Jrue Holiday is back, and it's no coincidence the Pelicans are finding their stride
He took care of his family at the start of the season and is now trying to similarly help New Orleans
That's the word Evan Turner repeatedly used when describing Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday. But according to Turner, "unbelievable" is not even an adequate descriptor for his good friend and former 76er teammate.
"I mean saying unbelievable isn't even enough," Turner told CBS Sports. "Seeing what he does not just as a basketball player but as a person is amazing."
Turner may sound a tad bit hyperbolic but he's not exaggerating, especially since Holiday is the best feel-good story in the NBA so far this season.
Taking a leave of absence to be with his wife, who was not only pregnant but also diagnosed with a brain tumor, Holiday missed all of training camp, preseason and the first 13 games of the regular season. Putting his family first and basketball second, Holiday's decision is quite rare in most professional sports. What's more, he's also in a contract year yet that ultimately doesn't matter -- his wife's health is more important than anything else.
Turner was working out with Holiday in the summer when the Pelicans guard first learned of his wife's diagnosis. Holiday missed a day of their workouts and when he returned, he informed Turner about his wife and that he was planning on taking time off to be with his family. Holiday's calmness about the whole situation made quite an impact on Turner.
"I was impressed ... it didn't seem like he wasn't too worried or really rattled," Turner said. "I'm always so impressed with how positive Jrue is. It teaches you a lot about having faith and not worrying, remaining positive. It was unbelievable to see."
Making life easier on Holiday during such a stressful time was the fact that the Pelicans supported him throughout his wife's treatment and successful recovery. His teammates constantly kept in touch via Facetime, text messages and through social media. And despite a slow start to the season and the losses quickly piling up, the Pelicans' organization gave Holiday as much time off as needed to be with his family.
"I [feel] blessed, man," Holiday told reporters before his return on Nov. 18. "Blessed to have my family back and OK. Everyone is doing well. So blessed for the support from the team -- I can't even explain how much they were there for me and my family, through anything. Anything we needed, they were there for us. It was unbelievable.
"I'm so excited. Going through a hard time, my teammates were always there for me. My teammates and the Pelicans were always there. To come back and fight for them, like they supported me, I'm happy to do it."
And while Holiday may feel blessed, he, himself, has been a blessing to the Pelicans, instantly contributing and helping to lead them to four straight wins upon his return. His presence has been a huge boost to New Orleans, picking up right where he left off last season, where he primarily came off the bench and averaged 16.8 points, six assists, three rebounds and 1.2 steals in 28.2 minutes a game. In six games this season, Holiday is averaging 16.3 points, 6.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 27.1 minutes off the bench. He is also shooting 48.8 percent and 40.9 percent from three and has scored 15-plus points five times.
Holiday credits his teammates for his strong play and ability to quickly make an impact.
"I really just think it's the personnel that we have here, which makes it easy," Holiday said at a recent Pelicans' shootaround in Portland. "Nobody's selfish. I think everybody here pretty much knows their role and from there, it kind of fell into place."
Holiday may be deflecting credit but he, along with superstar Anthony Davis, is one of the main stars on the Pelicans. As important as Davis is to the Pelicans, Holiday, to a lesser extent, is just as essential. He runs their offense, can spread the floor with his shooting, knows how to get Davis in effective scoring position and is one of their better perimeter defenders.
"He's a really good player, that always helps," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said about Holiday before Friday's 119-104 loss to the Blazers. "In our case he does so many things on the floor, he's able to put guys back in the role where they're comfortable with. He's taken a lot of pressure off of [Davis], from the standpoint that he's able to score the basketball. He's also a guy that we go to at the end of the games. So for Tim [Frazier] and guys like that, they've had this added pressure, I think they are back in the role that they are comfortable with. And everyone's played like that really."
Frazier, who has been playing well as the starting point guard on the Pelicans, has indeed benefited from Holiday's return. The two have only played together for less than 38 minutes, but overall in the six games since Holiday has returned, Frazier's scoring average has slightly increased and his three-point shooting has improved from 39.5 percent to 42.1 percent.
"It's fun," Holiday said about playing with Frazier. "Tim can hoop. He pushes the ball, he brings the energy. We go as he goes. When he's out there, gets it off the rebound, he's usually pushing it and kind of just making the engine go."
But while Holiday's return was auspicious at the start, the Pelicans are currently mired in yet another losing streak. Holiday and Davis are producing but the rest of the Pelicans haven't been providing the necessary support in New Orleans' last two games. Against the Mavericks on Sunday, only Holiday and Davis scored in double figures which contributed to New Orleans losing to Dallas, the worst team in the league.
The Pelicans' defensive effort hasn't been there in their last two games either. New Orleans has a middle-of-the-road defense (14th overall) which gives up 102.8 points per 100 possessions. A large part of its defensive scheme is reliant on Davis, who has been sensational and is leading the league with 2.8 blocks. But again, Davis can't do it all by himself and an injury to Dante Cunningham isn't helping matters defensively either.
The season is still relatively young, though, so the Pelicans have some time to turn things around. The playoffs are still in their sights as well, as only three wins separate them from the eighth seed. Plus with Davis putting up video game numbers on the regular, it is hard to count out the Pelicans from a postseason spot right now. Tyreke Evans is expected to return in the coming weeks and will help provide some more versatility to the team.
Holiday, despite his stellar play, has only played in just six games as he works himself back into form after being out for such an extended period of time. Once that happens, Holiday's minutes will increase and he could likely move into the starting lineup. Holiday gives the Pelicans reason for optimism and once he gets back to the full strength, New Orleans has the strong potential to make a run at either the 7th or 8th seed in the West. That's at least what the Pelicans are counting on happening.
"I think when you sit out that long, obviously timing and your shot and things like that becomes a little bit of an issue." Gentry said. "But I still think that [Holiday]'s in the process of getting basketball legs under him, being able to play at the level that we know he can play at."
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