Does Anthony Davis Realize Jrue Holiday Is a Top-15 Player?

Preston EllisContributor IMarch 13, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 7:  Jrue Holiday #11 hi-fives Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans on January 7, 2019 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

Anthony Davis has every right to pursue a split with the New Orleans Pelicans.

He's fallen victim to the team's 248-313 record (0.442) during his career, which puts it ahead of only 10 franchises throughout the same seven-year stretch. Now 26 years old and with just one more season remaining on his five-year, $127.1 million deal (plus a $28.8 million player option for 2020-21), he saw fit to begin turning the wheels of transition.

Davis, who signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports (LeBron James' agent and childhood friend), has long been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers. Should they wind up playing together, the tandem could alter the NBA landscape—or at least give the MonStars a run for their money.

But Brandon Ingram's shoulder injury could complicate trade discussions with the Pelicans, who should seek as much as possible in a deal. Should conversations fall through yet again, could Davis instead look to team up with Kyrie Irving on the Boston Celtics? Alternatively, what about Kevin Durant with the New York Knicks? Imagine if the Toronto Raptors implode this postseason. Could a connection between him and Kawhi Leonard then take flight?

Davis and his camp must be weighing and evaluating every possible scenario. It's on Paul to put his client in position to succeed and find him the long-term running mate and landing spot that could ensure his legacy.

New Orleans may not have the culture nor the history of success to warrant a second look.

However, it does have the running mate.

Darren Abate/Associated Press

Jrue Holiday is asserting himself as a top-15 player in a season full of turmoil and uncertainty. The long-heralded defensive stopper has converted into an elite two-way backcourt signal-caller and off-ball scoring threat.

Holiday's effect in New Orleans had gone mostly unnoticed in previous seasons due to a variety of injuries from 2014 through 2016 (107 missed games) and a delayed debut in 2016-17 as he helped his wife, Lauren, through the diagnosis of a benign brain tumor. 

But he exploded into the national conversation during last year's postseason sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. Since then, he's one of three players averaging at least 21.2 points, 7.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds.  You should recognize his company: James and Russell Westbrook

Holiday's real plus-minus (4.75, per ESPN.com) falls fourth among all point guards (behind only James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving) and sits 11th in the entire NBA. His player impact plus-minus also ranks 11th.

And since Davis has been linked to Irving in both Boston and New York, how do the two compare offensively?

While Irving is the better one-on-one scorer, Holiday's roll gravity (97.6 percentile), finishing (97.6 percentile) and off-ball movement (81.6 percentile) outshine his fellow point guard's numbers (94.1, 90.8 and 60.9, respectively), per BBall Index.

Moreover, the 28-year-old Holiday has become one of the league's most durable players in recent years. Before this week, he'd only missed one game in the past two seasons due to an illness during the Pelicans' third game in four nights—a busy stretch created by a roof leak.

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 15 :  Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans yells and one after scoring against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on March 15, 2018  in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Holiday merits consideration as an optimal running mate from his surface numbers alone, but his overall effect is much more drastic.

After the Pelicans began their season 22-28 with Davis healthy for 41 of the 48 games, Holiday took a group of castoffs (Kenrich Williams, Frank Jackson, Cheick Diallo and Jahlil Okafor) on an 8-8 run with shocking victories over the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Lakers and Denver Nuggets. Davis played a combined 15 minutes during those four victories, only appearing against OKC. 

Could this suggest the big man has affected the team chemistry during his time on the court? Sure.

Davis' hustle stats indicate his effort has waned since early December, and the Pelicans' overall defensive rebounding percentage has also improved in the past 15 games (73.6 percent) after it checked in at 72.1 percent during December, when Davis played 36.6 minutes per game in his 14 appearances. 

Even so, Holiday's usage at the end of games is where he's recently proved his mettle.

In December, the Pelicans posted a minus-18.1 net rating in 12 clutch opportunities. In February, they improved to No. 7 with a 17.0 net rating over 11 games. Holiday's 27.9 usage rate over his past 15 contests would be his highest mark in a season since 2015-16.

The Pelicans followed the lead of their vocal and physical tone-setter against the league leader in RPM (7.78) when they held Paul George, the Western Conference's reigning Player of the Month, to 11-of-29 shooting (3-of-17 from three-point range). Through four games this season, Holiday has allowed but six points per game to the 6'9" wing during their head-to-head possessions.

Add in New Orleans' defensive performances against Devin Booker (6-of-17), Jamal Murray (5-of-15) and Donovan Mitchell (8-of-24) in the past two weeks, and it's easy to see why teammates find Holiday's relentless nature so inspiring.

Holiday's defensive versatility is less heralded than it should be.

Sure, he put clamps on Damian Lillard last postseason, but his willingness to match up with Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo or any number of big men remains one of his most impressive traits. His penchant for pulling the chair on bigs looking to take advantage of him in the post is yet another strength alongside his burst through screens and sticky hands. 

So what's behind that losing record during Davis' career?

Questions should shift to the help surrounding him and his point guard. Plus, the rash of injuries that have plagued the Pelicans over the past five seasons is significant; only the Philadelphia 76ers have fared worse on the health front.

Davis may have given his best efforts in New Orleans, and he came up with very little to show for it. Blame for that can go in a number of directions. But would he fare better next to James in Los Angeles?

No matter how effective he remains, a 34-year-old James is nearing the end of his career. Irving has missed 73 games in the past four seasons (not including the playoffs). Those two and Durant have all been in the news for the wrong reasons this year.

When did Holiday last stir up any trouble?

It's long past time to move beyond his pre-existing image as a defensive specialist and refer to him as what he is: one of the NBA's 15 best players. And he's only improving. 

So once again: Will Anthony Davis find a better running mate anywhere else? 

          

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference and accurate heading into games March 12.

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