Offseason Target: Jrue Holiday

May 12th, 2015 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

As always, these playoffs are reminding us how the NBA game tightens up in the second season. Matchups become magnified as those with even the smallest of advantages lean heavily on them and force adjustments. Players with big holes on one end or the other are exploited more ruthlessly and sometimes played off the floor if their deficiencies are too large to cover. Guys with variation, both in general skills and more specific tendencies, can see their value increase.

The Jazz want to make the playoffs next season, and they’re aware of these realities. They’re aware that the relative importance of minimizing weak points is heightened even more with a roster like this, one with several good-to-great players1 but no legitimate superstars. The more things a potential addition can do at a high level, and the less he can be ground down by his weaknesses, the better.

Jrue Holiday is on the higher end of this spectrum skill-wise as far as plausible targets go. At 6’4 and with long arms2, he can match up with most guards and many smaller forwards in a pinch. He’s a strong and versatile ball-handler with unselfish habits, but also has the size and speed combination, along with the shooting, to operate off the ball effectively.

Holiday’s been strangely underappreciated (and often underutilized) as a shooter throughout his career, with nearly a 38 percent average from 3 on just over 1,000 attempts in Philadelphia and New Orleans combined. He’s been among the top 15 percent among guards for open distance shooting both years this data has been available, and though his relatively small sample after missing big chunks of each year is worth noting, there’s nothing about his stroke or track record that indicates a fluke here.

The dimension he could add as a lead ball-handler for this Utah team is hard to understate. The Jazz managed nearly a league average offense this season despite two guys at the point in Dante Exum and Trey Burke who weren’t respected at all by defenses in two-man actions – neither drew a shred of gravity coming around picks, with teams all but begging them to fire away off the bounce or try a typically wild (Burke) or timid (Exum) foray to the basket while they loaded up against better options elsewhere.

That wouldn’t be so easy with Holiday on the floor. He can punish teams for dropping back against him in basic pick-and-roll sets:

And do much of the same if they go under his high screens:

Holiday shot over 42 percent on dribble jumpers out of pick-and-roll sets this year, per Synergy Sports, one of the 20 best figures among about 100 guys who took at least 50 of these3. He’s patient and prodding, good at shielding a defender on his hip and at rising up straight in the air to keep his stroke consistent even on the move. He could open up a whole new section of the playbook for the Jazz offensively.

Things don’t go much more smoothly when defenses load up on him as a primary offensive threat in the two-man game. They probably wish they’d let him shoot, in fact; Holiday has understated vision and is extremely unselfish, and has quietly been among the league’s most deadly distributors out of the pick-and-roll in recent years. Hypothetical lineups with Holiday and any two (or even three) of Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, or Joe Ingles – all capable spot-up shooters, among other things – could be vicious. Holiday has a great understanding of how his movements with the ball will bend defenses, and can pick out guys on the perimeter:

They may be less flashy plays that don’t show up on a stat sheet, but he’s also smart about recognizing when a simpler pass will cause a damning rotation and an open look down the line:

Pelicans spot-up shooters hit a blistering 49.1 percent of their looks following passes out of the pick-and-roll from Holiday, per Synergy, easily the highest figure in the league this year among qualified ball-handlers. His roll men were similarly effective, and both serve as evidence of Holiday’s ability to leverage his own shooting skills.

It’s worth mentioning that he benefited from playing alongside Anthony Davis, one of the best pick-and-roll complements in the league already, which inflates these figures a bit. But Holiday has been a plus distributor – and one capable of punishing teams for sticking too closely to Davis or other teammates – since before he arrived in New Orleans.

On the other end of the ball, Holiday has all the physical talent one could ask for. He’s quick laterally, with good anticipation and fluid movements. He’s got the frame to check both guard spots effectively and even many small forwards for short bursts, another guy who’d fit among Utah’s similarly-sized perimeter defensive group4.

