Jrue Holiday still controls the fate of New Orleans Pelicans ’19-’20 season

Early season slumps bogged down preseason expectations, but Jrue Holiday is finally getting in a groove, a huge turn for the New Orleans Pelicans season.

After starting the season in what one could only describe as ugly for both Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans as a whole, there’s a lot more to feel good about for the Big Easy’s basketball squad.

Winners of three of their last five games, the Pelicans are playing much better basketball, just as their leading man Jrue Holiday finds his footing.

Finally trending in the right direction, Holiday and the rest of the Pelicans have navigated a ton of injuries to key players to get to a 4-9 record that puts them just two games out of the Western Conference Playoffs. Granted, they’ll still have to play 68 more games after tonight.

Perhaps it has something to do with Lonzo Ball dealing with an adductor injury that’s keeping him out of the line-up, thus granting Holiday more touches.

The counting stats on Holiday have looked fine. He’s averaging 17.2 points, 7.1 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per contest.

Jrue struggled to find the bottom of the net early in the season, however, which is why he’s shooting 39.4% from the floor and 32.2% from three to start the year. The shot selection to start the year was pretty poor, but as the year wears on, Holiday is getting more looks from three and around the rim.

Over the last three games, as the Pelicans have been without Lonzo, Holiday is shooting 45.8% from the field and 56.3% from three, averaging 24 points, 6.7 assists, and 3 steals.

While Jrue is getting better in a ton of areas as the season progresses, he continues to be way too sloppy with the basketball. Averaging 3.5 turnovers per game, his highest rate in a Pelicans uniform, Holiday is averaging 5.2 turnovers over the last five games.

Seemingly playing his way out of a slump, one that could’ve easily been caused by the left knee sprain that held him out for a pair of games to start the year, Jrue Holiday mostly back on track.

Holiday looks increasingly clever at navigating defenses in general as the season progresses, a welcome sign for the Pelicans.

With plenty of miles seemingly left in the tank for the 29-year-old guard, the Pelicans continue to trust him with the future of the franchise. Granted, he is the team’s highest-paid player, as he signed a five-year, $126 million extension just two years ago.

Knowing youth would always be a factor, Jrue Holiday is starting to lead by example, probably the best method for the quiet warrior.

Jrue Holiday might not have a lot to say and will never be one to feed the media juicy quotes, but at this point, folks should’ve come to expect the New Orleans Pelicans star to be that guy.

Before the season, Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin told media members plenty of times that the club wanted to keep Jrue despite moving on from Anthony Davis.

However, Griffin put a lot of pressure on Jrue to not only be a leader for this team or to make a run at an All-NBA team but restated multiple times his belief that Holiday could make a push for the MVP come time for award season.

Until a trade sent Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, Holiday enjoyed life away from the leading role but played really high-quality basketball alongside one of the very best players in the game.

There was simply always going to be an adjustment for Jrue, who’s never been asked to be the leading man on an NBA team in his career.

While Holiday isn’t shy to pressure, he does have something of shy disposition in general.

Whenever Zion Williamson gets back on the court, which could still be a couple of weeks away, the pressure should be, to some extent, relieved from Jrue Holiday. Any interplay developed between the two should allow the team as a whole to make a big stride.

Still playing with plenty of fire and hustle on the floor, Holiday does a lot of things to help this team in an understated way, including playing some of the best off-ball defense in the league.

Currently ranked ninth in the league with a 2.9% steal percentage, owning a 108 career defensive rating, and 21.2 career defensive win share, Holiday ranks high among elite defensive guards around the league.

Notably good in clutch defensive moments, Holiday is helping to put this team in a position to win games in the final quarter, even as the rest of his teammates still struggle to stop the ball.

The New Orleans Pelicans own the second-worst scoring defense in the league, the team gives up around 120 points per game and allows opponents to shoot 47.3% from the floor.

Opponents have a tough time against Holiday, holding scorers to a 40.5% rate from the field, even as they hoist 13.4 attempts per game against the Pelicans’ stopper.

With Alvin Gentry using his All-Star guard in a more comparable fashion he used him over the past few seasons, Jrue Holiday is playing a higher level of basketball, making him a much more ideal two-way threat than he was to start the year.

Jrue Holiday is going to have a tricky test tonight as McCollum and Lillard roll into the Big Easy.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Jrue Holiday still have a lot to prove during this first run of the rebuilt organization. Tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Pelicans have a chance to knock-off a 5-9 team and jump them in the Western Conference standings.

In order to grab a win, the team needs to find a way to lock down the strong backcourt of C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, and the impressive youngster Anfernee Simons.

Jrue Holiday should be up to that task.

Just starting to play up to the defensive standard those have come to expect from the eleventh-year guard, keeping the Trail Blazers’ biggest sources of scoring under control should be the top priority for Holiday.

Some may be focused on the debut of Carmelo Anthony, but Holiday, McCollum, and Lillard will undoubtedly have a bigger impact on the outcome of the game (you can quote me on that one).

It’ll still be key for the team to get a positive offensive contribution from the veteran guard, especially with so many injuries to key players. In addition to Ball, Jahlil Okafor Frank Jackson, and Brandon Ingram might miss tonight’s action, while Derrick Favors and Josh Hart are out.

Getting wins over Western Conference Playoff contenders is going to be key to putting this Pelicans team back on the rails. Otherwise, they could be on the outside looking in at the season’s end.

Next: The Pelicans are finally playing quality basketball

With the departure of Davis, the spotlight was naturally going to brighten on Jrue Holiday as the remaining star from a past era of Pelicans basketball. While the light might’ve been too bright at first Jrue seems to be finding comfort and in an augmented role for New Orleans.

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