As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, and Reggie Evans.
I'm going to be honest. I fell into a trap with Holiday. While I tend to be a proponent of giving players ample time to continue their development -- especially when, as with Jrue, you're talking about a player who entered the league at an uncommonly young age -- at some point you start to wonder if you've seen enough. Three years into his career, Holiday had yet to enact any large or present changes to the configuration of his game. He seemed about the same as he had when he started -- a very poor at-rim scorer with a surprisingly decent floater-to-long-two range on his shot that made him retain some manner of offensive value. A decent defender from the point guard position who nevertheless didn't have a surfeit of defensive creativity and was relatively easy to figure out if you were a crafty guard like 2011 Wade, Rose, or Paul. Good at fighting over screens, good at contesting, not so good at rotating when forced and a bit overly focused on staying with his original man off a switch. That often led to wide-open shots that he'd have to recover on out of nowhere, or perhaps more commonly, disoriented the relatively substandard Philadelphia defensive bigs into leaving their man to add additional help, which allowed smart coaches and teams to pick and roll the Sixers into (relative) oblivion.
I was also worried about Jrue Holiday's overall suitability as an NBA point guard. His passing always seemed decent-but-not-quite-there, posting assist rates that were hardly in the same stratosphere as any legitimate NBA point guard. Philly fans -- and Jrue fans -- tend to laugh at this. There's a lot of creativity in Holiday's passing, and I don't deny that at all. But it's not an idle complaint. There were 52 point guards that played greater than 20 minutes a contest in 2012 -- Holiday's assist rate ranked 11th worst among them. He clocked in slightly above Brandon Jennings and Kyrie Irving and slightly below Kemba Walker and Jordan Farmar. And while Jennings and Irving were lords of the hockey pass, much of Philadelphia's offense revolved around shooting the long two straightaway off the pass, far moreso than the offenses of Milwaukee or Cleveland. (Not to mention that Kyrie's teammates couldn't make a shot to begin with). Regardless, here's a visual representation of where Jrue stood among the point guards. It's not a nice graph to look at.
Y-Axis represents assist rate, X-Axis represent the player's spot in the 52 player line. Darkened portion represents the guards under Jrue. As you can kind of tell, rather poor spot for our man. He falls well short of the position-average, and clearly comes far behind the "elite assist-man" cutoff around player #46, where Andre Miller delineates the basic split between guards that destroyed worlds with their passing and guards who were merely decent at it. This would be fine, if Holiday wasn't the Sixers' primary passing option and the primary steward of their awful offense. Much like Rajon Rondo shoulders some of the blame for the Celtics' poor offensive results, so too does Holiday bear some for that of the Sixers. Not all -- Collins probably deserves more, for not really putting his guys in a position to succeed offensively. But some. So, rather understandably, I did not expect huge things for Holiday this season, and wasn't 100% sure about the size of his contract -- I felt it was certainly possible for Holiday to live up to it, but it wasn't exceedingly likely.
Count me as wrong on that, so far. There have been a lot of disappointing aspects of the Philadelphia start, not least of which being that their current record and differential are mirages forged against terrible no-good teams in a home-heavy start. And, of course, "anything having to do with Andrew Bynum." But Holiday has been one of the true bright spots of the year, much like Brandon Jennings was last year. He's looked smart and in control, and he's been playing like one of the best guards in the eastern conference. Some of it may be unsustainable -- Holiday has been shooting markedly better on the road, especially from three point range (52% from three on the road this year) and things are likely to normalize. But he was already above average from everywhere but the rim -- and his at-rim scoring has been excellent this year, with Holiday seeking out the finishing play far more readily and sinking the lay-up like a pro's pro. He's been Philadelphia's best player absent Bynum by a country mile, and he's led the Sixers to several wins they shouldn't have even been close in.
He's had poise, and with his talent finally being tapped into, he's been a lovely guy to watch. I'm hoping he keeps it up and makes the all-star team, although the Eastern game is a bit packed. Rondo, Kyrie, Deron, Lowry, the formerly all-star point guard Raymond Felton consumed to augment his powers, et cetera. Even Rose, if he's back on time, has a good shot of making it. And Jennings has been good too. So I fear he may end up as Brandon Jennings did last year, a player who starts the season on a huge tear, misses out on the all-star game, and just tapers off afterwards as though offended at the unbecoming absence. Let's hope that doesn't happen and that Holiday can keep it up long enough to garner some notice, reenergize to finish the season, and continue showing people like me just how far from his ceiling he actually was. Keep at it, Jrue.
