For the first three seasons of Jrue Holiday’s career, there was a sort of disconnect between what we saw on the floor, and what we saw on the stat sheet. On the surface, the Philadelphia 76ers point guard appeared to be doing well. He looked like a confident floor general, and a talented young leader. But on the stat sheet, the story was decidedly underwhelming, as his numbers in the points and assists department were rather ordinary, ranking well below the majority of starting NBA point guards. What were we to make of this? Was Holiday going to develop into a great point guard, or would he continue to look good, while actually being fairly average?
This year, Holiday has put all that talk to rest once and for all. In his fourth season, the Sixers guard is putting up career numbers in every major statistical category, and is establishing himself as one of the top point guards in the Eastern Conference. Before this season, Holiday never averaged more than 14 points or 6.5 assists per game. This season, he’s at 19 a game, with 8.8 assists, numbers that rival any of the league’s elite guards. Even if Holiday isn’t quite on the level of Chris Paul just yet, the number of point guards ahead of him is getting smaller and smaller.
So, what sparked the sudden statistical increase for Holiday? Well, some of that could be chalked up to the loss of Andre Iguodala. He had been the team’s unquestioned leader for years, and more importantly, he’s one of the best passing small forwards in the league. His departure left a big hole for the team, both in terms of leadership, and ball distribution. So far, Holiday has filled both of those voids, taking firm control of the Sixers offense. With their field general gone, someone needed to commandeer the Sixers offense, and Holiday has done an excellent job of transitioning into that role.
But that’s not all of it, he’s just become a better, more assertive player. Maybe the loss of Iguodala pushed him there, but Holiday’s increased statistical output is far from a simple consequence of having one fewer player around to collect stats. He’s become the player he looked like he might be able to become during his first three seasons. During those years, we would see bursts of scoring, or remarkable plays from Holiday, but he would rarely do it over the course of an entire game, and when he did, he definitely wouldn’t be up for a repeat performance the next night. Now, Holiday is the kind of player who the Sixers can count on to produce big numbers on a nightly basis. He’s the heart and soul of the team, and there’s no play he’s afraid to make.
Considering all of this, Holiday must be taken into consideration as a very serious candidate for Most Improved Player. He’s completely redefined his game, and went from from a middle-of-the-pack point guard to one of the ten best in the league. Some will inevitably be hesitant to give him this honor because the Sixers are not one of the league’s better teams. Still, that’s hardly his fault. Andrew Bynum was supposed to be the savior of this team, but injuries have kept off the court all season long. Who knows what would happen if Holiday and Bynum were given a chance to play together. They could become one of the most deadly pick and roll tandems in the league. The thought of Holiday setting up countless easy buckets for Bynum in the post is certainly intriguing. Actually, that’s a big reason why the Sixers should consider bringing Bynum back in spite of his current problems. The thought of him playing with Holiday should be too enticing to pass up.
In the meantime, the Sixers struggles should not detract from the excellent play of Holiday. He’s proven that the flashes of brilliance he’s displayed before were no fluke, and he’s become a fully formed top-flight point guard. His future is extremely bright, and should include at least a few all-star games. The Sixers may be struggling to piece things together at the moment, but if nothing else, they have a quality player who should be putting up great seasons for the next decade. that’s certainly a fine start.
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