How much improvement can be expected from 20-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday?
It's rare that a point guard with one year of college experience starts, and is effective, in the NBA, but Jrue Holiday did just that last season, seizing the Philadelphia 76ers' starting job in March and putting up fantastic averages: 11.9 points, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.2 3-pointers and 49.0 percent shooting from the floor after the All-Star break. By season's end, he was an unquestioned fantasy starter, even though he was the youngest player in the league. He enters the upcoming season with high expectations placed upon him, as he's been clearly dubbed the Sixers' point guard of the present and future. It's impossible to read a fantasy article without the word "sleeper" attached to his name, but is he ready to break out this season? Can he even match his post-All-Star numbers from last season with roster uncertainty on the Sixers and a target on his back now that he's no longer an unknown? Is he enough of a pure point guard to facilitate this muddled offense?
He's gotten off to a bumpy start this preseason, averaging 9.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 3-pointers in four contests, and he admits it. According to Libertyballers.com, Holiday said, "I am not playing well. I'm thinking too much and I just need to play. I am just trying to do too much and I need to settle down and play." The early rebound and steals totals are promising, but his ability to accrue consistent assists and 3s will heavily dictate Holiday's value because he's still learning his role and how to capitalize on his talent.
Holiday hasn't put up monster stats since high school, although he often played out of position at UCLA, where he averaged 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 45 percent from the floor and 73 percent from the stripe. He struggled with his outside shot, which is suspect because of an inconsistent release. He's not bursting with athleticism and demonstrated questionable decision-making skills at times, seeming to be stuck between facilitator and scorer. But that decision making should improve. The same terms have consistently been used to describe him: great potential, hard-working, high character, obsessed with winning. The stats at the end of last season weren't imaginary, although this will be a learning season with a strange roster. By all accounts he's extremely poised. He has an excellent work ethic and is a great competitor. Even though he'll have some adjustments to make and bumps in the road, those character traits should allow him to respond and focus on the aspects of his game that best lend themselves to what the team needs. And the team needs someone to distribute the ball and balance the half-court offense. Holiday needs to work on running a team and honing his outside shot to become a consistent weapon. If those areas are improved on, Holiday's prospects are promising.
The Sixers have some lineup issues because head coach Doug Collins is trying to figure out how to get Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young on the court at the same time without sacrificing the half-court game. Even though Collins has praised Holiday by stating he'll be among the top five point guards in the league, he identifies Holiday's early struggles this preseason, saying that Holiday is putting too much pressure on himself.
Holiday enters the season as ESPN's 21st-ranked point guard, between Brandon Jennings and Tony Parker, although he's a popular sleeper who will finish much higher than that, if he can improve on his late-season heroics. He's long, lanky and crafty off the dribble, but there will be some growing pains. Temper your enthusiasm about his assists, as he's never been dominant in that area, but the steals are legit, his 3s should improve and he's a solid rebounder at 6-foot-3. He actually has the ability to block a few shots, and I could see him swatting a sneaky 0.4 per game.
His ESPN projections seem accurate. I don't expect a dominant sophomore campaign, but he has definitely cemented himself as a solid fantasy player. Look for Holiday to average around 12 points, 5 assists, 1.5 steals and a 3-pointer, while shooting about 43-45 percent from the floor with solid boards and blocks for a point guard. Improvement on his post-All-Star numbers might be too much to expect, buthe should be able to come relatively close to matching them, making him a viable option. Don't expect a huge breakout, but don't expect a bust. He's got the tools and is locked into a role that will allow him to be a solid fantasy option for years to come.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.