Jrue Holiday Is Runaway Favorite for NBA's Most Improved Player in 2012-13

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Jrue Holiday Is Runaway Favorite for NBA's Most Improved Player in 2012-13
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers' fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday has made Philly fans all but forget the fact that Andrew Bynum (their prized offseason haul) has yet to play a single minute in the 2012-13 NBA season.

Would 76ers GM Tony DiLeo like to have Andre Iguodala back? It's possible, especially as Bynum piles up absences like pounds of meat on a true Philadelphia cheesesteak. But would DiLeo want the dynamic wing back if it meant returning Holiday to his 2011-12 form? Not a chance.

The 22-year-old Holiday has forced his way atop the famed 2009 point guard class (which includes, among others, Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings). He's elevated his play from one of the league's most exciting young players to one of the most exciting players period.

He leads the 76ers in scoring with 18.6 points per game (19th in the NBA). He also leads them in assists with 9.2 per game (third in the NBA). He leads all Philly guards with a 45.0 field-goal percentage (second on the team).

The chance to acquire Bynum was surely the driving force behind finally pulling the trigger on an Iguodala trade. But the fact that Iguodala dominated the basketball (and stunted Holiday's development in the process) made the trade easier to stomach for DiLeo and 76ers fans.

If the Most Improved Player award requires a marquee performance like the Heisman Trophy, consider this 33-point, 13-assist effort against the Phoenix Suns his requisite breakout game.
Holiday's enjoying career highs nearly across the board. But what's most impressive is that, despite his increased role in the offense, he's actually producing at a more efficient rate. He's connecting on a career-best percentage of field goals and three-pointers (41.3). He's increased his player efficiency rating (18.5) by more than three points over his previous career high (15.4).

He has the handles to break down his defender and an uncanny ability to change speeds. Given that his shooting reputation has grown as quickly as his Most Improved Award candidacy, defenders have been forced to pick their poison when matched up with the former UCLA Bruin. Through Philadelphia's first 14 games (8-6), defenders have consistently picked wrong when trying to guard him.

While his offensive game has taken off this season, it hasn't come at the expense of the lock-down defense he's displayed throughout his career. At 6'3", 180 pounds (with a 6'7" wingspan, no less), Holiday has the size and length to bother bigger guards and the speed to stay in front of smaller, quicker ones.

The 76ers need a healthy Bynum to enter the realm of the NBA's elite. But a healthy Holiday has them knocking on that door.

All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 11/26/2012.

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