DALLAS — The New Orleans Pelicans’ surprising Draft-day trade for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday relegated the outgoing Greivis Vasquez to a mere footnote. Holiday took a major leap forward last season in Philadelphia with his first All-Star selection and Vasquez’s own career year in NOLA shouldn’t be dismissed so casually.
As part of the three-team trade, Vasquez landed in Sacramento. The Kings finished one game ahead of New Orleans in the Western Conference standings last season, both miles from playoff contention. Each franchise though is pushing the refresh button with reasons for fresh attitudes and big dreams. Still, significant improvements and luck are needed for either team to join the playoff mix this season. At any rate, it will be interesting to monitor the progress of the passionate Vasquez, third in the league in assists per game (9.0) last season, and the super-confident Holiday as they direct their new teams.
New Orleans general manager Dell Demps has called the 6-foot-4 Holiday “the ideal fit for our team,” believing the 23-year-old Southern Californian has the higher ceiling than the Venezuelan-born Vasquez, who turns 27 in January. The benefactor of Philadelphia’s $43-million extension, New Orleans has Holiday locked up through the 2016-17 season at a pleasing price, a bargain if he blossoms into a perennial All-Star candidate (of course, the 2014 All-Star Game is in New Orleans).
“Everybody loves his ability to get up into the ball and defend,” coach Monty Williams said Monday before the Pelicans beat the Mavericks to improve to 2-0 in the preseason. “He can score the ball, he’s got toughness about him that you need in the West. There’s so many good guards in the West; any night you can get your hat handed to you if you’re not on your game. We thought he was young. To be able to hand the ball over to a young guard who has made an All-Star team and proven that he can play in the league, it was intriguing to say the least.
“Obviously, Jrue’s thing right now is to get his turnovers down. He averaged 3.7 last year and we don’t want to take away his aggressive play, but you also want to make sure you take care of the ball.”
So far in the preseason, Holiday has a whopping 12 turnovers against nine assists. He had the ball stolen from him three times by Houston’s Patrick Beverley in New Orleans’ preseason opener. The dozen miscues as a whole can, cautiously, be reasoned away by the fact this is the preseason with a new team, his backcourt mate, Eric Gordon, has yet to play. And lastly, fellow newcomer (and ex-Kings guard) Tyreke Evans sprained an ankle 10 minutes into the preseason opener.
“I think the biggest part is being a smart player as well as being efficient,” Holiday said. “Obviously, with turnovers and all that, it’s really about feeling out the game right now.”
Holiday’s 3.7 turnovers last season was tops among point guards. His 2.14 turnover/assist rate ranked 40th. Vasquez, at 2.85, ranked eighth. Holiday’s usage-rate was the third-highest among point guards in the league behind Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker, but his offensive rating paled in comparison. That can be attributed to Philly’s personnel and circumstances as Holiday was posting a breakout season that included just 43.7 percent shooting overall, but a healthy 37.4 percent from 3-point range.
“I think he was asked to do a lot in Philly,” Williams said. “I think he was asked to defend, score, pass, run the team. Any time you are trying to do everything it can effect you. I’m sure he was tired last year. The hope is that playing with A.D. [Antony Davis] and Ryan [Anderson], Tyreke and Eric, and guys who can really shoot the ball, he doesn’t feel like he’s got to come out and score 18 to 25 a night. We’d like him around 15, maybe 12, I don’t know.”
Holiday figured he would be asked to do it again with the 76ers. Unlike former teammate Evan Turner, who recently said he expected to be traded this summer, Holiday said he didn’t see it coming.
“No, I mean I was an All-Star, I felt like I was going to be there a while,” Holiday said. “But it is what it is, it’s a business and honestly I didn’t think Evan would be traded.”
Vasquez, after his breakout season and still attached to a low price tag, probably believed he was good in New Orleans. Now he and Holiday take over the key position for two franchises eager to turn a corner. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, and New Orleans has been out since a Chris Paul and David West-led squad lost in the first round of 2011.
“Honestly, I think there’s a lot of excitement and obviously a lot of support for the players,” Holiday said of the Pelicans’ organization as well as the city. “They definitely want us to be in a place that we can go in every day and be proud of and work as hard as we can. I feel like the players are sticking to that. I think that obviously they’re really excited and we’re really excited to start something new and make the playoffs and do all those great things.”