His lack of follow-through has kept him from entering the league’s elite defensively, along with his health issues the last couple years. Holiday is excellent at the point of attack, but has a tendency to cut plays off early, particularly around picks. He’ll navigate things well enough and rarely gets his angles wrong, but has a strange habit of slowing down after getting through the screen when he could still easily impact the play with a bit of hustle. This seems a mental issue more than a physical one – a bit of tutelage from Quin Snyder could reveal something of a menace as an on-ball defender.

Two straight years with nagging injuries are certainly a concern. Holiday has re-aggravated an existing issue on more than one occasion, and it’s worth wondering whether he’s more prone than many. But there’s a long list of guys who have been bothered by things for a year or two only to eventually move past them, and while a move for him would certainly be a calculated risk, it’s a long way from a blind shove on a hopeless reclamation project. If his incidents were simply coincidental and not reflective of long-term issues, far from a long shot, it’s actually likely they’ve served more to keep him under the radar and perhaps heavily undervalued as a player when healthy.

The larger worry among many will be the current makeup of Utah’s point guard situation, a hot-button topic among fans and prognosticators alike. The front office has toed a consistent party line regarding Burke and Exum (and more recently Bryce Cotton), maintaining a desire to develop the position internally and, true to form, avoid skipping steps in the process.

As has been discussed in this space frequently, however, developing young players and adding outside talent are not mutually exclusive categories. There’s a long and star-studded history of guys developing splendidly alongside better players, even at their own positions – they can be equal parts challenged and mentored, and more importantly can become accustomed to high-level teammates earlier in their careers.

It’s not necessarily in the best interest of Jazz brass to show their full hand publicly, and while it’s obviously unlikely they’re being blatantly disingenuous about their point guard situation, assuming they’ll rigidly hold a particular stance is misplaced with a management group that well understands the value of flexibility. They’ve had to face reality with a former member of the team’s core as recently as February’s trade deadline.

The time may be swiftly approaching for another moment of revelation. Burke’s value around the league is plummeting, and despite the proper public approach, there has to be some portion of the thought process devoted to his future with the team. The Pelicans had real interest in Burke in the 2013 draft before their trade for Holiday, according to a few trusted folks I talked to who cover the team. The organization was understood to be leaning heavily toward drafting a point guard before the trade, with Burke their preference over Michael Carter-Williams; it’s obviously impossible to say how much their interest has or hasn’t wavered since.

Holiday and Exum could easily share the court for significant periods. Both have the size to guard 2s, and their skill sets offensively don’t project to overlap much even if Dante makes a leap over the summer. Holiday would be on the books for two guaranteed seasons at reasonable money, plenty of time to continue bringing Exum along and assessing their play together.

Whether New Orleans would have interest in the pieces Utah could make available is tougher to gauge, and could be a flat “no” if they consider Holiday an integral part of their core moving forward. Opinions varied somewhat wildly among those I canvassed as far as Holiday’s value to the Pelicans brass. Many view him as their clear-cut second-best player behind Davis, where others feel like the organization wants to move forward with Davis and Tyreke Evans as their centerpieces. And of course, none were able to give a concrete picture of their plans going forward, ones made even more untenable Tuesday with the firing of coach Monty Williams.

Burke and Utah’s 2015 first round pick are hardly enough to get the deal done both for salary and value purposes, and it’s hard to say which other assets might be desirable to Pelicans management. They need a solid two-way wing, but whether Burks fits that profile in their eyes5 – and whether Utah would consider sending him in this sort of a deal, as he’s under contract for two more years than Holiday – is uncertain. Trevor Booker may also be a chip worth putting on the table, and Elijah Millsap would be a big help to the Pelicans’ wing defense as a secondary piece in a hypothetical deal.

This is all very speculative, of course. It’s more likely than not that Dennis Lindsey and his front office are being mostly truthful about their plans to keep their point guard situation as-is, though again, assuming this as a concrete decision is unwise. A guy like Holiday is a risk to some degree with his health and the years left on his deal, and a true ascension from Dante could render him an expensive backup for some period of time. But the opposite end of the spectrum, the one where Holiday serves as a better insurance policy than Burke for a guy in Exum who has a huge number of boxes still left to check off, seems much more likely. And in a league becoming more diverse and less attached to traditional labels and positions with each passing year, there are tons of scenarios where the two are a long-term backcourt if the fit is there.

