Jrue Holiday built a reputation.
During a season of upheaval and hopelessness, there was always Holiday. Night after night, in wins, losses, blowouts and close games, he showed up, played hard and contributed in ways far beyond the box score.
On Wednesday afternoon, that stubborn, constant effort was rewarded, as the Pelicans guard was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team. It comes a year after Holiday earned a first-team slot as part of a successful Pelicans playoff season.
While last year’s honor was grander, this one is in some ways more impressive.
The Pelicans won just 33 games. They ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency.
And yet, when it came time to fill out a ballot of the best defenders in the league this season, Holiday’s name littered the media’s votes. In fact, he finished just 10 points (first-place votes worth two, second-place votes worth one) behind Eric Bledsoe from earning another first-team spot.
The final placement isn’t what matters here. This award means far more than those distinctions offer.
This one is special.
“I think for a while I was forgotten because I was injured or had minutes restrictions and things happened with my family,” Holiday told The Advocate last month about his growing reputation. “But I think to get a few full seasons in and really be able to show my ability, it may be just a little reminder.”
Nearly every player in the NBA requires a winning team to show off their defensive abilities. Without piling up an array of blocks and steals, it’s nearly impossible to convince onlookers about someone’s defensive prowess when losses are commonplace and opponents are burying shots around him.
Somehow, though, Holiday’s reputation withstood all that.
He’ll go down as the only guard this decade to make an All-Defensive team while playing for a team with a losing record. In fact, he is just the second player since 2007 to do so, joining Kevin Garnett (2007) and teammate Anthony Davis (2017).
So, how did he do it?
First, by always taking on the Pelicans' toughest defensive assignment (unless that player was taller than 6-foot-9). James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving all looked at their matchups against New Orleans and saw Holiday’s name waiting for them.
And he was relentless in the pursuit of locking them up.
“No one goes harder than Jrue,” Pelicans teammate Solomon Hill said. “Nobody.”
Time and again, opposing players spent portions of their postgame news conferences lauding Holiday’s doggedness. Damian Lillard called him “really strong and quick," while Harden said he’s a “tough guy to go against.”
So night after night, Holiday’s reputation grew. And even as the franchise around him crashed, when Davis requested a trade and general manager Dell Demps got fired at the All-Star break, Holiday only grew more respected by his own teammates and opponents.
“That probably is what means the most to me,” Holiday told The Advocate. “For guys to recognize my talent and abilities and my effort. It’s obviously cool for fans to see it and non-basketball minds, but I think my peers who play the game and know what I go through on a daily basis, that means a lot.”
Now, as the franchise changes around him, Holiday has given new executive vice president David Griffin a stable presence in the locker room and on the court to build a foundation from. It’s someone Griffin can count on to play hard, even when things aren’t going in the right direction.
Wednesday’s award only cemented that notion.
“We ask Jrue to do more than any other player in the league,” coach Alvin Gentry said in March, at least the 50th time this season he had made such a remark. “He has to guard the best player on the other team, score 20 points, get 10 assists and play just about more minutes than anyone else in the league.
“How do you not respect that?”