Jrue Holiday’s check list is long, complicated and intimidating.
Every night, the New Orleans Pelicans’ guard enters the arena knowing a scroll of assignments await him on the team’s detailed scouting report.
First, he’ll be asked to defend the opponent’s best perimeter player. Second, Holiday will be relied upon to score from the inside and outside, facilitating the offense through cuts, passes and drives while ensuring Anthony Davis and the rest of the Pelicans get ample touches.
Oh, and since he’s one half of the team’s leadership nucleus with Davis, he’s also required to set an energy example throughout the game, chasing elite scorers around screens and then running opponents off of them. And, by the game’s end, he’ll likely lead the Pelicans in minutes, since there’s no one else on the roster who can accomplish either of his primary assignments.
“It’s a lot, but I love it, ” Holiday said earlier this season. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
It makes nights like Wednesday’s 107-98 win over the Chicago Bulls that much more rewarding.
Most noticeably, he buried the Pelicans’ two most critical shots to seal a victory in the final two minutes, grabbing a pair of crucial rebounds in the process. But he also held Bulls’ swingman Zach LaVine, the league’s third-leading scorer, to his second-worst outing of the season, allowing him to make just 9-of-26 attempts.
Holiday finished just an assist shy of a triple-double, a stat line that coach Alvin Gentry said didn’t nearly reflect his importance to the victory.
“We just ask so much of Jrue, we really do,” Gentry said. “He has to guard the guy that’s trying to get 30 every night and over the course of 30 or 35 minutes, he probably goes through 150 screens and he just keeps playing and not worrying about it.
“Zach LaVine is a heck of a player, he can get his own and is as athletic as they come. I thought Jrue did an outstanding job on him. I don’t know how many he scored with Jrue guarding him, but I know it’s less than he usually does.”
While Wednesday’s win was an exemplary example of Holiday’s all-around impact, it wasn’t an outlier. Although the Pelicans’ defense has struggled as Davis recovers from a sprained elbow and Elfrid Payton remains sidelined with a sprained ankle, Holiday hasn’t wallowed.
Even as opponents’ scoring numbers piled up during the Pelicans’ recent six-game losing streak, several teammates lauded Holiday’s tenacity on both ends.
“He’s a hell of a player, man,” Davis said after beating the Bulls. “He can do it on both ends. When he’s playing like this and being the Jrue Holiday that we all know, we’re a tough team to beat and he’s a tough player to guard.”
There’s always another night, though. And another difficult assignment awaits.
Although the Phoenix Suns occupy the bottom of the Western Conference standings, there’s no time for Holiday to relax. When he arrives to the Smoothie King Center in advance of Saturday’s 6 p.m. tipoff, he’s aware the scouting report will leave the toughest obligation awaiting him.
This time it will be Suns’ guard Devin Booker, who averages 26.5 points and can score from nearly every spot on the floor. He’ll be running off screens, driving to the basket and pulling up from well beyond the 3-point line to connect on shots nearly no one else on the floor can.
Then, Holiday will put the ball in his hands and direct the Pelicans’ fast-pace offense on the other end.
It’s all in a night’s work.
“We ask Jrue to do a lot,” Gentry said. “We ask him to guard the best player on the perimeter, it doesn’t matter who it is, we want him to get 20 points, we want him to get double-digit assists and then we play him a lot of minutes. He never complains, he never says anything. He just does whatever I ask him to do.”