***The Denver Nuggets have many young pieces on the roster, and several vets who are hitting free agency either this year or next. This creates an interesting conundrum for the front office: which veterans should be retained and which need to be added from outside of the organization to foster the best chance at building and sustaining a competitor over the next several years?
The Nuggets could have up to $44.9 million available under the cap if they chose to renounce their FAs and let Mike Miller go, which means Denver has a wealth of options this offseason. As such, we here at Denver Stiffs will be exploring potential additions at all positions, both high-priced and not. We hope you enjoy this series throughout the leadup to free agency.***
Jake Madison (the host of Locked on Pelicans like our own Adam Mares is the host of Locked On Nuggets) gleaned some insights from the season-ending press conferences for the New Orleans Pelicans, and states his case that Jrue Holiday may be on his way out of the Big Easy.
It's all highly speculative (as most non-playoff basketball conversation is at this time of year) but Holiday should be a sought-after FA in this lean market despite the glut of PGs around the league, and I would certainly expect the unrestricted free agent to explore his options. Our own Ryan Blackburn lists him as the 18th-best FA available using advanced metrics, but with the top-8 almost certainly not coming here and several others being outside Denver’s timeframe, he’s one of the better options available for Denver - if they want to pay the price.
Jrue Holiday is a combo guard, who is a defender first and a scorer second, with facilitating an efficient offense falling further down his list of skills. DRPM has him as the third-best defender at the PG position this year behind Chris Paul and Patrick Beverly. In fact, except for last year’s injury-slowed season, he and Paul mirror each other around the DRPM ratings. RPM as a whole has him as the 13th, 10th, and 13th best PG the last 3 years, which matches the eye test: he’s a good guard with well-rounded skills but lacks elite finishing and playmaking, and doesn’t hunt his own shot.
His offense is normally a secondary concern, but he can score in a variety of ways. He is a decent three-point shooter, a willing and productive assist-man, and a good straight-line slasher. Holiday has been known to overthink as a distributor and can make himself passive, getting caught in between decisions when he’s in traffic, but makes the plain choice well. He has that Gary Harris habit of sometimes disappearing for a half, usually due to trying to get others involved instead of looking for his own shot. But if his offense can be average for a point guard, his defensive chops more than make up for that.
Holiday would immediately be Denver’s best defender. With the Nuggets routinely getting murdered in the backcourt, his ability to defend 1-3 would be a huge help. He’s very strong for a point guard and can body up small forwards successfully, though he’s not a lock-down guy (few point guards ever are). He ran into trouble after DeMarcus Cousins was traded to the Pelicans because he, like Mudiay, really needs more space to work. Cousins and Anthony Davis together clogged the lane up for him, and he’s already a mediocre rim finisher despite his ability to get there at will in a properly-spaced offense.
That wouldn’t be a problem in Denver. The Nuggets have some of the best spacing in the NBA with Nikola Jokic conducting the offense. Holiday has also played off-ball with a point guard more than once, like with Tim Frazier this year, which might help him adjust to a Jokic-centered offense better than some other veteran points might. He and Gary Harris would be able to switch at will, and Holiday’s steadier hand at the tiller would give Denver someone who can handle the offense if Jokic gets into foul trouble. Reducing his load on offense in general should let him provide more on the other end as well.
If you like Mike Conley you should like Jrue Holiday. They play the game similarly despite Conley’s better offensive winshares and W/L record. Holiday is simply missing that smart big-man to help with the passing and running the lane offense out of the high-post that would enable Holiday to switch between orchestrating and slashing. That’s a void Jokic can fill as well as anyone in the league. If Holiday was going to take a leap forward now that he’s in his prime, this would be the sort of situation to facilitate it.
Jrue Holiday has not been the healthiest player. Denver should be quite used to this by now. Holiday had lower leg issues for a couple of seasons, and hasn’t played in more than 67 games since his move to New Orleans. This past season it was mostly due to his wife’s health issues instead of his own, though. Holiday’s offenses haven’t exactly been the most efficient in the league even with him at the helm, and the Pelicans took to having Frazier run a lot of the offense and moved Holiday off-ball more down the stretch, trying to alleviate some of his troubles playing with two big men in the paint.
He’s also going to be expensive (see below) and would immediately shove both Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay out of the starting point guard spot for 3 or 4 years. That backlog of guards would mean trading more than just Jameer Nelson. It’s a lot of upheaval for a spot whose importance is lessened with Jokic around to create offense out of the dribble hand-off / Magic Jokic sets.
Holiday could get up to $30.3 million in the first year of a new max deal. The Pelicans could offer him 8% raises from there and a 5th year, while other suitors can "only" give him 4 years and 4% raises per season. You can argue about whether he deserves a max contract or five years (he doesn't on either count, IMO) but if he's not getting one from the Pelicans then the only incentive they can offer him is the team composition and outlook, and from his point of view both of those items might be hazy.
I think Holiday's injury concerns and tentative offense will keep him from that max, but I could reasonably see him getting 4/90 to leave New Orleans and he might hit 9 figures in this thin FA crop, which is quite a bit to swallow. The NBA is flooded with decent point guards and that alone might make that sort of money illogical for Denver, especially since they also need to be able to pay all their young players starting with Jokic and Harris. He’s been a good player, not a great one, and unlocking any nascent greatness in his game is based on his fit with this team.
It really depends on how soon they want to be ready and how easily they can switch over from Holiday to one of the rookie contract guys (Mudiay / Murray / Harris) in 3 or 4 years once they hit their prime. Jokic is ready to be a major factor now. Even if he's not at his peak, he's ready. How many years Denver plans to spend getting the proper mix of talent around him is now the question.
It’s a long-shot, and would realistically have to be part of another talent swap. Gallinari would need to opt-out and then not be re-signed, and because of the long-term minutes allocation to Holiday (32+ a game for his career) one of the current backcourt pieces like Harris or Murray would need to be traded to fill another position. I don’t think it’ll happen, but I do think that Jrue Holiday is a close approximation of Successful Prime Mudiay with this roster.
If Denver could add a third piece via trade that’s ready right now, it might be possible. Holiday and Harris would be a killer backcourt to pair with Jokic (assuming Murray is the one moved) but the price of signing Holiday and then extending Harris might just be too much. Denver can’t afford to be in a Portland situation where they get capped out and can’t improve the roster enough to seriously compete for titles.
Holiday would be a sign of a major restructure instead of a minor piece, and I don’t think Denver is quite up for that this offseason. Let’s call it a 10% chance - but it’s an interesting 10%.