Jrue Holiday readily points out that he has more talent and scoring prowess around him with the New Orleans Pelicans this season than he had with his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
But with that luxury comes an arena-sized responsibility: making it all work.
Nearly two weeks into training camp, Holiday has been in perpetual adjustment mode. He has been trying to learn the playbook, coach Monty Williams’ plethora of detailed defensive schemes and his teammates’ tendencies and strengths in an effort to maximize their abilities.
Nobody said it would be easy. Heading into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks in Biloxi, Miss., Holiday said his head has been spinning.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “Obviously, at times, it’s been frustrating. I’ve got a lot of questions, and coach wants me to ask all of them. I feel comfortable going to him and the staff if it’s about players or schemes, offensively or defensively.”
Compounding matters is that the Pelicans jumped into preseason play after just four days of practice. Williams said he had to cram a lot of information into his players just so they could be ready to play, even if it’s only the preseason.
Although Holiday’s abilities have been obvious, particularly on defense, he has had his struggles. In three preseason games, Holiday has 18 assists against 17 turnovers, including eight giveaways in the Oct. 5 opener at Houston.
“I think he’s getting used to the guys,” Williams said. “His turnovers have been a little high. … It’s a lot. He’s trying to balance being aggressive and finding all these guys who can knock down shots. When you’re a point guard, you can’t just pick up (the system) for yourself. You have to pick it up for all five spots, and those guys typically have it rough.”
In one stretch against Houston, Rockets reserve point guard Patrick Beverley repeatedly stole the ball from Holiday and went in for baskets. Holiday didn’t blame the miscues on the uncertainty of new plays or teammates.
“It was just carelessness,” he said. “He just picked me. He’s a good defensive player. He got me three or four times. As a point guard, you have to be able to take care of the ball, no matter if there’s a hound dog on you or somebody who’s not playing defense at all.”
Holiday and Williams have been encouraged that every game — every quarter of late — his assist-to-turnover ratio has improved. In the opener, it was three assists to eight turnovers. Against Dallas on Monday, he had six assists and four turnovers. On Wednesday against Orlando in Jacksonville, Fla., he had nine assists and five turnovers.
“His second half against Orlando was about as sound as you can be in running the team, making the right plays,” Williams said.
The Pelicans acquired Holiday because he is the athletic kind of point guard necessary to compete in a position loaded with them. He averaged 8.0 assists last year to 3.7 turnovers — certainly nothing to brag about.
He really has been more of a scoring point guard — he averaged 17.7 points last season, when he made the Eastern Conference All-Star team — than one whose mindset is primarily setting up teammates.
That also has been part of Holiday’s adjustment.
“It’s different because I’ve been in that mindset that ‘I’ve got to score; I’ve got to score,’ ” he said. “Here, I think it’s about getting everybody involved, getting a good flow and a good bounce.”
While using the preseason to try to figure out how to achieve that, he’s doing so without the help of two players — guard Eric Gordon and guard/forward Tyreke Evans. Gordon has been getting in shape since rehabbing after ankle surgery and may begin practice next week. Evans sprained his left ankle against Houston and is expected to be out another week, although he could return sooner.
Their arrival could mean another adjustment, which Holiday said likely will have to be made by all three. Fortunately, he said, he and his teammates have five more preseason games to get it right.
“Coach wants me to figure out my teammates, where to give them the ball,” Holiday said. “Obviously, preseason is the time to figure all that stuff out.”