If Andre Iguodala could come off the bench, Alvin Gentry figures, anybody could.
Gentry, the Pelicans head coach, was an assistant last season in Golden State, where the Warriors asked Iguodala — a decade and 615 straight starts into his NBA career — to accept a sixth-man role. He did, the Warriors won the NBA title, and the rest is motivational history.
And so when Gentry moved point guard Jrue Holiday out of the starting lineup, you’d best believe he brought up the A.I. experiment.
“I use it every time,” Gentry said. “That’s my go-to move right there, that here’s a guy that started over (600) NBA games and we asked him to come off the bench and he did. Obviously everyone knows the result of that.”
The Holiday move hasn’t turned New Orleans (10-20) into an NBA title contender. But it’s paying dividends for the 6-foot-4 guard and the Pelicans.
Despite a recent slump — he’s averaging 9.7 points and three assists over his past three games — Holiday has been markedly better over 11 games since moving into a reserve role.
Holiday, who’s averaging 12.7 points and 4.4 assists this season, is scoring more, assisting only slightly less and shooting dramatically better as a sub than as a starter.
New Orleans went 4-10 with Holiday starting. With a healthier roster, the Pelicans are 6-5 since he started coming off the bench.
“Obviously all I care about is winning,” Holiday said. “All I care about is being on the court at the end of the game. To me, it doesn’t matter if I start I not, as long as I’m helping my teammates. If I’m not in the game at the end of the game and I’m a cheerleader, I’m completely fine with that too.”
He’s playing like he’s accepted the bench role.
There are a number of factors that might contribute to Holiday’s rise in production, and one is simply that he’s settling into more of a rhythm as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg that has limited his minutes and prevented him from playing in most of the Pelicans’ back-to-back games.
Those restrictions are expected to be lifted beginning Friday, when the calendar turns to 2016.
But Holiday said the bench routine has helped him find an in-game rhythm.
“When I was starting, it was five minutes, then I came (off the floor) and sat all the way until the last five minutes of the second quarter,” Holiday said. “Being able to come in at like the 5-minute mark (of the first) and playing midway into the second quarter, I get my allotted time to get into my rhythm. It’s definitely helping me out.
It might also be putting him in a more comfortable role.
Playing first-half minutes largely with a reserve unit puts more of a scoring onus on Holiday. He averaged 8.7 shot attempts and 5.9 3-point attempts per 48 minutes as a starter. Off the bench, he’s averaging more shot attempts (9.8) and fewer 3-pointers (3.6) per 48 minutes.
“I think he’s just coming in being a scorer,” teammate Tyreke Evans said. “He’s being him. He’s looking to create first for himself, and if they find a way to stop him, he’s looking to help find guys. When you’re playing like that, that’s how he plays.”
And it’s likely how Holiday will continue to play. Though the restrictions on his minutes and back-to-backs are scheduled to end Friday, Gentry said Holiday likely will remain in his new role into the New Year.
“I do think that he has a nice role coming off the bench,” Gentry said. “He’s accepted that role, and he feels really good about it. I think it’s shown in his play.”