The addition of Andrew Bynum has elevated expectations in Philadelphia this season, as the team is clearly taking strong steps to return to true contender status. Bynum is coming off of his best professional season, putting up 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, and will provide the Sixers with a legitimate post presence, on each end of the floor, that they have long been lacking.
Though Andrew (and his knees) will be a central part, literally, to the Sixers’s success this season and in the future if the franchise is able to resign him, he will not be able to return the team to true contender status single handedly. With the surrounding cast differing significantly from last season, much of the support for Bynum will have to come from the team’s prized fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday, who is in perfect position to elevate his game to the next level this season.
When the 76ers selected Jrue with the 17th overall pick in the 2009 Draft they knew that while they were getting a player that could potentially be the franchise’s point guard of the future, he was still raw, and success may not be immediate. So, it was quite promising for Sixer fans to see his numbers jump from 8 points and 2.8 assists per game in his rookie campaign to 14 points and 6.5 assists in his second season. Most felt he was well on his way to becoming the versatile, star caliber guard that team had hoped he would develop into. Thus, it was equally disheartening for the franchise faithful when rather than continue to improve, as numbers for young guards usually do in their first few seasons, Jrue’s stats actually slipped last season.
His scoring, which many figured would improve with a full season as an NBA starter under his belt, slipped .5 points per game, and his field goal percentage dipped as well. More concerning however, were his assist numbers, a central stat in judging the progress of a young point guard, which moved significantly in the wrong direction.
Adding 1 assist a game to his 2010-2011 average of 6.5 dimes per night would have vaulted Jrue into the overall top ten of the category and cemented him as one of the League’s premier young point guards. Instead the opposite occurred and his assist average plummeted to 4.5, just good enough to be tied for 26th overall with Boston’s all-star scorer Paul Pierce. While his numbers didn’t rise, some speculation about Holiday’s true potential certainly did. Holiday’s peers such as Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, and Derrick Rose, the three point guards on the Eastern Conference All-Star team last season, all saw their assist totals increase throughout their first four seasons while Jrue’s dropped, and this was alarming to many.
In Jrue’s defense however, he was not necessarily surrounded by quality scorers in his first three seasons here in Philly, and his ability to collect assists was directly affected by those on the hardwood with him. That is why this coming season has the potential to be huge for Mr.. Holiday. For the first time in his career, Jrue will have not only a dominant low post scorer at his disposal, but also a plethora of talented offensive players who can shoot and stretch the floor. The franchise has surrounded Jrue with all of the tools necessary for a point guard to succeed. Having a steady, reliable presence in the post should alone improve Jrue’s assist totals, as will ample open looks for knock down shooters like Nick Young and Dorell Wright. Jrue’s ability to capitalize on the opportunities created by the off-season acquisitions will go a long way in determining the Sixers success this season, as well as Holiday’s future with the franchise.
The double-teaming of Bynum and the inability of defenders to leave the 7-6’s other perimeter players to provide help defense should present Holiday with plenty of scoring opportunities throughout the season, so his numbers in that area should at least remain consistent with the past couple seasons, if not improve. His field goal percentage should improve as well as a result of easier scoring opportunities. Although it will be necessary for Holiday to stay aggressive in order to keep the offense flowing, scoring should come secondary to Jrue this season. With so many new weapons surrounding him, Jrue’s focus should be on upping those assist numbers and taking care of the basketball. Holiday had an assist to turnover ratio of 2.15 last season, good enough for 38th in the NBA. If Holiday is going to take that next step toward All-Star status this season that number needs to approach 3, a number which many all-star point guards hover around. This will demonstrate that he is taking good care of the ball and providing Sixers’ scorers with an opportunity to do what they do, and in turn giving the Sixers their best shot to win games.
The 76ers have a serious shot to make some noise in the East this season. Management has done an excellent job at retooling the team, addressing weaknesses, and putting a team on the court that can truly compete. Jrue Holiday is in the best position to benefit from these new additions, as they provide outlets and opportunities that were not previously present during his time in Philadelphia thus far. The team is filled with talent and if that talent’s potential is maximized by Doug Collins, this roster has a chance to be an elite team. It is set up well for Holiday to succeed, now it is up to him to take the reins and make it happen.