I continue on with my draft analysis threads tonight with a thorough examination of the UCLA young combo guard, Jrue Holiday. My first two draft analysis threads featured PG Ty Lawson from North Carolina, and SG Gerald Henderson from Duke. Those who are interested in reading those can find them via this site from a few days ago.
How well a team and its fans likes Holiday probably depends on your opinion of whether he can be a true NBA caliber starting point guard or not. Obviously, the value of a legitimate starter at a difficult to fill position is much higher than a "tweener" type of guard, which are much more common and easier to find. Holiday doesn't have the normal prerequisite size to be off the ball at the NBA level anyway, so it is probably point guard or bust for Holiday at the next level.
Trying to make a determination abouth whether or not Holiday is a point guard truly by nature isn't an easy task, because he almost never played that position in his one year of college up to this point. As most of you probably know, Holiday played almost exclusively off the ball and out of position for the Bruins this year, as Head coach ben Howland opted to play big minutes to his senior defensive minded point guard Darren Collison.
The Bruins offense is tough to watch on film. The play a slow pace in general anyway, and really lack alot of fluidity and motion in their overall team scheme in the halfcourt. The Bruins win with defense mostly, and in spite of their mind numbing at times half court attack. It's hard to tell whether the Bruins stand alot on offense because Collison over dribbled so much, or because Collison dribbled so much because his teammates didn't move....perhaps a little of both.
Anyway, most of what a person thinks of Holiday is a projection into the future, because we haven't ever really got to see Jrue play his NBA position against any sort of tougher competition. This leaves a person to have to try to judge him in small bursts of plays, trying to read very fine nuances. It also brings a scouts personal biases and predilections into play, because their is so much open to interpretation. It is for this reason that I believe that there will be a wide variety of opinions on Holiday among teams, fans, draft "experts", and members of this very forum. With very little to go on in film that we have access to, it becomes a reading of tea leaves in many ways.
Having said that, I definitely have my own strong opinions/beliefs about Holiday, and I will share them here.
I do not like Holiday at all as a player for this draft, and I feel pretty strongly that he shouldn't be in it. Ultimately, I think he clearly should head back to school, play point guard full time for a season and prove himself. He has too many mysteries about him, and too many clear weaknesses in my opinion to merit being picked anywhere except the later stages of the first round, even though I know there are scouts out there who will have him projected in the top 10. Right now I do not see an NBA point guard when I watch him play.......and I suspect that Holiday will here that from enough teams that it will scare him enough to head back to school and try and improve his stock and try again.
Don't get me wrong....I don't dislike Holiday forever as a player, it's just that to me here clearly isn't ready to play at this level yet...he is a project at best, needing much improvement in too many areas to be a factor in the league for at least a year, maybe more. I think Holiday has a chance to really develop and be a high quality player, but he clearly needs alot of seasoning, which he will not get nailed to an NBA bench.
Let's start with his positives first, as we go in depth.
As a defender, Holiday is both going be very well taught under Ben Howland, and well prepared when he does come out in an NBA type of defensive system. Howland is a great teacher of man to man defensive principles, particularly on the perimeter. Holiday has active hands, and does a really good job of tracing the basketball when pressuring his own man after the dribble has been picked up. Holiday is really good at forcing difficult post entry passes at the college level, and he is tough to beat off the dribble in the half court. Sometimes he will get a little "handsy", and put his hands on people when there is no reason to do so. A little realized fact is that NCAA basketball is in many ways more physical than the NBA, because the officials allow so much defensive contact. Holiday takes adavantage of that by bumping cutters hard as they cross his face on cuts.....trust me, Holiday delivers quite a few off the ball forearm shivers to the chest of cutters, pleasing his tough minded coach.
On the downside, Holiday (like many young, inexperienced players) has a glaring tendency to stare at the ball when he is in help side and lose track of his man. Often teams I watched werent set up in a way to do anything about it, but occasionally Holiday will get beat by backdoor cuts, as he loses "ball-you-man" type of positioning. This isn't a fatal weakness, it just shows that he is young and still has things to learn about how to play properly.
Holiday will possibly be a very good NBA rebounder for a point guard, assuming that he someday is able to transition to the position. He is physically tough and playing in a tough minded program will only enhance this skill. He has long arms, good instincts, and strong hands as a rebounder, although that is a skill that will be negated by playing the point guard in many systems and styles of offense.
Offensively, I don't see much that impresses me. He was clearly uncomfortable playing off the ball so much, you can see that on fiilm easily. Holiday didn't cut very well I didn't think, often rounding his cuts off and not using his screens very well coming off baseline screen action, or on the "zipper" type action the Bruins used occasionally. He also had a pretty bad habit of staring at the ball when he moved, instead of watching his man to know where and how to properly cut. One tape of Holiday I watched live during the season produced this note I took at the time :"Holiday stares LONGINGLY at the ball, like a puppy staring out the window waiting on his owner to get home".....my mind works in odd ways watching games and taking notes sometimes!
Holiday didn't get the ball very often, and I thought he pouted a little bit during games about it, especially on offense. The fact that I thought he was right to be miffed at times mitigates this for me a little, but overall, I think Holiday thinks he is better than he really is.....and that would be a concern for me.
