Much of the Pelicans’ success this season will depend on new point guard JRUE HOLIDAY
In the remaking of the New Orleans Pelicans, 23-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday was the first player General Manager Dell Demps obtained, securing him in an NBA draft-night trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.
That was the beginning of six promising new players being brought in, creating a buzz around the team in the city with the hope and expectation of a playoff berth at season’s end.
“We believe we have brought in players that will allow us to change the culture of our team and that they will be able to grow together,” Demps said.
Heading into Wednesday’s season opener against the Indiana Pacers, with a new team, new nickname and a refurbished arena, the realization of those expectations starts with Holiday, a 6-foot-3, athletic point guard capable of scoring like a shooting guard.
However, it was more the other end of the court that made him impressive to Williams, whose coaching philosophy centers on sound, aggressive, consistent defense, game after game.
Williams watched as Holiday took over a game last November at New Orleans Arena and led the 76ers to victory. It was one Holiday turned ugly, ending with both teams scoring in the 70s, but a game Philadelphia won. He controlled both sides of the court, but particularly with his defense.
“He makes it hard for you to run your offense,” Williams said. “He gets on the ball, and other point guards have a tough time making their reads and seeing the floor, because he is going to get in your jock. There’s no other way to put it.”
Williams has taken solace in knowing that, because offense has been more of a challenge thus far for Holiday, coming to a new team with a new lineup.
He went through a bit of an identity crisis of sorts during the preseason trying to be the point guard the Pelicans need before making strides.
“When I was in Philadelphia, I was expected to score more, and that was a bigger part of my thought process, even though I facilitated, too,” said Holiday, who averaged 17.7 points and 8.0 assists last season and was an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time. “Here, we have so much firepower with Eric (Gordon) and Tyreke (Evans), and with Anthony (Davis) and Chief (Al-Farouq Aminu), I can just lob the ball up there.”
So he struggled at times in the preseason, and turnovers appeared to be a red flag.
“I was just trying to be aggressive, and sometimes that happens when you’re trying to be aggressive,” he said.
Williams pulled him on the side.
“I just want Jrue to be Jrue,” he said. “He’s trying to make other guys happy and at the same time, play his game.
“Yes, I want him to run the offense, but I don’t want to take away his aggressiveness, because that’s who he is. His assists are going to go up and his turnovers are going to go down once he gets more familiar with the team.”
Holiday has replaced Greivis Vasquez, more of a pass-first point guard who finished second in assists per game last season at 9.0. Davis, who appears poised for a breakout season in just his second NBA campaign, said it has taken an adjustment, although things have gotten better.
“Jrue is looking to score the ball,” Davis said. “Greivis was looking to score, too, but he wants to pass; not saying Jrue doesn’t.
“When we’re down low, Greivis will dump it off. When we’re down low and Jrue is driving, you just get out of his way.”
However, in today’s NBA, point guards have made a big foray into the realm once reserved for small forwards and, later, shooting guards as some of the game’s most explosive athletes and game-impactors. Holiday was brought in because he provides a much better matchup, particularly on defense, against the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and the San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker. Entering his fifth year in the NBA, he went against tough-to-guard point guards such as the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose and the Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo.
“He’s exactly what we need,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “He has really improved our defense, he can score, and he’s getting better at learning us and where we want the ball. But I think another big thing is he brings a toughness that’s just good to have.”
When the Pelicans obtained Holiday for this year’s first-round draft pick, who was Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, as well as swapping next year’s No. 1 for a 2013 second-rounder, many pundits considered it to be a bad deal for the Pelicans. They pointed to Holiday being more of a combo guard and to reports that he faded late in the season.
To Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade, however, the Pelicans got a gem at an important position.
“He’s a very good young guard, man,” Wade said. “He has many talents. He is steady and unassuming, as well, but he can take over games and make big shots. He’s not afraid of the moment.”
Wade said he is most impressed with Holiday’s demeanor, which he likes for someone whose job it is to handle the ball a lot. He doesn’t get rattled.
“You turn on the TV, you don’t know if (Holiday’s team is) up by 20 or down 20,” Wade said. “His demeanor stays the same, pretty much, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Williams also points to Holiday’s makeup as being special. The coach didn’t know didn’t know exactly what he was getting when the trade was made, other than what he saw on the court.
“The one thing I’m surprised at is how confident he is and how he has allowed me to coach him,” Williams said. “Coming off an All-Star team, you don’t know if he’ll have a chip on his shoulder or blow you off or whatever.
“I get on him about stuff, I talk to him about stuff, and he’s been really receptive. And to have your point guard be that way is cool for any coach.”
That’s a big reason Williams said Holiday’s ability to run the team will catch up with his defensive prowess. With the talent around him, that could make the Pelicans a factor in the Western Conference this season.
“He’s a young guard; he’s only going to get better,” Williams said. “You treasure that because, right now, he’s still moldable as a player. I just want him to go out there and play with confidence.”
Pacers’ Granger out 3 weeks
Indiana Pacers swingman Danny Granger will miss the first three weeks of the season with a left calf injury.
Granger, former Grace King standout, missed the last several preseason games with the injury.
The Pacers said Monday that they are holding Granger out as a “precautionary measure” to ensure he is ready to play when he returns.
Last season, Granger missed all but five games with a tendon injury in his left knee.
The team said there is no concern about the previously injured knee.
Granger is expected to play a key role for Indiana this season as it tries to dethrone two-time NBA champion Miami.