It bears repeating, even if it’s been said enough: The time for win-now decisions is fast approaching, and may already be here in a summer where unused cap space might as well be a flaming barrel of cash. Expect the organization to kick the tires on a number of possibilities – even those that might run contrary to a common line of thinking.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and current in-depth analyst based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Basketball Insiders and BBallBreakdown, and can be heard on SCH Radio on ESPN 700 weekly. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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25 Comments

  1. robin says:

    I like Jrue Holiday as a potential trade target. This is a great analysis of what he could bring to the Jazz, and how he might contribute on both ends.

  2. Z says:

    Very well written! I think Jrue would be a great asset. Would love to see him and/or Danny Green next season.

  3. MAtt says:

    Interesting take and another thought provoking article, Ben!

    Over on SLCDunk, My_Lo’s Downbeat makes the compelling case that Lindsey is more likely to grow the team from within rather than pursue FAs or trade for vets (especially at PG). Much to think about and it will be very interesting to see what unfolds this summer.

    • Mewko says:

      I like the idea of signing a center in free agency, like Brandan Wright or Alexis Ajinca, and then packaging Burke and draft picks to acquire George Hill, Patty Mills, Avery Bradley, or a 3-and-D point guard.

      Those point guards can come off the bench, and allow Dante to get experience under his belt without too much pressure. Same thing for center. Rudy is the starter now. If any playoff team wants a little more youth, than a package of Burke, Kaminsky, and another draft pick would be too much to turn down.
      C Rudy, Ajinca
      PF D-Favs, Booker
      SF G-Time, Jingles
      SG Burks/Hood
      PG DantEE, Patty Mills
      That Jazz squad could surprise the Mavericks, Spurs, or Blazers and snatch their playoff spot.

  4. DanielT says:

    I am loving these articles about possible targets via trade, free agency or draft. Hope to see more. Ben, what are your thoughts on Danilo Gallinari?

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Much appreciated, and thanks to everyone here for the kind words.

      I like Gallinari as a potential third big fit. Thing is, if I’m the Jazz, I’m not sure I’d give up a whole lot to get him seeing as he hits UFA after this next year. I almost certainly wouldn’t send this year’s first round pick, for instance. Might be tough to find a framework that’d work for both teams unless Denver was interested in a future pick as the key piece going back.

      • DanielT says:

        Those were my thoughts as well. Ideally he could be a good fit to go big (as a wing) or go small (as a stretch 4), his contract status makes it tough as he is a free agent in a year. The new CBA seems to make it hard for teams such as the jazz to make trades. Though they have assets they could spend, you want to spend them on someone under contract for multiple years. But looking around there just aren’t that many around. That is another reason Jrue Holiday is such an interesting fit.

  5. Ryan says:

    Jrue hadn’t crossed my mind as an offseason target but I love the idea. He would fit beautifully in the Jazz offense.

  6. LKA says:

    I think Gallinari is way too injury prone, I like the holiday deal. I wonder if Trey and Booker could get the deal done. Although I would like to keep Booker. How about a dtaft trade?? Trey and # 12 pick for Boston # 16, # 28 picks?? I would then go with Wright and Wood. This would also let Trey play with his old buddy in Boston.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      I wouldn’t trade down for more draft picks, and would assume the franchise would be loathe to do so as well. They have enough at this point. It’s time to be going in the other direction.

  7. Tom says:

    This article was outstanding. Well thought out, insightful, thought provoking – Zach Lowe level stuff. Bravo!

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Much appreciated. As a piece by Zach mentioning Holiday and the Pellies as a trade partner was the inspiration for this, that seems the highest level of praise.

