Anthony Davis shook up the entire NBA world today by making his trade demand public. With the All-NBA center’s Pelicans out of the playoff race and falling further out of contention, Davis decided now is the time to get out. While many are out there to praise Davis in hopes that their team will land the Top-10 talent, I’m not here to praise him, but to bury him. The faster the burial, the faster Utah can benefit from fallout. Pelicans’ beat writer Scott Kushner of The Advocate reports that Jrue Holiday said that “AD was 90% of why he stayed in New Orleans.” The Pelicans are losing their minds, and the Utah Jazz can now reap the benefits.
Before the Anthony Davis trade request news, the Jazz’s best targets in free agency were Otto Porter, Mike Conley, and Kevin Love. All these players had their immediate benefits, but each had baggage whether it was in the form of exorbitant salary, age, or age combined with exorbitant salary. With each of those options, it was easy to see why Utah might sit the trade deadline out and try their luck on the free agent market in the summer. Jrue Holiday changes that calculus.
Jrue is 28 years old and is playing the best ball of his career. This season he has been on fire. His per game numbers are 21.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks. While his three point shooting is down—most likely due to having to shoulder some heavy lifting while New Orleans has had to weather a lot of injuries—he has still kept his eFG% at 52.9%. By comparison, Ricky Rubio and Mike Conley have eFG% of 46.7% and 49.6%.
Would fit in Utah’s defensive culture
Holiday is a defensive weapon on the perimeter. A previous All-Defensive 1st Team player, he would be a hand in glove fit in a Jazz uniform. Rudy Gobert would love to see a player with Holiday’s intensity and passion on the defensive end guarding the perimeter.
Jrue Holiday putting Zach LaVine in Alcatraz. pic.twitter.com/q4TXpAENEJ— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) November 8, 2018
Rob Mahoney of SI had this to say about the uniqueness of Jrue Holiday’s offensive and defensive skillset:
Elite defenders almost never handle the ball as much as Holiday, and high-level point guards almost never defend so well. The reason for that is simple. “It’s hard,” Holiday says. “It’s really hard. To be able to stop somebody, to always be on point, to always know, be aware. It’s hard to play defense and then go down on offense and make a play. If it was easy, I guess more people would be doing it.” The only other players to average 20 points and eight assists per game this season, as Holiday has, are Westbrook, James Harden, and John Wall. All three blow defensive assignments with casual regularity, whether by lunging out of position or snoozing as their man cuts backdoor.
Speaking of Rudy Gobert loving Jrue Holiday. Look at this quote from Holiday and tell me if you can’t hear Utah’s paint monster saying the same exact thing:
“I know there’s times where I’m not always gonna have a good offensive day. That’s something that I feel like I can control, is playing defense.”
Last year, Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal, listed his top 5 defenders at every position. Jrue Holiday came in first at the PG position. Terrence Jones speaking to SB Nation’s own Kristian Winfield talked about how easy he made defending the pick and roll—btw, this might sound familiar to how certain people describe a certain Stifle Tower in the pick and roll:
“He’s a physical defender, creates a lot of steals by being in the guards. He definitely reacts to all my calls, when it comes to my communicating on the pick-and-rolls, correct almost every time. It makes it real easy when a guy is pressuring the ball like he does.”
Now imagine an opposing offense like the Warriors trying to exploit Utah’s defense on the pick and roll. Jrue Holiday and Gobert on the pick and roll? What a nightmare. Get a more favorable switch and it’s the NBA’s greatest troll in Joe Ingles mixed with Jae Crowder. Or Donovan Mitchell with Rudy Gobert. It would turn Utah into the defensive version of the Golden State Warriors, a modern Detroit bad boys in 2019.
An upgrade to Utah’s starting lineup without the baggage
While Utah’s only other options at the trade deadline had risks involved in the trade, Jrue Holiday doesn’t carry the same worries. If the Jazz were to go after Kevin Love, they are worrying about his current injury history. On the other hand, Holiday seems to be years removed from his injury days.
If the Jazz go after Porter, they would worry if his year last year was an anomaly. Porter has the potential of being a millstone around the franchise’s neck if he doesn’t get back to his old production.
With Jrue Holiday, he’s in his prime putting up big numbers. It’s no blip on the radar, it’s what he is. Mike Conley is 31 and about to be turning 32. Jrue Holiday? He’s 28 and getting paid exactly what he’s worth until he’s 32 when his contract would be ending. Less risk. He’s the player Utah wishes they could obtain at the point guard position, but didn’t think would become available.
Jrue Holiday’s contract is in its second year of a 5 year deal. Utah would have the potential to have three All Star caliber and All Defensive caliber players—Holiday, Mitchell, and Gobert—under contract for the next three years with all of them either in their prime or entering their prime.
Add in Joe Ingles and Utah is a damn mud pit for anyone lambo offense like the Warriors or the Rockets. They would have 4 players on the court at any time that could switch 1-4 with Gobert having the ability to switch 1-5. It opens up more options for Utah on the defensive end. That’s before we get to talking about Dante Exum or Ekpe Udoh’s defense off the bench.
Great backcourt partner for Donovan Mitchell
Remember how everyone was clamoring for the Donovan Mitchell at PG experiment to continue? You might be surprised to learn that point guard Jrue Holiday spends most of his time not at point guard, but at shooting guard. Basketball-Reference.com estimates that he spends 64% of his time this season at SG. Last year he bounced back and forth between SG and SF. How’s that for some positionless basketball?