(Also, on a related note, Tim: that waiter DEFINITELY was giving you the eyes.)
Another UCLA product, Darren Collison is remarkably similar to Jrue Holiday in the basic numbers. In fact, they're almost entirely the same by the numbers -- Collison is slightly worse at getting to the rim, Holiday is slightly worse at passing. Both are good at controlling the ball. Both are exceedingly young starters on fringe playoff teams. Both are having decent starts to this season, although Collison is starting to fall off a bit. Both are great free throw shooters. Lots and lots of similarities. Obviously, differences too. Collison's defense is nowhere near Holiday's, despite both being a bit undersized for their position (Collison far moreso than Holiday). Neither are wonderful at developing an offense -- Collison has balked at running an effective pick-and-roll offense since a short flirtation with fame as a brilliant rookie behind Chris Paul, and Holiday (as any point guard probably would) has had some difficulty running Collins' pet longball program with any real efficiency. Still, Collison has a few interesting offensive wrinkles. Mainly that he's one of the quickest guards in the NBA. Being the son of two Olympic sprinters has its advantages, you know. While this makes him (theoretically) a beast in transition, he's shown some problems actually converting on that.
Which, actually, deserves some special mention. One of the reasons Collison's two point percentage is so low is that he simply has a lot of trouble actually finishing transition layups. He can get to the rim relatively easily, and he can get an open shot there without going through too much trouble. Having speed is useful that way. The problem -- and the thing that differentiates him from other NBA speedsters like Tony Parker or Ty Lawson -- is that he's simply so bad at finishing (regardless of the duress he's under) that his speed advantage impacts his game marginally at best and uselessly at worst. And, as stated, he balks at running a traditional set-play offense -- he regularly dribbles himself into oblivion, ending the play far away from the screen that's been set for him. Going forward, could potentially make him a poor fit in Dallas, as Carlisle likes calling plays. As do, well, most coaches. But still. Collison's best offense is probably going to be a Ramon Sessions-type spread surrounded by shooters as he pushes the tempo a bit. He's not going to get that very easily in Dallas, although I'm interested in the offensive prospects of a Collison-Mayo-Marion-Nowitzki-Brand lineup if Carlisle consents to running Collison's pet spread. He's a good player, it's just an open question as to how useful he'll be in a set-play lineup.
This all would be a lot easier to handicap if Collison would just develop a reliable at-rim finish. Just... something. Anything. A better twist to his layup. A better sense of space under the basket. I don't know. Collison often misjudges how open he is and tries to finish layups from 2-3 feet away from the basket -- if he'd curb that, his at-rim numbers would look a lot better. My fear with Collison is that after an excellent start in Dallas he's been oscillating between abject horror and decent play every few nights. This wouldn't be all that big of a deal if Dirk was around and the team still looked decent without him, but Mayo and Collison have been so important to the Mavericks so far that Collison's poor performances have been that much more noticeable. When Collison registers a game score over 10, the Mavericks are 6-3 -- when Collison registers a game score below 10, they're 1-5. With Collison seeming more important without Dirk around to take some weight off his shoulders, any perceived struggle can lead to drastic measures. Like the Mavericks inexplicably pulling Collison from the starting lineup. Kind of worried that the Mavericks might take a flyer on some washed up old point guard in an effort to spell Collison, not realizing that the new guard has virtually no chance of actually improving their team and he's simply not ver--...
The Mayans are coming. Prepare yourselves for the soothing embrace of the grim reaper.
