Last season, over 79 games (including playoffs), Jrue Holiday played exactly 9 minutes and 57 seconds without Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner or Lou Williams on the floor with him. That's not a surprise, considering those three were a huge part of the rotation, but it's significant because this year, he's going to have the opportunity to play the Steve Nash role much more often. Hopefully, he'll play it exclusively when he's on the floor.
On Friday, against the Nets, Evan Turner had the night off, leaving Jrue as the only ballhandler in the starting lineup. What we saw on the floor was a stark difference from earlier in the preseason, and really from what we've seen from this team for the past couple of years. With Jrue as the unquestioned facilitator, or Nash, roles were clearly identified. In the back court. When Lavoy grabbed a board, Thad, Wright and Richardson immediately sprinted up court while Jrue came back to get the ball. They looked for the quick pass over the top if they beat the defense down the floor, or they fanned out to their spots on the perimeter, spreading the floor for Jrue to provide lanes early in the offense.
Here's a quote from Dei Lynum's piece, seems like Doug likes what he saw as well:
"I want that ball in Jrue's hands...I want our wings getting down the floor, I want Jrue to be the one getting that ball and pushing it. For the most part I want our guys sprinting the floor, getting down the floor and flattening it out and let Jrue come down and make plays."
I've heard Collins talk about this before, only he talked about it as a problem with Evan Turner. Turner doesn't run down the floor when someone else grabs a board, he sprints back to the ball, clapping to get it into his hands. Usually while Jrue is funneling to the middle of the floor to get the same outlet pass. So instead of having three guys running the floor and pressuring the defense to get back, they have two. Now obviously this is a correctable flaw. They can drill into Turner that his responsibility is to run the floor unless he grabs the board. They can tell him Jrue is the guy bringing the ball up the floor, he's the guy who's running the offense, and Turner can listen. Here's the problem, though. Even if Turner does start running the floor, he doesn't spread it. His man can get back and clog the lane, just like he can in the half court. With Wright and Richardson, or even Wright and Young on the wings, this team is a huge threat in that early offense. Defenses have to account for them on the perimeter or they're going to be drilling threes. Not so with Turner.
This isn't really an anti-Turner post, though. This is about Jrue. This is about the offense as a whole. I want one guy with the ball in his hands. I want one guy who the bigs look for when they grab defensive boards. One guy, who's always going to be in the same spot, always looking to reward the wings for running the floor. Always allowing everyone else to get back in their spots in the half court so the offense can be initiated early in the clock. You can consider this as much an anti-Iguodala, or anti-Lou post as you can anti-Turner. I don't know if Jrue's ready to handle the role. I think he is, but until he's given the chance to show it, I don't know. There was a legitimate reason to limit his time in the role the past couple of seasons, or at least a defensible reason. Iguodala was superb at running the offense. Lou never turned the ball over. If the goal was a safe offense, they were frankly better options than Jrue. This year, though, there's no better option and "safe" shouldn't be the concern. This year, they have more than enough firepower on the offensive end to overcome an average turnover rate.
Here's the big thing with Jrue. Until he gets his free throw rate way up, or takes a much higher percentage of threes, he's going to be at best an average scorer in terms of efficiency. I won't say it's too late to realistically hope for those improvements, but let's just say time is about to run out. So if Jrue's going to be an average scoring weapon, he needs to be spectacular in other areas to be a cornerstone. Average scorer, good shooter, great defender, great facilitator? That's a major piece of the puzzle. Couple that with a bunch of really good shooters and a dominant big and you've got a contender.
Jrue isn't there yet. I'm not using a couple preseason games to make that case. What I'm saying is that this team will function much better if he can be that guy and they need to give him every chance to assume the role. That's not going to happen with Turner playing the three alongside him for 30 minutes a game.
Put the ball in Jrue's hands. Put shooters on the wings. Put Thad up front with Bynum. Go with that formula until it doesn't work, or until you win the Atlantic Division and protect home court in the playoffs. Simple as that.