Sunday, July 13, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Not celebrating this Holiday

In which I analyze the Sixers' selection of UCLA guard Jrue Holiday from the perspective of a college basketball observer instead of a pro basketball observer.

Not celebrating this Holiday

If I may analyze the Sixers' selection of UCLA guard Jrue Holiday from the perspective of a college basketball observer instead of a pro basketball observer...

We don't see a lot of Pac-10 basketball on the East Coast. This is in part because the conference's games are on Fox Sports Net, whose telecasts CSN doesn't always pick up, and in part because the big games are often at 10 p.m. our time.

So let's look at Holiday's stats from this past season, his only one in college basketball. Holiday averaged 8.5 points, 3.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals in an average of 27.1 mintues per game. He shot 45.0 percent from the field, 30.7 percent from three-point range and 72.6 percent from the free throw line. Collison played in 35 games this past season, starting in 34.

To me, those numbers aren't indicitative of the kind of top talent that we heard Holliday described as when he arrived at Pauley Pavilion - especially the single-digit points per game.

Then I look at this quote from Bob Cooney's live blog of the Draft:

[John] Smallwood says you had to do it, because if he was able to come straight out of high school, he would have been a number one pick. Like I said earlier, he is a guy who gives them a couple of years. He is a project with good skills. [ESPN's Jay] Bilas called him a top-ten talent. Satisfied fans?

And these quotes from Tony DiLeo:

He was one of the guys we liked. We tried to move up a little bit but couldn't, very fortunate cause he dropped to us. He's exactly what we wanted. Bug guard and can play a lot of different combinations. He could be a great fit for our team. He's a very good defender, which is rare for ayoung player. He was the top player in high school coming out.

We interviewed him in Chicago, didn't have him in for a workout because we thought he'd go in the top 10. He told us that he was never jealous of [Darren] Collison at UCLA. That was a situation where he didn't get to develop his point guard sills in his one year there. Don't want to put pressure on him. I think defensively he can come in and play. He can definitely play. We ween't looking at him to come in and make an impact next season, we're looking further ahead of that. We'ere still a work in progress as a team and we still want to do some things. He compared himself to Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz.

Well, I was under the impression that the Sixers needed point guard help right now. Holiday might not have been jealous of Darren Collison, but a lot of people expected to see Holiday put up better numbers than he did regardless of his place on the depth chart.

And in perhaps UCLA's highest-pressure game of the year, the NCAA Tournament second-round matchup against Villanova, Holiday scored only four points on 1-of-6 shooting in 27 minutes. He dished out seven assists, but also committed four turnovers.

If Holiday turns out to be as good as Deron Williams, that will be great. But Williams led Illinois to the national championship game, and in general built a far deeper resumé in college than Holliday has. That kind of experience counts a lot to me, but I know that NBA scouts often look at athleticism and upside more than past accomplishments.

(That's a polite way of saying what I really think about what's been wrong with the NBA for most of this decade.)

It's all well and good that Holliday wants to disprove some of the negative perceptions that people have of him, as he said on ESPN after his name was called. But if it was up to me, I would have chosen a more proven commodity.

Specifically, I would have taken North Carolina's Ty Lawson. When you have the chance to own the straw that stirred the most explosive drink in college basketball over the last three seasons, I don't think you should pass it up.

I don't care if he's only 5-foot-11. He's got fantastic speed, great court vision, and can score from both the lane and the perimeter. He also knows how to run system-based offenses, and Eddie Jordan is a system-based coach.

Granted, it's not the same kind of system Lawson orchestrated at Carolina, but in terms of how Jordan wants the ball to move around, I think Lawson would have handled it quite well.

And I think it's of no small significance that Lawson was taken with the very next pick by Minnesota, even if he was later traded to Denver.

After Lawson, the next three picks were Wake Forest's Jeff Teague, Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor and UCLA's Darren Collison - putting the Holiday pick in even more context.

Personally, and again, I'm writing this as a college basketball observer, I think all of the above guards had better seasons than Holiday. Again, I'm using the experience-over-upside argument, but I also read in the Inquirer that Maynor was considered by scouts to be "NBA-ready."

In particular, I think Lawson and Collison were the best point guards in college basketball over the last few seasons by a considerable margin. Holiday may well have more "upside" than Collison, but Collison was a great controller of tempo and flow of the game when he was on the court.

(Though my opinion of him definitely went down a notch when he criticized Villanova's physicality after the NCAA Tournament game.)

With all that said, what matters most is how the players do on the floor from this point forward. Perhaps Holiday will turn out to be a star, and he'll become the kind of leader the 76ers envision.

But in the present tense, I would feel a lot better had the Sixers drafted Lawson.

What do you think?

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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