Jrue Holiday isn’t an afterthought.
On a New Orleans Pelicans team branded by its unique tandem of interior All-Stars, Holiday is climbing into the headlines and squeezing his name into the conversation next to well-known teammates Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
Ever since Cousins was acquired in February, general manager Dell Demps has publicly sold his team’s image as a “Big Three,” including Holiday as an important cog in the team’s future plans. The five-year, $125 million contract extension Holiday signed this offseason cemented that vision.
But, not only did most NBA media and fans ignore the trio storyline to focus on the Davis-Cousins duo, the team even changed its marketing slogan to the frontcourt-focused “Do It Big.”
Holiday, at 6-foot-4, may not be big, but he’s certainly been productive.
Over the past eight games, Holiday is averaging 21.4 points on 48.1 percent shooting, dishing out 4.4 assists while routinely being assigned to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player at the other end.
And in the past two games, he’s become a centerpiece of offense, posting 34 points in a loss to Golden State before chipping in 27 during Wednesday’s win over the Nuggets.
He’ll try to match those gaudy stat lines on Friday night at 7 p.m. when the Pelicans host the Sacramento Kings inside the Smoothie King Center.
“I think Jrue is probably one of the top three one-on-one players in the game today,” point guard Rajon Rondo said. “He displayed it again (Wednesday). He was able to get the ball on wings and up-top (isolations). And no one can really stay in front of him.”
Holiday has firmly put a shaky start to the season behind him, drawing endless praise from teammates and coaches alike while his numbers continue to skyrocket, thanks to an increasingly forceful style.
He’s taking a career-most 31 percent of his field-goal attempts from within three feet of the basket and successfully finishing those at a career-best 70.3 percent rate. He’s already made 11 dunks, just five less than he slammed in 67 games last season.
“Oh man, just his aggression and taking advantage of being a bigger guard,” Cousins said. “We have this Jrue, and I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, he’s one of the best two-way players in this league when he’s aggressive. That’s the guy we need in order for us to move up to the next level. He’s been playing great and he’s taken our team to the next level. We are a tough team to beat when he’s playing that way.”
For his part, Holiday credits his increased forcefulness to Rondo, whose return from injury has coincided with Holiday’s ascendance. And the pair has proven to be lethal.
Over the past eight games, New Orleans is outscoring opponents by 4.5 points per 100 possessions in the 209 minutes they’ve shared the floor. They’re the Pelicans only positive two-man combination net rating, receiving more than 180 minutes.
And it stands to reason.
Rondo’s ability to distribute takes the burden off of Holiday’s plate and with either Cousins or Davis receiving an endless string of double teams, it leaves Holiday available to cut toward the basket and wait for one of the league’s most creative passers to find him.
“Obviously, Rondo takes a lot of the bulk of the pace and swinging the ball and being able to do that from a point guard standpoint,” Holiday said. “So, it leaves me to score pretty much.
“I feel like with Anthony (Davis) out (due to a strained adductor) they need some scoring. And to that point, they keep on emphasizing it for me. Obviously, getting into the paint and our offense is really big on getting there, and then making plays out of it. I’ve just been trying to attack the rim.”