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Jrue's Opportunity

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The first three years of Jrue Holiday's career have been equal parts tease, promise and growth. Unbiased observers could say he's been a disappointment, an overachiever or a burgeoning star without being totally off base. Year four, however, is when the ambiguity needs to end.

If you look at Jrue's career arc on the offensive end statistically, it's not a great picture. There was a jump in his second season, followed by a dip last year. He did make great strides in reducing his turnovers, but that can at least partially be credited to spending less time initiating the offense. I'd be much less hopeful about Jrue's potential if not for the stellar playoff performance (his second chance in the post season, and the second time he out-performed his regular season numbers.)

His scoring regression on the offensive side of the ball can be summed up pretty easily. He took too many long twos (4.2/40 minutes vs. 3.3/40 minutes the previous season) and he didn't get to the free throw line nearly enough. One probably had something to do with the other.

One thing Jrue proved last season, however, was that his defense is no mirage. He made the leap in a big way and became an elite perimeter defender, both on-the-ball and off-the-ball. Add the defense to his solid three-point shooting and you've got a player whose floor is a viable starter on a contender. The question, and it's a question which should be answered definitively this season, is whether he can be more than that. Whether he can be a pure point guard responsible for running an offense for 30+ minutes/game and possibly score efficiently enough to be a team's #2 scoring option. Whether he can earn something close to the max contract he was rumored to be seeking earlier this summer.

On the positive side of the ledger, you've got several extended streaks of inspired play throughout his first three seasons, and more excuses than you can shake a stick at. In his rookie season, he was stuck behind Lou Williams at the point for half the year, playing for an imbecile coach in a horrific system. He played for his second coach in as many years as a sophomore, and still put up solid numbers. In his third season, the team had a draconian aversion to turnovers, no training camp and a helter-skelter schedule. Add to that Jrue's age in each of the seasons: 19, 20 and 21. And, of course, for the entirety of his career he's played with a helpless group of bigs. A group who, for the most part, could neither catch nor finish an interior pass to save their lives. On the perimeter, he was surrounded with playmakers, guys his coaches trusted more to initiate the offense (and not turn the ball over). This season, he's got Andrew Bynum to alleviate the first problem, and the team is bereft of alternate options to initiate the offense.

If you're a pessimist, there's certainly an alternative view of Jrue's first three years. Maybe there's a reason Jrue was told to stand in the corner while Iguodala and/or Lou Williams initiated the offense. His failure to get to the line might be more about a lack of explosion near the rim than settling for long twos, maybe settling for long twos is his game. Maybe he lacks the court vision to find guys for easy looks. How you feel about Jrue's potential now is probably directly related to what you thought of him as a prospect three seasons ago. He's shown just enough to stoke the flames of your hopes for him as a player if you were excited by the pick. He hasn't shown enough to change your mind about him if you were down on the pick. Either way, this season should tell us everything.

Iguodala and Lou are gone. The only option for a backup PG is Evan Turner. The team has replaced those guys with catch-and-shoot options who can knock down open threes. Most importantly, he's now got an athletic big man in the middle. A safety valve who he can dump the ball to in the post, run the pick-and-roll with, and find for lobs if the defense collapses on him when he drives. Jrue has gone from a tough situation for a PG to thrive in to a perfect situation. The excuses are all gone now.

On the offensive end, expectations for Jrue have to be high this season. I liken his situation to Jameer Nelson's in Orlando. He should have 7 assists/game in his sleep, any worthwhile point guard should average 7 assists with this team. A cornerstone, a Robin to Bynum's Batman? That guy should be nearing double-digit assists, and his scoring numbers should improve as well with the new found floor spacing and focus of the opposing defense shifting to Bynum.

It was easy to find excuses in his first three seasons, now there are none. If Jrue is given the keys to this team and by the end of the year we see a trade for another PG who needs decent minutes, or Turner winds up playing point forward with the first unit for long stretches, well, that's on Jrue. He needs to realize this is a golden opportunity. An opportunity point guards dream of, and he needs to prove from day one he's on his way to becoming an elite PG on both ends of the floor. You don't get better opportunities than this, and I hate to put it bluntly, but if you think you're a max player, Jrue, go out there and prove it.
by Brian on Aug 15 2012
Tags: Basketball | Jrue Holiday | Sixers |