When it comes to the Philadelphia 76ers, there's an elephant standing in the room that very few people want to talk about.
So, instead of discussing the obvious, they prefer to make excuses.
He's only 21 years old. This is only his third year in the league. He's still learning the finer points of playing the point guard position.
All of the above statements are true. What also happens to be true is the fact that 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday is in the midst of a disappointing season.
Philadelphia's 18-7 start this year was a perfume that masked a lot of the team's flaws. But after losing four of their last six games, many of the 76ers' shortcomings are finally coming to light.
Holiday isn't Philadelphia's most pressing concern, nor is he the team's biggest weakness. But without consistent play from its young point guard, it's unlikely that the 76ers will make any sort of statement come playoff time.
After a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 14.0 points and 6.5 assists per game, the arrow on Jrue Holiday's career appeared to be trending upward. It seemed safe to assume that natural progression would take over and that the 21-year-old would grasp the subtle nuances required to be a top-10 point guard in the NBA.
That hasn't happened as of yet.
With nearly 200 games under his belt, Holiday continues to have a penchant for making careless turnovers at inopportune moments. Well into his third season, he has yet to learn how to effectively use his 6'4", 180-pound frame to draw contact from opposing defenders.
On a team that has to work extremely hard on most of their offensive possessions, Holiday still hasn't figured out how to make it easier for both himself and his teammates.
As a result, Holiday has clearly shown signs of regression this season. Even 76ers head coach Doug Collins acknowledged that his young point guard is going through some severe growing pains.
"You've got to keep fighting, man," said Collins when asked about Holiday's recent struggles after a 82-75 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. "It's a tough business."
This season, Holiday is shooting a career-low 41.4 percent from the field. He's averaging nearly two fewer assists per game than he did in 2010-11, and his rebounding numbers are down as well.
Holiday has notched double-digit assists only once this season (Jan. 20 vs. Atlanta), and in 16 of the 76ers' 31 games, Holiday has finished with four assists or less.
In recent losses to the Orlando Magic and the Dallas Mavericks, Holiday shot a combined 1-of-17 from the field, and his combined plus/minus ratio in those games was a minus-37.
Holiday didn't score in the Mavericks game until the final minute of the first half. By the fourth quarter, the 76ers' young point guard was passing up wide-open jumpers—his confidence clearly shaken.
The first order of business for Collins is to create quality scoring opportunities for Holiday, whose shot selection is questionable at best. This season, nearly 53 percent of Holiday's field goal attempts have come from beyond 16 feet—a seven percent increase over last year.
Once Holiday makes a concerted effort to drive the lane, things should become much more fluid for the 76ers on offense. Attacking the basket won't just result in higher percentage shots for Holiday, but it will also lead to increased trips to the foul line as well as open looks for his teammates on the wing.
Despite his struggles, Holiday has given a solid effort on defense this season. In terms of points-per-possession allowed, he is one of the top-50 defensive players in the NBA, according to Synergy Sports.
But, to be fair, that ranking is skewed by the lack of quality opponents Philadelphia faced during the first month of the season. In the past few weeks, a number of opposing point guards have had their way with the 76ers, from the elite (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker) to the...less elite (Jameer Nelson, Jeff Teague, Ramon Sessions).
Holiday's potential is alluring, to be sure. There are very few players in the NBA with his size, speed and sheer willingness to learn. But there is only so long that his potential and inexperience can be used as a crutch. So as Holiday's metamorphosis from a scoring guard into a playmaker continues, Philadelphia needs to do whatever it takes in order to hasten the process.
The time for excuses is over. With the 76ers poised to make a serious playoff run for the first time in nearly a decade, the elephant in the room is simply too large to ignore.