When asked to name the best on-ball defender in the NBA, none other than Andre Iguodala didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“Jrue Holiday,” Iguodala said of his former Sixers teammate last month.
Holiday’s quickness, size and savvy make him especially tough against the point guards and other perimeter players around the league, according to Iguodala.
But what makes this high praise isn’t just because it came from Iguodala, a player many in the league acknowledge as the best perimeter defender in the NBA, but also because the moniker "best defender" is really something that comes through word of mouth.
There is no real statistic that can properly quantify who plays defense best. Sure, there are stats like blocks and there are advanced metrics that show how a player performs over 100 possessions, but what about the guy who plays defense so well that his man never gets the ball? Or what about the player who is so good at playing defense that the opposition hits him with a barrage of picks and contact to keep him off the ball?
For Holiday, that has been the story of this season.
“When you’re guarding that ball, they’re going to put you in pick-and-rolls,” Sixers’ coach Doug Collins said. “They think that if they screen him every time down the floor, it’s going to take some of the juice away from [Holiday].”
It makes sense. As the Sixers’ point guard, Holiday is in charge of controlling the tempo of the offense. He must find shots for other players as well as himself. Without Andrew Bynum to anchor the offense on the low block or Iguodala and Lou Williams on the perimeter to help run the offense, Holiday has had to carry the Sixers all by himself.
Offensively, Holiday has delivered. He leads the Sixers with 18.6 points, 8.7 assists and 38.6 minutes per game. Defensively, however, the statistics can be confusing. Over the last handful of games, Holiday has been pared against Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Jameer Nelson, Jeff Teague, Avery Bradley, John Wall and Stephen Curry.
All of those players, save for Wall, scored at least 21 points. How much does that fall onto Holiday’s defense? How much does not having help on the perimeter or a big man in the paint hurt Holiday?
And what about all those pick-and-rolls?
“One thing we’ve tried to do is get Jrue off the ball a little bit and not have him fight off all those pick-and-rolls so much,” Collins said. “But then you’re chasing off screens. So one of the greatest defenses sometimes is to put the guy in the defensive situation where he has to expend a lot of energy.”
Collins says he can use Royal Ivey and Charles Jenkins to guard the ball for stretches in order to give Holiday a break.
“I try not to give Jrue a steady diet of one thing,” Collins said. “If you get hit by those screens or you’re avoiding those screens all night long and then we’re asking you to bring the ball up the floor and they’re trapping you or putting two on the ball, or we’re asking you to make plays for other people, that is very, very energy consuming.”
Not one to complain, Holiday said he hasn’t seen a difference in the different schemes the opposition is hitting him with on defense. He has always been hit with pick-and-rolls. That’s just the nature of being a point guard.
And without Iguodala or Bynum, Holiday has had to carry the defense almost as much as he’s had to carry the offense. Holiday says the challenge of going up against All-Star caliber point guards night after night has been, “fun.”
“I think I’ve always been in pick-and-rolls. I guess it’s about the same as every year,” Holiday said. “At the point guard position there are a lot of good players and that’s the fun and challenging part about playing point guard in the NBA. I guess I can say it’s been fun.”
Saturday night Holiday gets George Hill and the Indiana Pacers. Hill has 30 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists in two games against the Sixers this season.