There’s a challenge in being No. 3.
As NBA teams clumped superstars into trios over the past decade, several high-level players have been asked to take a smaller role in the pursuit of complementing superstars, sacrificing All-Star numbers in the hopes of assisting others.
Kevin Love learned this lesson in Cleveland, following in the footsteps of Chris Bosh in Miami and Ray Allen in Boston.
But, the New Orleans Pelicans believe Jrue Holiday can not only help unleash All-NBA performers Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, but also put on a showcase of his own.
It’s why general manager Dell Demps opted to sign Holiday to a five-year, $125 million extension this offseason, locking him in as a franchise cornerstone.
And thus far, Holiday is finding a way to fulfill both roles.
The nine-year veteran is averaging a career-best 18.0 points per game, thanks to converting a career-best 48.1 percent on field goals (including a staggering 55.4 percent of his 2-pointers).
“The way our offense is put together, anybody can have a big night and you can see we have had four different guys score 30 points in a game,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “So, on any given night, he can be the leading scorer. I think it helps having (point guard Rajon) Rondo out there and him being able to play off of the ball, because that’s really what he does great. He’s a great cutter and does a lot of good things like that.
“As far as our expectations of what we expected him to be, we had him before and he’s exactly what we anticipated.”
From Holiday’s perspective, he claims his increased comfort stems more from a rare string of good health than the fat contract or a re-engineered offensive role.
After missing 122 games over his first four seasons in New Orleans due to a series of nagging injuries and family-related issues, Holiday is experiencing his first consistent stretch since being traded in 2013 from Philadelphia (where he was sidelined for five games in three seasons).
His activity off of the ball has also paid dividends.
Since moving to shooting guard a month into the season, Holiday has scored 25 or more points in eight different games, taking advantage of the attention defenses pay Davis and Cousins while capitalizing on Rondo’s desire to share the ball on cuts.
It’s allowed Holiday to live at the rim, attacking the restricted area more often than at any other time in his career. And he’s converting a gaudy 69 percent of those 138 attempts within three feet of the basket.
“It’s been real fun,” Holiday said. “Again, the pace is fast and we get a lot of shots up and a lot of opportunities to score.
“I think it’s been getting better as we are getting to know each other and learn each other’s spots on the floor and get those reps. I know their characteristics and they know mine and every game we play we keep learning, so I expect it to keep getting better.”
So, despite the Pelicans scuffling to a 15-16 overall record, Holiday remains optimistic entering Thursday night’s 6 p.m. tipoff against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center.
He’s scoring at a career-high rate and sees the pieces in place around him to reel off a string of wins and become a true playoff contender.
It’s part of embracing that role of being No. 3.
“This is what I wanted,” Holiday said. “Obviously there’s the two main guys who are going to carry us. We have two point guards who have been through everything and anything and (Tony Allen) who has seen everything as well. We are a veteran team who reads off of each other. We have shooters and slashers and big men in the post. It’s kind of a complete team that meshes on and off the court really well.”