Getting to Know Jrue Holiday

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Published: June 29, 2013

Perhaps the biggest benefit of being a part of the ESPN TrueHoop Network is that you have a collection of dedicated writers available to share information at the drop of a hat. When the trade went down with Philadelphia on Thursday night, it seemed only naturally to reach out to Hoop76 Editor Tom Sunnergren for an in-depth look at the newest edition to the New Orleans Pelicans roster. The following is a Q&A that hopefully gives us a little insight about Holiday that can’t be found in the box scores.

We see the stats, but tell us things that the numbers don’t tell us about Jrue Holiday, the player

He’s one of the best handfuls of defensive guards in basketball, which an area of the game that the stats are still mostly mute on. (This is one of the reasons why he’s, probably, a bit underrated by measures like PER and Win Shares. Granted, the way he grades out in those systems is a little troubling.) He’s got great footwork, quick hands, is stronger than he looks, and on many nights, can guard three positions.

He’s also a tremendously personable and likable guy. He’s bright, engaging and engaged, and a great interview. By both fans and media, he’s beloved in Philadelphia. We were all really rooting for the kid, and while the conventional wisdom in the Tri-State area is that the trade was a win for the 76ers, he’ll be missed.

How about Holiday’s intangibles? Is he a leader and/or a a high character guy? What about his effort and motor?

In addition to the effusive praise above, Jrue really–even among cocksure NBA athletes–is possessed of unusual self-confidence. When Ben McLemore was being dissected in the run-up to this year’s draft, a talking point I heard again and again was that he’s easily discouraged; if he misses the first two shots of a half, I think Chad Ford said, he’ll shut down and disappear. That is not what Jrue Holiday does. I remember last spring being at Game 4 of the Bulls-Sixers series, and Holiday started off dreadfully from the floor. He was missing every which way–something like a 1-for-12 start on what was, up to that point at least, the biggest game of his career. But he just kept working for good looks and eventually found them. He finished with a 20/8/6 line and the Sixers went up 3-1 in a series they went on to win. He was 22-years-old.

It is hard not to notice the dramatic dip in Holiday’s numbers late in the season. How much of this had to do with the Doug Collins situation and can you go into exactly what happened with the Sixers late in the season for all our readers?

2012-13 was an unmitigated disaster for the Sixers. A Murphy’s Law season. The team acquired Bynum, expectations rose accordingly, and when he was unable to play, the whole thing collapsed–laying bare the problems with the Sixers organization a little bit of winning and optimism had obscured. These being: the aversion to analytics, the wrongheaded shot selection/offensive system (midrange jump shots!), goofy roster moves (signing Kwame Brown, Nick Young, etc.), and, of course, Doug Collins. All of these things are heavily interrelated.

So things are going bad, and a lot of folks in the media, and in the stands, start calling for the team to tank. Doug Collins refuses to tank on account of “pride” or “love for the city of Philadelphia” or something, says as much, then proceeds to lean even harder on the team–a team he already leaned quite hard on to begin with; dude’s overbearing–as though he were trying to prove a point. Collins tightens the rotation, starts barking on the sidelines like every night’s Game 7 of the Finals, etc.

So this is the backdrop. How, precisely, did this affect Jrue Holiday? I’m not sure. His numbers did drop precipitously (he posted a 12.7/4.2/3.3 line in April on 33.8% shooting), but it’s not clear how much of the blame belongs to Collins. Jrue’s playing time was stable from month to month, and actually dropped to 30.8 a night in the season’s final month, but he did–for the first time in his career–have an almost cartoonish amount of responsibility on both sides of the floor. He WAS the Sixers in 12-13. He’s only 23, but it’s possible this just wore him out. That he buckled a little under the weight of Doug Collins and all the other stuff.

Since coming into the league, where have the biggest growths in Jrue Holiday’s game been and what does he still have left to work on?

Especially this past season, he’s gotten much better at creating–both for himself and his teammates–off the drive. He’s borderline elite at getting to the basket.

Which brings us to the problem with Holiday: while he can get to the basket, he doesn’t always choose to. He has a disconcerting habit of settling for 18-footers early in the shot clock–this, again, might merely be a product of Collins’ influence–and his efficiency as a scorer suffers for it. If he’s going to take the next step, he absolutely has to improve his shot selection. Period.

Lastly, knowing Jrue Holiday’s game, what would be the ideal components to put on the court around him to help him thrive?

A big fella to wreak your garden variety pick-and-roll havoc with and, at the 2-4 spots, perimeter oriented guys who can stretch the defense, creating enough space for Jrue to continue to hone his dribble/drive slash-and-kick game. Sound like any team you know?

Tom Sunnergren is an Editor for Hoop76.com – the ESPN TrueHoop Network blog for the Philadelphia 76ers. The site is a fantastic read for not just fans of the 76ers, but fans of the NBA in general. Be sure to check it out. 

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