Sure, it was only last November that Holiday was coming off a disappointing third season in which his reclining numbers and lower efficiency ratings had many analysts wondering whether he had reached his ceiling as nothing more than a competent point guard.
This season, however, Holiday has indisputably become a worthy All-Star selection and has earned a rightful place on the short list of top point guards. The truth? “The Jruth” is still largely underrated by most NBA observers, even though he is one of just three All-Stars born in the 1990s. However, anyone who has bought Philadelphia 76ers tickets and seen Jrue play will tell you he’s playing at a ridiculously high level this year.”
In fact, Holiday’s ascent to elite status has gotten lost in the shuffle, obscured by the Andrew Bynum saga and Philadelphia’s sudden and disappointing regression from upstart underdogs last season to rebuilding bottom dwellers this season. However, Holiday continues to excel and is giving close followers several reasons to believe he may justify comparisons to the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving in the coming years.
Consider this: While Damian Lillard is the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year, you might be surprised to learn that Holiday is just one month older.
Am I being too optimistic? Was Holiday’s All-Star selection a fluke? The numbers don’t seem to say so. Holiday ranks fifth among point guards in scoring, fourth in assists, third in rebounds and eighth in steals.
To further convey how promising Holiday’s numbers look, compare his season with fellow UCLA alumnus Westbrook’s 2010-2011 campaign:
Skeptics will undoubtedly argue that Westbrook is less of a conventional point than Holiday, making the comparison unfair. However, Westbrook was undeniably at his best as a true point guard in 2010-2011. To this day, his strongest passing, 3-point shooting and defensive efficiency numbers came in that season.
Moreover, closer analysis shows Westbrook’s usage – an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor, according to basketball-reference.com – in 2010-2011 at 30.8 percent. This means Westbrook was featured in a larger percentage of Oklahoma City’s plays in 2010-2011 than Kevin Durant. Westbrook’s usage percentage that season ranked third, trailing only Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant.
This season, Holiday averages more assists and shoots better than Westbrook did while accounting for only 26.2 percent of his team’s plays. Holiday’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider he is featured in a lower percentage of his team’s plays while on the court than reserves Will Bynum of Detroit (26.4) and Ben Gordon of Charlotte (26.3).
So, what has Holiday changed in his game to transform himself from merely serviceable to undeniably scintillating?
“I think the polish on his game, especially at the point guard position, has been much improved,” 76ers center Spencer Hawes said recently. “He has always been extremely talented but his understanding of the game is more evident now.”
Sixers forward Thaddeus Young agreed. “He’s doing a great job in filling all of our needs at the point guard position. He has put us on his shoulders a little bit. He’s distributing the ball and doing a good job getting everyone involved.”