Coming into the season, I had big hopes for Jrue. In his third year, I expected him to take a big step forward and assert himself as a leader on the team and a top-ten point guard in the league. Things didn't quite go as planned, though there's definitely reason for hope.
Let's start out with the negatives. Whether it was Jrue's fault, or Collins' fault for his turnover-phobic system, and insistence on using four guys to run the point, plus Spencer Hawes initiating offense from 20 feet out, Jrue's play as a point guard was nothing special this season. We saw very brief flashes of his point guard instincts, the Atlanta game comes to mind when he completely took the game over in the third quarter and picked the Hawks apart with his passing. We saw much more of it in the playoffs, when Evan Turner and Lou Williams were helpless and Jrue basically got the keys to the offense down the stretch in several games. But in reality, we're talking about maybe five or six games where Jrue stepped up and played like a dominant point guard on the offensive end. I still believe he's got the vision, the handle and the instincts to play the position very well, but we just didn't see it and honestly, he doesn't have the personnel around him. I'm not sure how good of point guard Steve Nash would look like with this roster.
From a numbers standpoint, there was really only one area Jrue needed to improve upon this season to become an impact scorer: free throw rate. Unfortunately, he regressed dramatically from his already paltry rate of 2.5 FTA/36 minutes as a sophomore to a dreadful 2.0 FTA/36 in his third year. This number is even more alarming when you consider his usage rate increased and he was taking more shots. On the bright side, when the playoffs began, Jrue did a much better job of getting to the line. In fact, in the regular season, Jrue attempted five or more free throws only seven times (out of 66). In the playoffs, he did so four times (out of 13 games). Jrue was also a more determined driver in the playoffs, and honestly the team's best offensive weapon for most of the two series.
Even including the playoffs, it's unfair to characterize this season as anything but a disappointment on the offensive end for Jrue. I think he's pretty clearly a plus shooter from three-point range, having posted above average numbers from distance in each of his three seasons. He's got a good mid-range jumper as well, though he settles far too often. He needs to be a better finisher at the rim, but that really stems from the main issue with his scoring game, he doesn't draw contact. He actively avoids it. Hence, no trips to the line and a 53.9% conversion rate at the rim. It's his achilles heel and he's never going to be a very efficient scorer (with a better-than-average usage rate) as long as he's allergic to contact and doesn't get to the line.
I think that pretty much sums up my feelings about Jrue on the offensive end this season. On the defensive end, he definitely made the leap. On the ball, off the ball, against the pick-and-roll, stuck on a bigger player after a switch...Jrue's defense was outstanding this year. He was the team's second-best defender, and that's only because they have an all-world defender on their squad. Right now, I'd put Jrue up against any PG in the league on the defensive end. Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo were the first and second team selections for the all defensive team at the point, that's a complete joke. Jrue belongs on the first team, and he should be there multiple times before his career is over.
Looking forward: I think Jrue is probably the only sure keeper on the roster right now. He's still on his rookie contract (though I think he should be extended this off season, rather than giving him another year to drive up his price), and his floor is plenty high enough to warrant a contract in the neighborhood of what Thad Young got last summer. His ceiling is significantly higher. Do I think Jrue is going to be a superstar? No. He's got a slim, slim chance if the Sixers can surround him with more talent and he can somehow figure out how to replicate his free throw rate from the playoffs over an entire season, but I'd say it's highly unlikely he's ever going to produce like Deron Williams on the offensive end. That's the bad news. The good news is that he doesn't need to be that type of offensive player to be a key cog on a championship team.
The worst-case scenario with Jrue is that he becomes a solid PG/SG hybrid who can shoot the three, run an offense and absolutely lock down the best guard on the other team on the defensive end. That's a valuable piece, and there's still a very good chance he'll wind up being more than that, just maybe not in the upper, upper echelon of guards in the league, on the offensive end.