Last year when he was moved to the point guard position his numbers exploded going into All Star Break. Justin Verrier reported:
Holiday had found his stride since the new calendar year, averaging 18 points, 7.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 turnovers and 50.2 percent shooting over 22 games heading into the All-Star break.
In last year’s playoffs, where he played all his time at Shooting Guard and Small Forward he was a machine cutting up the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged 28.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 7.7 apg, 1.3 spg on shooting splits of 52/32/70 while guarding elite guards like Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson.
Pair that type of player next to Donovan Mitchell who is just scratching the surface on what his potential is as a playmaker and you got one mean 1-2 punch to deal with on both sides of the ball when you play Utah.
This deal wouldn’t happen this season
Time to splash a lot of cold water on this potential trade scenario, and throw a wet blanket of reality on our hopes. Let’s talk about New Orleans for a moment and the principles of negotiation. The goal in any negotiation is to be on equal footing if not better than the other side of the deal. Right now, New Orleans is 6 feet underground. They are reeling from a couple weeks of basketball, they’ve been battling injuries all year, they play in a gauntlet of a conference, and now their once in a lifetime player—twice in a lifetime if you count Chris Paul—just announced to the free world that he wants out. The Pelicans are the henhouse and Anthony Davis just swung open the doors and let every big market GM fox inside. The Pelicans are not in a situation to haggle right now, they’re in a fight for their damned lives, basketball speaking.
Even if Anthony Davis gets traded at the NBA Deadline, there’s no rush or incentive for them to blow the whole thing up. It’s usually a quick A to B jump that most of us take when a big time star wants to get traded that we assume, “Oh, *x team* is going to blow it up and start over.” But that’s patently untrue.
When LeBron left the Cavaliers, most assumed Kevin Love was on the way out. He’s still on their payroll. When Paul George wanted out, most assumed they’d burn the place down, they kept their pieces and rebuilt with the ones acquired and are playoff contenders—despite the sad injury to Victor Oladipo. The Spurs kept everything the status quo and ran it back with DeMar DeRozan. The Utah Jazz kept Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert.
Notice a trend? That’s because all of the franchises that had their stars bail were small market teams. Small market teams—especially ones like New Orleans—can’t afford to burn it down and miss the playoffs for years at a time. They’ll lose too much money. Look at the Memphis Grizzlies right now, if they full blown tank, they run a risk of making the team undesirable to a new owner or worse making the team desirable for an owner that wants to move them out of town.
Small market teams like New Orleans will want to return to contention as soon as possible because the financial hit of missing the playoffs over and over again in a town where basketball isn’t the big ticket can be the nail in the coffin. Utah only purposefully tanked one year and it landed them Dante Exum. While Exum has potential, the potential of his talent hasn’t exactly changed the franchise over the past four years, and it’s questionable if losing all those games—and revenue—was worth the nose dive. That’s coming from someone who has a residence on Exum Island.
While New Orleans will be undoubtedly tanking to get as high a pick as possible if they send Davis packing, why would they just give up the rest of their pieces for scraps if there’s a potential of getting Zion Williamson and shooting back into relevance with a core of Jrue, Williamson, and whatever they got back from a potential Anthony Davis trade. In addition, they might wait until the season is over and haggle a deal with whoever lands the #1 pick in the draft to guarantee they will be able to draft another once in a generation star that they can quagmire for 7 years only to trade him for peanuts once again.
New Orleans has little leverage right now. Davis asking to be traded now is a complete power play to get out of New Orleans and avoid being sent packing to Boston. It’s a ploy to get to LA. It’s smart, but if New Orleans is smarter, they’ll call the bluff and wait until the NBA Draft.
Jrue Holiday as a backup plan
While Jrue Holiday may be the best option for Utah as a trade option, he probably would be slotted as a back up plan after Free Agency. That means the time that New Orleans might be listening to any potential deal from Utah for the All Star defensive point guard in his prime is July.
Jrue isn’t going anywhere until the Anthony Davis situation is cleared up. Full stop. That situation most likely will not be resolved before the trade deadline even though Davis’ camp has fueled the fire to get so many people talking.
That also means that waiting for Jrue isn’t necessarily in Utah’s time frame right now and it’s risky to make such a maneuver for his services as your primary plan. Is Utah really going to step back from the trade deadline, stay quiet at the NBA Draft, and wait until free agency settles before making a move to trade for Holiday? Not really.
This is how a deal for Holiday might actually go down. Utah would have tried to swing for the fences at the Trade Deadline and strike out, missed on a potential deal at the NBA Draft (Dennis Lindsey’s preferred trading venue), and then ultimately rejected by potential free agents in the summer free agency bonanza. Then Utah would be left to either guarantee the contract of Derrick Favors, release him, or trade him last second.
That date would be July 6th, 2019. That’s the earliest Jrue Holiday could see himself in a Jazz uniform. But even that’s unlikely because there’s a possibility Anthony Davis is still a Pelican. Then Utah would be guaranteeing the contract of Derrick Favors and he wouldn’t be eligible to be traded until December 15th of the following season.
Jrue Holiday is a good idea to have on the back burner, a break glass in case of emergency third All Star. But even if that emergency happens, there might not be anything behind the broken class.
Jrue Holiday is the perfect piece to add to Utah’s defensive buzzsaw, but like most scenarios like this, it’s just too good to be true ... yet.