On January 3rd, the Grizzlies sent Wayne Selden Jr., Marshon Brooks, and two second round picks to Chicago for Justin Holiday. The reasoning behind the trade was simple and logical at the time. Injuries and ineffective play from the Grizzlies’ wings were becoming harder obstacles to overcome to achieve wins. In a last ditch effort to right their sinking ship for a playoff push, the Grizzlies made a move they hoped would turn into a miracle.
To no one’s surprise, the miracle they hoped for was a clear mistake. Many felt from the beginning this was a deal made in desperation that would be reflected on in disappointment. Overall, Holiday’s time with the Grizzlies has confirmed this.
For his career, Holiday has produced measures of 10.8 PER, 100 OFF RTG, 110 DEF RTG, and .049 Win Shares Per Game. With the Grizzlies, Holiday has produced measures of a 6.6 PER, 86 OFF RTG, 109 DEF RTG, -.014 Wins Shares Per Game. As whole, the deal did not seem to work out for Holiday or the Grizzlies.
Obviously, this has been one of the biggest negatives of what has turned into a very disappointing season. However, this is also one of the very few situations the Grizzlies have been able to make better through strategy and common sense.
In the month that followed the Holiday trade, injuries and absences continued to plague the Grizzlies roster. As a result, the Grizzlies had no choice but to continue relying on ineffective players. Some players only grew as a liability with more playing time (go buy a Tyler Dorsey jersey just because he is not Shelvin Mack), and losses continued to pile up. However, in the case of Justin Holiday, as the team’s reliance on him grew his play improved.
The significant reason for the improved play is not some major change in Holiday’s skill set or approach. Holiday simply has performed better in his career when he knows he has a featured role. More specifically, when Holiday plays 30-39 minutes in a game, he becomes a relevant asset.
Statistics prove that this is more of a valid truth than a trivial fact. The following table illustrates Holiday’s career numbers based off minutes played:
True Shooting % Field Goal % Three Point % Offensive rating
30-39 min 56.3 % 40.0% 41.5% 105
Other Min Amt. 44.4 % 33.2% 27.3 % 87
Holiday has further confirmed this statistical trend this season. In the 33 games that Holiday has played 30-39 minutes, his numbers become 59%, 44%, 41% and 106 respectively. Holiday has also played some of the best defense of his career this year. Only two Grizzlies have produced the 106 OFF RTG and 106 DEF RTG baseline that Holiday has when his minutes are in the thirties. They are Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson, the two most significant pieces for the Grizzlies future on the current roster.
While more playing time obviously improves Holiday’s play, it also logically has to help his team perform better for him to get 30 minutes consistently. I say team because, as mentioned above, Holiday has split his season between Chicago and Memphis. Overall, Holiday has played in 61 total games with the Bulls and Grizzlies. When he gets more than 30 minutes, both teams combined are 14-26. When he plays less than 30 minutes, they are 1-20.
The 15-46 record in Holiday’s games proves a relevant point. Holiday has played on bad teams this year, and he is no where near a significant enough talent to alter a game by himself. However, he can add positive value if gets his needed playing time. The Grizzlies team offensive rating is 104.3 this season, currently 29th in the NBA. In the 11 Games Holiday has played 30 or more minutes, it becomes a 106.
Not only does Holiday help the offensive effectiveness, he also helps the Grizzlies overall efficiency. In his 11 30+ minute games, Memphis has a +19-turnover margin. The Grizzlies are averaging just 12 turnovers a game in those 11 games, two full turnovers less than their season average.
Furthermore, Holiday is the best rebounding guard that has played more than 500 minutes for the Grizzlies this season. For a team that annually is at the bottom of the league in pace of play, each possession becomes more critical. Holiday’s ability to net extra possessions for the Grizzlies is a significant advantage when he is on the court.
The information above is not meant to be taken out of context. The Grizzlies are a below average team at best. Holiday himself is a marginal talent at best. While Holiday helps the Grizzlies perform better when he plays more than thirty minutes, the Grizzlies are still just 4-7 in those games.
This is also not an attempt to validate the trade for Holiday. The writing was clearly on the wall that Memphis was more of a lottery lock than playoff pretender in early January. Furthermore, being a small market team with future pick obligations and payroll limitations already in place, draft picks are more important to the Grizzlies than most. Losing those picks still is a bigger negative than the positive impact of Holiday’s play.
This information simply is meant to point out a positive for the Grizzlies. While the front office and coaching staff consistently meddle in incompetence, they decisively stated the goal of the trades was to convey the pick to Boston.
As a result, and knowing the investment they made into Holiday, they finally recognized how he is best utilized, and have stuck with it. And his play has contributed to earning much needed wins. When Holiday has produced a Game Score measure higher than 10, it was in a game his minutes total was in the thirties. The Grizzlies are 4-1 in such games.
Injuries and a lack of overall talent seem to make conveying this year’s pick less and less of a likelihood. The best way to change that fortune is to use common sense with what you can control. To overcome a talent disadvantage, you must use strategy and think outside the box to find an advantage.
A lot of times, with certain players, that means going with a “less is more” concept. For Justin Holiday, it seems a “more is more” approach works. Holiday’s minutes likely will dip with the new roster in place. But Memphis has played some of its best basketball as of late when he gets 30+ minutes on the court.
At a time when the Grizzlies need things to go right for them more than ever, they seemed to have got it right with Justin Holiday. They should continue to rely on him until he proves them wrong.