Loss to Utah proved value in Jrue Holiday’s defensive brilliance for Pelicans

Last night, the New Orleans Pelicans were a bad call away from forcing the Utah Jazz into overtime, but having Jrue Holiday on the floor would’ve helped.

Winning is never easy in this league, but the Pelicans are starting to show they have the fortitude to starting building victories as a team. However, as they learned last night, winning is certainly easier for New Orleans when Jrue Holiday is on the floor.

Last night against the Utah Jazz, the New Orleans Pelicans were without Holiday, who was questionable but eventually ruled out after suffering a left elbow contusion in Saturday’s win over the Sacramento Kings.

Clearly missing their leading defender yesterday, the team will hope the guard’s outage is a short-term issue that’ll resolve itself before the weekend.

Without Holiday to help hold Utah in check, the Pelicans defense suffered mightly, allowing the Jazz to hit 16-of-33 three-point shots as the team took a 126-128 loss after the refs missed a foul on Brandon Ingram at the buzzer.

All game long, the Pelicans felt the lack of Holiday in the lineup; he’s been key to a defense that ranks twelfth in the league with a 108.8 defensive rating since Dec. 13, when the team really started to turn that part of their game around.

More than his 19.6 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per contest, Jrue is leading this Pelicans team in a lot of intangible factors when he’s been on the court.

His ability to keep the team sturdy despite a lot of miscommunication on both ends of the floor to start the season has been inspiring, to say the least. Without Holiday leading the defense, the Pelicans simply don’t have the same intensity on that end of the court.

This year for the Pelicans, Jrue Holiday has played to a level worthy of ranking with the All NBA Defense First Team class at the end of the 2019-2020 season.

Named to the All NBA Defensive First Team in 2018 and then All NBA Defensive Second Team in 2019, Holiday looks more than capable of rejoining the ranks of the league’s voted top-tier defenders at season end. In New Orleans, he’s become the centerpiece of a resurgent group.

Typically tasked with bodying the best shooter on the other team, as shooters take 12.5 attempts per contest, but convert at a 41.1% rate.

Jrue Holiday is also the league’s per-game leader in deflections, causing 4.5 ball disruptions on opponents per contest. The Pelicans are also the league’s deflections per game leaders, causing 17.8 as a team on a nightly basis.

Per Cleaning The Glass data, Holiday as also playing bigger than his 6’3″, 205 LBS frame, as he ranks in the 93rd percentile among his position group in block percentage and 87th percentile in offensive rebounding rate.

When he’s on the floor, Holiday also does a nice job keeping opponents off of the stripe, meaning he does a really good job playing intense defense without fouling (in the 63rd percentile among his position group).

It’ll be interesting to see how Jrue Holiday helps Zion Williamson‘s arrival on the defensive end. So far in his NBA career, Holiday has made other defenders look better with his ability to recover quickly and by playing formidable help defense outside the painted area.

With the rookie’s arrival to the starting lineup, he’ll be a unique piece in what’s been a resurgent unit since Derrick Favors‘ return on Dec. 13, when the Pelicans really started turning things around.

Throughout the last two months, the media has started pushing the Jrue Holiday trade narrative, but the New Orleans Pelicans are simply playing too good with their franchise player on the court to make that a reality, especially on the defensive end.

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The New Orleans Pelicans are right in the mix for the Western Conference Playoffs and if they do make that leap, Jrue Holiday will certainly be a healthy part of the equation. Hopefully, his own sake, league voters recognize Holiday’s effectiveness in their end-of-the-year selections.

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