I'm not a big Reggie Evans guy. There are a few players I legitimately can't stand watching, and Evans is one of them. I don't know if it's the style of play, the lack of offensive talents, or the atrociously off-base calls that Evans seems to get on a daily basis in the NBA. Wait. Yes I do. It's the calls. It feels like Evans draws at least 3 ridiculous off-ball calls a game, which is pretty absurd given the fact that he plays less than 15 minutes a game. The man is a freaking SAVANT at getting under a player, drawing incidental contact, and sprawling on the floor like he's at the mercy of John Henry's hammer. Not to mention his most absurd talent, that being his absolutely remarkable ability to shove players in the back willy-nilly and never get called on it. I honest to God don't know how Evans gets away with half this stuff. You know how there's that whole "David Stern knows where the bodies are buried" thing? Yeah, I think that's crap. David Stern doesn't know where the bodies are buried. Reggie Evans does, and the entire lockout was a ruse to make us think he doesn't.
I'm joking, but explain this to me. How do you internalize the way Evans gets to the line? The man's taken 30 free throws to 21 field goal attempts this season. This isn't a new thing -- last year, he took 71 free throw attempts to 72 field goal attempts. He's been on the edge a few times (IE, within a few free throws of it), but Reggie Evans may very well be the single greatest free throw drawing machine in the history of the NBA. Want to know how many seasons he's had in his career with free throws greater than field goal attempts (or the two virtually even)? Four seasons, out of 10 years played. Want to know how many other players had four? Dwayne Jones. That's it. There are only 16 other players that have had multiple such seasons in the three point era. ONLY 16 PLAYERS. This is not some common thing. It's extremely rare for a player who uses the ball as sparingly as Evans (who sports a career 12% usage rate, although he hasn't passed that in 3 years) to actually register enough free throws to overtake even the sparsest of field goal attempts. Refs flock to Evans like lawyers flock to malpractice suits, waving their arms and screaming bloody murder. "Leave our Reggie all alone," they say! (They don't, but they should. Or they should stop calling so many phantom calls.)
Beyond the absurd calls, he's a hustle player whose defense is shaky at best and harmful at worst. He was fantastic last year against the Grizzlies in the playoffs (in what may very well have been the greatest playoff series he'll have in his entire career), but don't let that fool you into thinking he's a plus defender in the regular season. The man's single-minded focus on drawing fouls and getting rebounds leads him to constantly lose prime defensive position in hopes that he'll get better position for the board, and it doesn't help that he's undersized to begin with. And although he's a great rebounder for his size, he'd be a hell of a lot worse if they actually called him when he grinds his elbows into an opposing player's back to move them out of the way and grab the carom for himself. But that probably isn't going to happen any time soon. Referees have had 10 years to figure out Reggie Evans. They've either all gone blind as bats or discovered that Reggie Evans is the man Kool Keith wrote about when he wrote out the lyrics to Dr. Dooom's "Apartment 223." (Also, for the love of God, don't look them up if you aren't familiar. They're brutal and terrifying. Just be content knowing that the 10 people who actually listened to Dr. Dooom know exactly what I'm talking about and are cringing, locking their doors, and swearing off Brooklyn games until they forget the comparison.)
Really, though. Nothing's going to change. Evans will be Evans -- the most frustrating player to watch in the entire league, if he's not on your team. If he is? Try to enjoy it. It's hard, but you're essentially watching "history" happen when you watch this man draw free throws and crush the boards. Kind of. It's like watching a man set a world record for the most sardines eaten in a single sitting. You know it's a seminal moment in his life, and something you'll personally remember forever. It's "history." You're "rooting" for him insofar as you can root for someone like that. But you also will be nauseated, unentertained, and confused at the reason you're actually watching it. That's what it's like to be a fan of a Reggie Evans team, insofar as I can understand it. But perhaps you have a stronger stomach than I do. You wouldn't be the first.
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Shout-out to commenter Okman on an admirable 2/3 guess. Even got the team right, just the wrong guard. Heh.
Had you told me in 2010 that Player #313 would not be receiving an extension, I would've balked and laughed at you for hours. And I would've been wrong. He will not be getting an extension. It's been a shocking turn for the guy's career.
Player #314 is one of the best defenders in the NBA, and among the best twitter follows to boot.
Player #315 is considered to be a great defensive player. But he's not. ALMOST NOBODY BELIEVES ME. But he really, really isn't! I'm serious! Stop laughing! Argh!
In Los Angeles, my friends. All the drugs, money, and Coco Puffs my streetcar could possibly desire. Unfortunately, other people are the actual owners all three of those things, so I can't seriously partake in any. RIP Aaron McGuire. Knew ye well.
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