How Jrue Holiday Must Improve to Be Considered a Superstar by Season's End
When you take a look around today's NBA, it's clear that there are more talented point guards patrolling the floor than ever before.
In the Atlantic Division alone there are two superstars at the point (Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo), two up-and-comers (Kyle Lowry and Jrue Holiday) and a future NBA Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd.
Holiday is one of the most intriguing young guards in the game, mainly because he's shown flashes of a player who's destined for stardom but has never been able to do so on a consistent basis.
Holiday's 2011-12 numbers weren't spectacular, and he wasn't exactly efficient either. While his scoring average per 36 minutes held steady, his assists dropped by nearly two per game per 36 minutes from 2010-11 to 2011-12. The third-year point guard also posted a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) below the league average of 15 (14.7), which is perhaps an even larger cause for concern.
However, now that he's surrounded by capable outside shooters and one of the NBA's most imposing inside forces, it wouldn't be a surprise if every facet of Holiday's game improved in 2012-13, perhaps netting him the max contract that he so desperately covets.
Still just 22 years old, Holiday will enter his fourth NBA season with plenty to prove. Throughout his brief career, Holiday has generated fairly pedestrian scoring numbers, especially when you consider that his 14.4 points per 36 minutes required nearly 14 attempts from the field.
However, now that Andrew Bynum has arrived, the stars seem to be aligning for Holiday to have his best season to date.
For Holiday to be considered one of the league's top 10 point guards, he will need to mold himself into a more potent offensive weapon. In the past, Holiday has appeared complacent, settling for mid-range jumpers when he could have been attacking the basket. While his outside shot is actually quite solid, there needs to be a more pronounced inside-outside game in Holiday's repertoire.
Holiday has made his drives to the rim look so effortless in the past that it really makes you wonder how much more efficient he could be if his game were tailored more around penetrating through defenses as opposed to lingering out on the perimeter.
It's clear Holiday hasn't maximized his touches on the offensive end because he averaged fewer than two free-throw attempts per game last season. That's simply unacceptable for a guy looking to get paid big dollars.
In order to put up scoring lines associated with big dollars, Holiday will need to find more efficient routes to the basket that result in more layups and free-throw attempts.
When thinking of a player Holiday could model his game after, Jameer Nelson feels like a fair comparison. While Holiday's upside may be slightly higher than Nelson's once was, Holiday could benefit from learning to play like Nelson did during his best seasons alongside Dwight Howard in Orlando.
Nelson's game is a bit more perimeter oriented than Holiday's, but as we've seen, Holiday isn't a half-bad shooter from beyond the arc. As previously mentioned, it would be more efficient for Holiday to tailor his game to playing around the rim, but if Bynum is constantly drawing double-teams, it wouldn't be a surprise if we saw his outside shooting numbers spike.
As far as Nelson's numbers go (via Basketball-Reference.com), his best season came in 2008-09, when the Magic won the Eastern Conference crown and faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Although Nelson was limited to just 42 games in 2008-09, he averaged more than 19 points and six assists per 36 minutes, while posting a PER of more than 20. Nelson also shot a career-high 45.3 percent from three and 50.3 percent from the field.
Those numbers would be difficult for many guards to duplicate (they were over 42 games, not 82), but after Bynum, Holiday feels like the team's most legitimate threat to average 20 points per game.
So really, there are two effective offensive routes Holiday can take to becoming an improved player.
As we've seen throughout the past two seasons, Holiday has actually proven to be more of a pure shooter than shooting guard Evan Turner, who has played more of a point-forward role. Should Holiday find it easier to score with softer defenses on the perimeter, then we may see improved shooting numbers. Or, Holiday may find that having some capable rebounders in the frontcourt will allow him to be more aggressive attacking the interior of opposing defenses.
In sum, Holiday's efforts this season may net him a larger statistical output, but it will be his ability to maximize his opportunities on the offensive end that will be key. In order to be considered one of the league's brightest young talents, Holiday will have to show that he's capable not only of distributing the ball, but that he is able to avoid turning the ball over at a high rate, a point Doug Collins has emphasized over the past few seasons.
While it feels like Bynum's play will be the key to the Sixers' 2012-13 season, it very well may be Holiday's performance as the co-star that ends up being the most accurate barometer of the team's success.
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