Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday give Pelicans formidable backcourt pairing

Re-signing Jrue Holiday was Priority 1A for the New Orleans Pelicans this offseason. Based on Alvin Gentry’s comments this week, landing a capable starting backcourt partner to join forces with Holiday wasn’t far down the same list of summer objectives.

“We wanted a guy we could pair with Jrue that’s going to help Jrue, because obviously not only is Jrue a ballhandler, but we like his scoring and like him playing off the ball sometimes,” New Orleans’ head coach said Tuesday in a radio appearance on the new “DuncAndHolder Show,” which airs on 1280 AM. “We wanted to try to find a guy who could complement that, and there is no better guy out there than (Rajon) Rondo. Obviously he’s got championship pedigree and he’s such a leader. He has the ability to find guys and (generate) easy baskets for certain players. We thought pairing him with Jrue would be a perfect combination.”

Already headlined by a pair of frontcourt players who are perennial All-Stars in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans now boast a starting backcourt that brings an intriguing set of skills to both ends of the floor. Rondo and Holiday have consistently been among the NBA’s leaders in assists – Rondo has ranked No. 1 in that category three of the past six seasons, including in 2015-16 with Sacramento – while also capable of averaging double-digit points. Rondo is not known as a high scorer, but delivered several big games in the postseason with Boston. Holiday’s scoring average of 15.4 points last season was the third-best of his career, but perhaps just as importantly, he established a career high with a field-goal percentage of 45.4. It’s possible that accuracy rate could increase again while starting next to one of the NBA’s premier pass-first floor generals.

“I like Jrue off the ball to start the game,” Gentry said of shifting Holiday to shooting guard, where he’s logged 20 percent of his career minutes (via Basketball-Reference.com). “I like Rondo as a leader. Now, obviously Jrue is going to play some where he is the primary ballhandler (when Rondo isn’t on the floor). I spoke to Jrue at length about this, and I think it’s something that can really help our team.”

Gentry added that he believes the new backcourt will benefit Holiday. Combined with other factors, the Pelicans expect the 2013 NBA All-Star to make another step in his career in 2017-18.

“If you look at the free-agent point guards that were out there – George Hill, Derrick Rose, (Jeff) Teague – then you look at Jrue as far as the whole package, what he’s accomplished in this league and the age especially at 27, he’s at the prime of his career,” Gentry said. “I think Jrue will have the best year he’s had in the NBA, because of his ability to work. His family situation is kind of taken care of now, from the standpoint of (wife) Lauren’s progression and his daughter J.T. is doing great. I think he’s in a really good place.”

In their bid to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, the Pelicans’ fifth starter projects to be small forward Solomon Hill, who joins Rondo and Holiday in creating a formidable defensive trio against opposing perimeter and wing players. The 6-foot-1 Rondo famously has a 6-9 wingspan and ranks 31st all-time in career steals average (1.80), while Holiday and Hill have developed reputations as tough individual defenders. Hill often drew the opponent’s most feared scorer last season and fared admirably.

“When we pair (Holiday) with DeMarcus, AD and now Rondo, I think we’ve got four players that can do a lot of good things,” Gentry said on 1280 AM. “Obviously I thought Solo (Hill) did a good job last year at guarding his position – he probably did as well as anyone. We’re excited about our team. Those guys are excited about our team.”

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