The city of Philadelphia is rightfully excited by Michael Carter-Williams. It has been quite some time since the 76ers were in possession of a legitimate star, and while MCW has a long way to go before we declare him one, early returns have been promising. But let’s not forget that only a few months ago, the Sixers had a “certified” stud in the backcourt.
Jrue Holiday has played roughly a quarter of the season and thus far he’s been everything that the New Orleans could have possibly wanted. He’s not exactly causing the Sixers’ front office to lose sleep (Nerlens Noel, and a first round pick??) but Holiday’s numbers have been stellar.
In many respects he’s a more efficient player than last season. While his scoring average has dropped from 17.7 to 15.1 per game, his shooting percentage has risen from 43.1 to 45.4. That’s all while keeping his assist count right around the eight per game that he averaged in his final campaign for the Sixers.
In Philadelphia, Holiday had no help. At least, that’s you’d hear from those who thought he was worthy of an All-Star selection. The fifth-year guard is getting plenty of help in New Orleans, primarily with Anthony Davis, one of the league’s most devastating pick-and-roll options. Averaging 1.3 points per possession (PPP) as a roll man, the sophomore ranks third in the league in such sets.
With that in mind, one may assume Holiday’s P&R numbers would rise significantly. But for a multitude of reasons, they haven’t. After ranking 80th in PPP as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls last season, Holiday is currently ranked 73rd. We’re of course dealing with a small sample. Plus, Davis has missed a third of the season with a hand injury. But what we’ve seen thus far is no different from last season.
Even more glaring is the difference in Thad Young’s success in the pick-and-roll between this season and last. After ranking 86th in the league as a roll man last year, he’s up to fourth with 1.27 PPP, and he’s shooting a marvelous 58.5 percent on such plays. While this could simply be an indictment of Doug Collins’ offense, at least some responsibility falls on Holiday’s shoulders.
Part of the problem is Holiday’s propensity for turnovers. It’s not that he has a bad handle, but too often he’s loose with the ball, and opposing defenders make him pay.
If Holiday was a dynamic scorer, on par with someone like Russell Westbrook, or possessed an elite talent, like John Wall’s speed, it’d be easier to live with those type of faults. But if he’s not getting to the line and not scoring with efficiency, his assist to turnover ratio become especially important. For reference, let’s look at where he sits in that category among point guards.
The turnover and pick-and-roll numbers are troubling, but Jrue has made a leap in several important areas, most notably in spot-up shooting. After ranking 121st during his last season with the Sixers, he’s on the fringes of the top 50 with 1.15 PPP this year. That, perhaps, is a product of his talented teammates. With Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Davis attracting attention–more attention than say, Nick Young, Evan Turner, and a non 3-point shooting Spencer Hawes–Holiday has more opportunities for open perimeter looks.
He’s also stepped up his game on defense, long considered the strongest aspect of his game. Holiday rates as the 15th best defender in isolation in the league, and he has been significantly better at protecting the three-point line in the pick-and-roll. Opponents are shooting just 23.8 percent from deep on such plays, compared to 42.9 last season. This is another area where Holiday is benefiting from having the budding superstar on his side. With Davis–and not Hawes–protecting the rim, Holiday can be more aggressive going over the top of screens.
But even with Holiday’s defensive prowess, the Pelicans have a poor standing in most of the major defensive categories. They rank 26th or lower in opponent points per game, shooting percentage, and points per shot. Holiday can do his damnedest to keep his man from scoring, but New Orleans’ poor wing defenders can render his work useless. (This speaks to the value of a solid defensive system, as much as anything else.)
Again, we’re just 25 games through. But thus far, Holiday’s been just about exactly what we had expected: a solid two-way guard on a cap-friendly contract with a high floor and a fringe All-Star ceiling.
Was it worth trading him for a potential franchise big man and another likely lottery pick? Well, yeah. But he’s still a point guard that all 30 NBA teams would love to have.