Jrue Holiday on minute restriction but showing encouraging early signs

by Jim Eichenhofer

Throughout preseason and the early portion of the 2015-16 regular season, Jrue Holiday is expected to be on per-game restrictions of 10 and 15 minutes, respectively, so it may be difficult or impossible to judge the point guard’s progress based on statistics. For example, during Saturday’s preseason opener at Indiana, Holiday collected seven points and one assist, part of New Orleans’ 36-point first quarter. Perhaps a better gauge of Holiday’s return from the leg injury that’s sidelined him for big chunks of the past two seasons may be the appraisals of Pelicans coaches and teammates, who’ve been impressed.

“Prime Time Jrue,” New Orleans forward Dante Cunningham called the 2013 NBA All-Star, after Tuesday’s practice. “(He’s looked) just like right before he got hurt. The only thing I can remember about Jrue is how he can get to the rim, how he’s so under control, how he understands each player and where he wants them to be. He can score at will and make such great passes. It’s Prime Time Jrue. You can see it.”

“Jrue was great today,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry said after a practice this week. “I’ve been around a lot of really good point guards the last three years – Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Steph Curry – but I think he can be right in that category. When he’s healthy, he’s already proven he can be an All-Star guard. Our whole goal is just to keep him healthy. I think you’ll see a very good player there.”

An Eastern Conference All-Star in his final season with Philadelphia, Holiday has played in just 34 and 40 games, respectively, in two seasons since coming to New Orleans in a draft-night trade. After he appeared in each of New Orleans’ first 37 games last season, the stress reaction in his right leg forced him to sit out the next 41. He played key minutes in the final week of the regular season, but was forced to miss Game 2 of the playoffs vs. Golden State.

Holiday spent this offseason resting and recovering and said he’s been pain-free for a lengthy stretch. However, given the reoccurrence of the injury in the recent past, the Pelicans are taking a cautious approach while monitoring Holiday’s return to action. He played the first 9:33 of Saturday’s preseason game, but sat the rest of the night due to his 10-minute restriction in preseason. The 25-year-old looked quick vs. the Pacers and seems to have regained explosiveness.

“It was good to see Jrue play the way he did, after being in and out of the lineup,” two-time All-Star forward Anthony Davis said.

“He had a couple injuries that kind of slowed him down for a second, but he took the time this year to get back right and get healthy, and you can see it in every move, every explosive move,” forward Dante Cunningham said. “He’s dang near at the rim every time he’s laying the ball up. I told him one time to go ahead and turn it over and dunk on everybody, but he’s right there. It’s awesome.”

Although it might be tempting to watch Holiday perform well and decide to ease up on some of his limitations, Gentry has said that the Pelicans won’t consider bumping Holiday over 15 minutes per regular season game short term. Eventually the goal is for the seventh-year NBA veteran to have no playing-time limitations.

“He’ll start out with a limited number of minutes, and then we’ll move it up a little bit,” Gentry said. “And finally, we’ll try to get to the point where the minutes are unrestricted. It’s a process – I don’t think all of the sudden, just because he feels good, we’re going to just let him go. That’s how you get in trouble. We’re going to proceed with caution, but eventually we’ll get to the point I hope where the minutes are unrestricted, and he can play as many minutes as we need him to.”