Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Holding Back Holiday Might Backfire

If there’s one thing that has carried forward from the Kate Fagan era at the Inquirer, it’s that the Inside the Sixers column is still chock full of interesting tidbits that the writer (in this case, John Mitchell) usually won’t reveal in another place. This Sunday was no different. In the column, Mitchell discusses what the Sixers wanted from Jrue Holiday after the lockout ended:

Last season Holiday, who turned 21 in October, was mostly responsible for the Sixers’ turning the ball over a league-low 13 times per game. McKie, who spent a little more than six of his 13 years in the league with the Sixers, has set at three the number of turnovers that he is willing to accept from Holiday per game. The thinking is that if Holiday stays below three (his 2.4 this season is down from last season’s 2.7), the Sixers offense will run smoothly.

When the Sixers reunited for their brief training camp, coach Doug Collins was concerned that the more than six months the team went without the McKie/Holiday relationship being allowed to grow, the greater the potential for Holiday to pick up bad habits.

The Sixers, for the record, turn the ball over a league-low 10.7 times per game entering the game against Charlotte tonight. Holiday, as the point guard, would usually be responsible for establishing and creating offense.

Except Holiday isn’t, at least not all the time. The Sixers, as I’ve mentioned in season preview posts, have four guys who at any point will initiate the offense. Especially late in games, Jrue tends to get away from doing that. I suggested that he become more of a scorer to be effective with the rest of the roster, that he look for his own shot more.

Why would I say that? Because Holiday’s not a pure point guard. He possesses all of the skills necessary to play the position, but as of right now only uses a few, as he plays more game manager and floor spacer than pure point guard. He’s more Chauncey Billups without the quick trigger than Steve Nash or Jose Calderon. He’s not a natural playmaker, even if he might be more pass-first than not. Collins and McKie and the staff are trying to mold him into the game manager role, which will take time for him to perfect. They do this through stressing smart, safe play.

Yet even while playing safely Holiday could still form bad habits: being too passive with the ball in his hands, shooting too many mid-range jumpers, not getting to the rim, and/or not getting to the foul line. Well, those are his current bad habits. Turnovers are not among them – with this, the coaches have been successful. But these are all consistent with a player who lacks aggression. You don’t see him recklessly diving into the paint, but it also means he rarely judiciously makes his way there. He doesn’t force too many passes, but he also doesn’t make too many difficult passes either.

Unlike other young point guards – remember, Holiday is still only 21 – Jrue often doesn’t get time to find his own limits. The Sixers’ offense is predicated on taking care of the ball and staying within the talents you have. For some, it’s a good thing. Jodie Meeks shouldn’t be doing anything other than shooting. But for others, like Holiday and Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, it creates constraints. Constraints that could hinder development.

And by limiting the amount of freedom Jrue has with the basketball, they also could be hindering his development. With the help of Hardwood Paroxysm’s awesome Andrew Lynch, there’s this from John Hollinger nestled in a 2009 preview story (not evidence, but it wouldn’t be mentioned unless there was evidence somewhere). The context for this is the potential of young NBA point guards, back when Russell Westbrook was a rookie:

Westbrook also is the youngest of the three, the best defender and the only one who had to change positions upon arriving in the NBA. All of which suggests he’s only scratching the surface of his potential — as does the fact that he has a higher turnover ratio than the other two, which, in a paradoxical twist of logic, is actually a good thing for a rookie. Historically, those with high turnover rates have had much higher rates of improvement in subsequent seasons.

Jrue Holiday is no longer a rookie, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have much room for growth. In fact, with a turnover rate that landed third worst among qualified point guards during his rookie year, he would have been someone to peg for future growth, given his other contributions. Since his rookie year, he’s undoubtedly improved. But since last year? He’s regressed offensively: look at his per-36 numbers compared to last year.

So here’s what I think: by being safe and efficient, turnover-preventing machine Jrue Holiday, a ceiling is created. He’ll be a nice, good player whose defense is improving and who won’t hurt a team offensively, but only that. He’ll be incredibly effective at times. But he won’t be a star, not a guy to build a team around.

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Tags: Jrue Holiday Player Development

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