One of the things that “they” (They being pundits, prognosticators, analysts, talking heads, Monday morning quarterbacks, arm chair quarterbacks, quarterback quarterbacks, wise old men, unwise but confident old men, and evidently me) say is that NBA players make their big jump between years one and two. It’s when the leap happens, if it happens at all. This makes sense. Rookie year is a time of great flux in the lives of these guys. They have a new system to learn, a new set of responsibilities to live up to, a new city to settle in, and a new lifestyle to accustom themselves to. They have to figure out where to stash their new wealth (new, that is, unless they played for John Calipari in college), or in lieu of that, pick a trustworthy person to stash it for them. They need to gently deflect the cash grabs of friends and family, avoid the temptations of the road, and purchase large vehicles outfitted with unnecessarily loud speakers.
These are a lot of moving parts, and they tend to distract and detract from performance. But eventually this overwhelmed state passes. The quiet/steady pressure of time works its magic: The new becomes old, rookie becomes vet, things slow down a bit, guys find their rhythm, and, as the kids say “it’s all good” (Kids don’t actually say this.) And eventually usually comes in about a year. Which means it comes for Jrue Holiday October 27th at the Wells Fargo Center against the Miami Heat.
At least that’s the plan.
|Stat (totals per 48 minutes)||Jrue Holiday in ‘09-‘10||Average PG|
|Adjusted Field Goal %||50.2||47.4|
|Free Throw %||75.6||78.8|
|Field Goal Attempts||14.1||15.8|
|Free Throw Attempts||2.3||4.3|
The plan might work. Jrue, as evidenced by the above chart, had a nice rookie season. His cumulative totals aren’t exactly awe-inspiring (he posted a 0.053 WP48on the season and was below average in nearly everything), but what is is the improvement he showed as the season wore on. At the very juncture when most NBA naifs, unaccustomed to the rigors of an 82 game season, tire and weaken he became stronger. Flourished even. His field goal percentage improved each month (he shot 34% in November and 50% in April), increased his averages in every single statistical category after the All-Star break, and drew (Jrue?) plaudits for his defense. The expectation, here and in other corners of the net, is that this progression will continue this season.
Glancing at the Sixers’ schedule, it seems we’re going to get a keen sense pretty quickly about the verity of this expectation. From November 10th to the 30th Holiday will square off against, in order, Russell Westbrook (FIBA world champion and mohawk enthusiast), Jason Kidd (leading producer of wins amongst PG’s in 2010), Tony Parker (former finals MVP and current Desperate Housewife romancer), Mo Williams (meh), Jose Calderon (always productive – 32 wins produced the last three seasons – but usually in the dog house), Brandon Jennings (third in rookie of the year voting, first in ridiculous high school highlight tapes), John Wall, Dwyane Wade (Olympic gold medalist, perennial NBA All-Star and NBA champion) or whoever is playing point for Miami, Devin Harris (2009 NBA All-Star Game participant) and Brandon Roy (3 consecutive ASG appearances). That stretch is a serious early season test that the Sixers are counting on Holiday being able to handle.
We’re counting on it too. It looks like the momentum of his strong finish carried over into, at least, the offseason. Though he played only three games in the Orlando Pro Summer League, he managed to impress. It’s tough (read: dumb) to attempt to draw conclusions from or assign importance to summer league performance on account of the lowish level of play (someone named Reggie Williams finished second in scoring) and the small sample size but…well, whatever, we’re going to do it anyway.
Three weeks removed from his 20th birthday and competing against the 200th to 300thbest professional basketball players in North America who were free that week, Holiday posted an adjusted field goal percentage that was a hair shy of 53, paced the 7-6 in scoring and assists, played his usual superlative defense, and led his team to two wins in three games. The only area where he struggled was the foul line, where he shot 64 percent, but even that bad news was alloyed with the good news that he took 28 foul shots in 98 minutes of floor time, which was seven times as many as you would expect him to have taken based on his numbers last year. This news was especially welcome because Jrue got to the line about half as often as he should have last season. Silver linings abound.
All optimism aside though, Holiday could go either way. Expectations are high at the moment and those expectations he faces – from the city, the organization, and the author of this post – are maybe a little unreasonable to begin with. He is, let’s remember, just a 20 year old kid who played a few good months of basketball last season after over a year of less than good basketball. But they were really good months, the kind that hint there are more like them on the way. And that’s why we’ll be watching Jrue very closely during the month of November when he gets to test himself against the best: we’ll be wondering if he might join them, and hoping to discover that he already had.