A Twitter thread recently came across my timeline, wherein an NBA blogger declared New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday would be the best player on roughly a dozen teams.
Now, I am not typically one to base an entire column off the premise of a single tweet, unless it contains something newsworthy (like Rick Steiner’s son playing running back at Kennesaw State!); nor am I in the habit of entertaining NBA Twitter claims, which often strike me as either ignorant or intentionally outlandish for attention (see: any declaration of Player X as “a glorified ___,” or dismissal of past legends playing against trash collectors).
I was quick to brush off this adulation for Jrue Holiday as typical NBA Twitter fodder, based largely on the inclusion of Devin Booker and Kemba Walker; and I am not ready to budge on either, especially Walker, who I believe to be the single most underrated player in the league, save any member of the Toronto Raptors.
However, in the sample size of two Playoff games against the Portland Trailblazers, Jrue Holiday’s been the best player on the floor. Considering he’s opposite Damian Lillard, and still has one of the current Top 5 players in the entire NBA, Anthony Davis, on his team, that’s lofty praise.
Holiday’s 33-point, nine-assist outing in a Game 2 win Tuesday buries Portland in a close-to-insurmountable hole. Holiday saved much of his work for a decisive, fourth-quarter run. That comes on the heels of Holiday putting up 21 points, most of them in crunch time, with seven rebounds in Game 1.
My man Evan Barnes of the Commercial Appeal summarized Holiday’s performance best:
Jrue Holiday’s all in his bag on his both ends. This isn’t UCLA Jrue Holiday, this is Campbell Hall Jrue Holiday cooking.
— Evan Barnes (@evan_b) April 18, 2018
The above sentiment unintentionally touches on why I found declaring Holiday better than Kemba Walker at present somewhat dubious. Holiday’s always had sky-high potential, but in his one season at UCLA, managed just 8.5 points per game while shooting a dismal 30.7 percent from 3-point range.
His game was always more conducive to the NBA style than Ben Howland’s methodical (if not stodgy) approach, and Holiday settled in as a Vinnie Johnson-type scoring for the Sixers early into his pro career. However, Jrue Holiday’s near-decade in the league fit into that potential category. His inability to stay in the lineup due to injury limited Holiday’s opportunity to contribute.
While playing with one of the very best in the NBA certainly helps — and with a healthy DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans boasts a whole other dynamic beneficial to Holiday — it’s no coincidence that Holiday’s breakout coincides with his first healthy campaign in several years.
Jrue Holiday played 81 regular-season games, the first time he’d reached at least since 2012-13. That 2012-13 campaign was also his previous high-scoring season prior to 2017-18.
Being available has allowed Holiday to establish a rhythm, and he’s not just cooking: He’s in the early phases of a true, star-making performance.