20-year-old players are going to have ups and downs. That's just a fact of life. When you watch them play, the ups give you hope, the downs make you wonder if it was false. You spend time trying to figure out if he'll ever consistently play to the ups, if the downs are more indicative of the player he'll eventually become, or if he'll fall somewhere in the middle. If things were only that simple with Jrue, I'd feel a whole lot better.
I'd absolutely love to be able to chalk Jrue's struggles up to his age/experience. In fact, the odds are probably in favor of those being the main contributing factors, but there's just so many things swirling around him that I can't quite put my thumb on the issue. It's almost like the deck is stacked against him. The optimist would probably say it's the struggles - and getting through them - that will mold him into a stronger player down the road, but it's hard to see that end point in the midst of consistently ineffective play, and with a couple of blips thrown in there, that's exactly what we've seen from Jrue for the past 14 games.
Unfortunately, I don't have any answers. Every night, I tune in and hope the light bulb will go back on for him. I hope the player who was damned near dominant for a good stretch of games and put this team on his back, will somehow reemerge. Until that happens, all I have is possible reasons for the downturn. Today, let's take a look at them, and maybe kick around not only some causes for the issue, but some solutions as well.
- It's all Iguodala's fault - This one is popular among a particularly vocal group of Sixers fans. Iguodala dominates the ball too much, Jrue defers too much. He doesn't get the freedom to use his dribble to create for himself and others.
- Collins is holding him back/teaching him a lesson - For most of the year, Collins has marginalized Jrue in the fourth quarter, made him stand in the corner while Lou dribbles the air out of the ball. Lately, that role has been more familiar to Jrue than actually running the point. Yesterday, Collins even made a comment about how Jrue needs to get more comfortable playing off the ball (a statement he consistently made about Evan Turner earlier in the year). Maybe the downturn is simply a byproduct of Collins forcing him into a role he's not comfortable in with much more frequency. Why has Collins done this? Well, it seems pretty clear that his number one focus on the offensive end is to limit turnovers. Jrue hasn't been bad at taking care of the ball for a young PG, but he has been bad when compared to the other options Doug has at his disposal. The tradeoff when you take the ball out of Jrue's hands and put it in Lou's is that easy looks typically dry up for everyone else on the floor. Jrue is very, very good at setting his teammates up in their sweet spots, Lou is not. Of course, in Iguodala, you get the best of both worlds. He's great at finding guys for easy looks and he doesn't turn the ball over. This isn't to say Jrue has been completely cut out of the equation. He's still the primary ballhandler when the starting lineup is out there, he's just got an extremely short leash, and he rarely, if ever, assumes that role in the second and fourth quarters. If the message here is "you have to take care of the ball to handle the ball on this team," and Jrue is getting that message loud and clear, and Jrue has enough faith in Collins, in what he's trying to build here, then Jrue's going to put in the work to improve his ball security and he'll be better off for it. If the result is skittish play from Holiday, well, let's get to the next bullet.
- Jrue's confidence is shaken, his creativity stifled - This is really the fine line you have to walk with a young PG. What makes Jrue special is his vision, the ability to see passing lanes other guys don't see. The ability to use his dribble and change-of-pace to get into a crease, force the defense to react so he can slip a bounce pass through traffic for a wide-open dunk (or sissy hook if Hawes is the recipient). These types of plays carry a lot of risk, some of them are going to end in a turnover, but the ones that don't will take a play worth 1.00 pts, and turn it into a play worth 1.7 or 1.8 pts, depending on who's making the catch. Yes, you absolutely want to do everything you can to stop the careless and lazy turnovers out on the perimeter. You want Jrue to learn when he should try to split a double, or go behind his back, but at the same time, you don't want him so concerned with turnovers that he's playing afraid. You don't want him to be super-conservative with the ball, you want him probing and attacking. Honestly, the Sixers aren't good enough to only make the safe, easy passes in the half court. They need to push the action, because they don't have that great post presence teams have to account for. They don't flood the floor with shooters to open up the lane. They need their playmakers to make plays and get their teammates in situations where their efficiency goes up. If this team is going to be a good offensive team in the long run, they need Jrue to wind up a whole lot closer to Chris Paul and Deron Williams than Derek Fisher.
- He's hit the rookie wall....as a sophomore - Collins also mentioned this in his interview with Tom Moore yesterday. Jrue has already passed his minute total from last season, and he's averaging nearly 35 minutes per game. You wouldn't think that a 20-year-old would get tired, but the NBA is grueling, he may just be gassed, physically and emotionally.
Personally, I think everything mentioned is playing some role in this poor play. Mostly, I think the whole situation - all of these factors - is weighing on him. He's unsure of himself. He's afraid to make the mistake that's going to send him to the bench. He's uncomfortable standing around and watching for long stretches. He's trying to do too much with his opportunities, because he knows there won't be as many as he'd like, while at the same time he's deathly afraid to make a mistake. What he needs is what Evan Turner got in the fourth quarter against Atlanta. A nice 10-minute stretch, with no pressure on him, to run the team and be himself. Let the game come to him, with no consequences. Feel the game, if you want to get zen about it. Unfortunately, being in the middle of a playoff race means there probably won't be a whole lot of opportunities to do that. Then again, maybe all he needs is time. Time to mature for the long term, and a little time to rest for the short.
Let's open it up. You guys watch the games. What do you think Jrue's problem is, if there is one we need to worry about?