Holiday didn't score much, in fact he rarely got into double digits toward the end of the year, averaging only around 8 points per game. Granted, his entire team was a mess offensively, but you would still think a player thought of in the lottery would be more productive than that. He missed alot of the shots he did take from the outside, and seemed to struggle to make shots from a standstill position off kickouts. His percentage didn't seem to improve even when he was wide open....by and large I thought Holiday took good shots mostly, he just rarely made them. I don't see anything particularly wrong form wise, so maybe it was just a comfort/rhythm type of thing. Clearly though, his results indicate a lack of range at this moment in time, yet another thing he needs to develop to be a good NBA lead guard someday.
He rarely took a pull up off the dribble jumper in the games I watched, but when he did, he didn't convert very many. I didn't notice any particularly weakness in terms of favoring one direction or the other (such as Henderson has in this draft), but the most noticable thing at this point to me is that he simply misses too many shots to be reliable. Even that is a mystery to me as to why, because I also believe that Holiday has nice lower body balance and a reasonably decent looking release as well.
The evidence cries out that Holiday is a poor shooter from anywhere outside the paint, regardless of why. My educated guess is that Holiday has huge hands, and therefore will need much help from a "shot doctor" to help adjust his hand/finger positions on the ball to help get a better shooting result. I'm guessing of course, but that would be one idea to help him get better. On occasion, but not everytime, I saw him lean to his left while shooting, a tough to break habit that I had myself as a player. Fortunately, the Pacers do have people to help with particular details like that.
All that above stuff just reinforces that Holiday is either a point guard or a Euro player at this point, he has no positional value anywhere but as a lead guard to me, although there will surely be others who feel differently about that.
I do like some things about his point guard future, but I need more evidence and proof to be sure enough to recommend him.
I like his balance, upperbody strength, and super strong hands. I like the fact that he views himself as a point guard, and nothing else....I like "positional purity" in my point guards. I like Holiday alot as a potential defender at the point guard spot with a little more experience. I really like (on the rare occasions he had the ball and made a play off the dribble) that he really seems strong with the ball and is able to make very accurate passes. The ability to make a "perfect pass" is a hugely underrated skill for a player at any position.....it is glaring on film to me that Darren Collison struggled with this very thing, often throwing balls just a little high, low, or behind people. The little things often mean alot in basketball, and the abilty to pass the ball "between the numbers" is something that Holiday seems to have, although like I keep emphasizing, we don't have enough evidence to be sure.
To be a very good NBA player, if you struggle as a shooter you need to have either extraordinary athleticism, or some terrific outstanding particularly skill. At this point, I don't project Holiday to have either one of these. Holiday isn't uber quick, or super fast, or a great leaper. He is functional, even good, at those traits but so are a bunch of other guys. Holiday doesn't stand out to me in any real valuable way at this point in his development. He isnt nearly the freak athlete that some people want to project him to be. I think some "experts" see what they want to see sometimes, and right now people want to see the next Westbrook, the next Rajon Rondo, or a physical freak like Derrick Rose. Wishing doesn't make it so however.
I need to see Holiday run a team from the point. I need to see him be a coach on the floor, show leadership, defend quick point guards instead of wings, make plays out of the screen/roll, see him run an offense and make intelligent decisions. I need to see him do this consistently, do it often, do it well, and do it against big time competition.
If I were guiding Holiday, I'd tell him to stay in school and get better.
If I am the Pacers decision makers, I can't afford to take on a long term project at this point, even one with a lot of potential of growth. We simply arent a good enough team to carry a young player as a 3rd point guard. That is what I see Holiday being for the next 2 years in the league....the NBA is a tough league to learn for a young point guard anyway, imagine how tough it will be for an average athlete who can't shoot well and who hasnt played the position since high school 2 years ago!
If Holiday does stay in the draft, I think the best situation for him would be to be drafted by a team like Phoenix, New Orleans, or Utah.... a place with a big time point guard already who he can learn from and improve with little pressure to have to play right away.
Who do I see him as an NBA comparison?
If he completely maxes out his abilities, really improves his shot, and gains experience, I see his absolute highest ceiling to be our own Jarrett Jack.
I don't ever see him being any better than that, and even that I think is unlikely. Anybody who sees him as a Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups, or someone like that is hoping with their heart more than analyzing with their brain, at least as I see it right now.
A great former player comparison is also right in front of our noses I think:
Buckner was a really good collegiate player who I think has a similar skill set at the pro level as Holiday has, and had a similar build and athletic pros and cons. Most people don't consider Buckner a very good professional point guard, although his toughness and attitude was good, and he was a very good and physical defender back in the day.
In summary, I think Holiday should and likely will end up back in school, but if he stays in the draft he shouldnt be picked anywhere in the top 20. In a weak draft year, someone will likely gamble on him around that area if not before. Whoever does will be making a mistake if they expect any immediate impact or help this season, in my view. In the position they find themselves in, the Pacers should definitely pass on drafting Holiday, no matter what any of the so called draft experts say.
As always, the above is just my opinion.