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  9. DanielT says:

    Ben, curious to what your thoughts would be about George Hill? Check a lot of the same boxes though he is older. But he is cheaper and would be much more likely to a move to the bench if/when Exum starts to figure things out in a couple years.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      They would be very similar to my thoughts on Holiday, though I would prefer the fit of Jrue by a hair. I honestly considered just leaving a footnote in this piece to indicate as much, but wanted to leave myself room to do a fully separate write-up of Hill later on if I so desire :P

  10. Aaron says:

    Jrue is nice, but the cost would be pretty high- the 12th pick, Burke, Booker and who knows what else, while taking on $22M in salary.

    I like an alternative approach that is costly, but could yield much more (the Jazz have the assets, so why not?). Obtain Lawson (Burke, future 1st and two second rounders) and flip Lawson and the 12th pick and a second round or two to the Kings for Collison (better than average PG with a much more favorable contract with 2 yrs remaining), Landry and the 6th pick.

    Kings are better off having Jazz play intermediary than trying to do this trade themselves, and the 12th picks allows them to nab a stretch big which they need next to Cousins. Jazz get their vet PG to run the team while they learn if Exum is the PGOTF and the 6th pick could yield a very promising player in this draft, enabling the Jazz to continue to build through the draft. Obtaining Landry allows the Jazz to use Booker’s mostly NG contract in another trade.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Collison is someone I’ve also discussed with some folks, and also wouldn’t mind the idea. As you allude to, the framework might be even more complex, but could certainly fall the right way.

  11. Paul Johnson says:

    Jrue Holliday would be great, but isn’t he pretty much untouchable as a trade target, kind of like Russell Westbrook? I think you should look at players that a team might actually be willing to trade.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Obviously we have incomplete information here, but these two aren’t really in the same category at all. As I mentioned in the piece, there’s plenty of speculation among NOP writers and people close to the team about his role. Also, Zach Lowe, likely the most connected national level person, was the one who floated Holiday and the Pels as a possible trade partner months ago. Think I did a reasonable job qualifying the unknown parts of his availability well, and he’s certainly not a player his team absolutely wouldn’t be willing to trade.

  12. Lewis Fincham says:

    Pelicans won’t trade their starting point guard (acquired by giving up the 6th and 10th picks in the last two drafts) for 6 through 10 players and future picks, not when the Pelicans have playoff aspirations and limited cap space, not to mention the only two point guards of comparable talent in free agency (Dragic and Knight) will cost more than they are paying Holiday – I don’t forsee a three way trade that would send them Lawson when the firing of Williams had something to do with their defensive struggles and Holiday, as you point out, is a superior defender at his position.
    Personally, I would be in on a George Hill trade. It’s main selling point is that he can be used as both a starter and backup depending on Exum’s development. Holiday or a point guard of similar stature will command 32-34mins a night whereas Hill could more readily be expected to share minutes with Exum – I wouldn’t want to compromise the development of the fifth overall pick for the sake of a few more wins.

    Any mention of Taj Gibson as a trade target? Chicago are closing in on the luxury tax without even factoring in Butler’s extension. The 12th pick, rights to Tibor Pleiss and a second round pick in the upcoming draft for Gibson and the 22nd pick – thoughts?

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      I like Hill also, as noted in a comment above. I like Holiday better, and the idea that the Pels “won’t” trade him seems misplaced, as we have very little idea in reality what their thinking is on him and they’ve never publicly stated he’s untouchable.I also spent a lot of time explaining how Exum’s development could continue as planned if Holiday came aboard. Exum and Holiday could play together just as much as Exum and Hill, if not more so.

      I don’t know why the Jazz would want Gibson, really. There’s no chance I’d ever consider sending my lottery pick for a 29-year-old with 2 years left before UFA who’d be a backup when the team already has Booker, who is cheaper and approximates much of the same value.

  13. B.J. Rassam says:

    Getting Jrue would be a significant addition to the Jazz, but I don’t know how realistic it is for Jrue to land in Utah.

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