engineer an offensive is done through his creation and passing rather than his scoring. His aforementioned tendency to start with slow drives toward the paint often spurs the action of the Pelicans’ offense. When Holiday positions himself near an elbow, just outside the paint, his presence is enough to draw defenders from the perimeter inward, as if the middle of the paint is the center of a gravitational force acting against opposing defenders. Holiday’s creation is largely due to his ability to unclog the corners, two spots at which New Orleans frequently positions shooters to take advantage of Holiday’s strengths. His constant ability to carry out this series of events makes up a large portion of his offensive value and points toward his contributions as a creator.
Although he’s not the highest-quality passer in the world, Holiday is still capable of hitting tougher spots in pressurized situations. New Orleans’s passing on the perimeter is among the league’s best, and Holiday’s creation is the initial force behind it. If it weren’t for Holiday’s selective creation, his offensive value would be far lesser. It was enough to grant him a Passer Rating upward of seven on the one-to-ten scale, continuing his statistical trend of high-quality passing. Holiday’s playmaking was worth almost three-quarters of a point per 100 according to Backpicks‘s “PlayVal,” but I think that measurement undermines his capabilities as an offensive funnel through his creation and passing. Due to Holiday’s declogging and perimeter action, I’d denote him as a “very good” playmaker in 2020.
Holiday’s value off the ball is almost exclusive to the perimeter. Given his role as more of a point guard to the Pelicans, he’s frequently required up top to initiate facilitation or score in the post. Resultantly, it’s uncommon to see a consistent string of possessions in which Holiday makes a significant impression in the paint without the rock in his hands. Although his preference of the arc may seem a deficiency at first glance, Holiday provides a number of positives on this front. Despite his 6’3″, 205-pound frame, he’s an effective screener on the perimeter, and similarly a proficient pick-and-roll screener. Holiday plays an extremely active role up top. During conservation situations, he’ll plant himself at a corner, a schematic New Orleans’s offense displayed throughout the season. Holiday’s adequacy as a shooter (35.3% from 3) makes him a great option for the Pelicans in these spots. He may not provide the distinct value of a Stephen Curry or Reggie Miller, but Holiday’s off-ball value is of use to a multitude of offenses.
Holiday’s case as one of the league’s top guards relies on his defense. He plays a low-risk style of defense that minimizes errors. Holiday’s most frequent mishaps, missing deep cutters and flat-footedness in transition plays, are very rare occurrences on the court. His far more prevalent strengths are prominent either on or off the ball. When he’s directly guarding a matchup, Holiday has some of the strongest positionings of any guard in the league. His strong mix of upward and downward stances to match the angle of his opponents cause some of the strongest commotions a 6’3″ guard could do. Holiday consistently staggers offensive sets, denying penetration attempts additionally with his great hands. This is largely in part due to an optimized armlength radius, keeping opponents far enough at bay to prevent foul trouble but close enough to prevent easy drives. As evident from his 1.7 steals per 75 possessions, his pickpocketing capabilities are near the top of the league. Paired with strong defensive coverage, especially on the perimeter and in recovery, Holiday is one of the very best defensive guards in the NBA today.
Impact metrics have a large variance but a stable typical picture of Holiday’s value. His aforementioned luck-adjusted RAPM was second in the entire league. Holiday’s minimum comes from Goldstein’s PIPM at +1.73 per 100 possessions. With an offensive impact typically ranging from 1.5 to 2 points and a defensive impact usually worth 0.5 to 1 point per 100, Holiday’s situational value is mostly stable aside from his RAPM-esque outliers. Play-by-play data certainly paints a greater picture of his value than the box score, and pure situational value argues he’s among the league’s best. However, due to his declining RAPM (+1.4 in 2020), it’s likely a three-year sample is too partial to earlier events. Based on evaluations of Holiday’s offensive and defensive values, I’d denote him as an “All-Star level” player in 2020 and estimate Jrue Holiday provides a random team with 7.7% odds to win a title at full health.