All we asked the Sixers to do without Andrew Bynum was tread water. Tread that damn water because when he gets back, tectonic plates will shift in the Sixers favor and, finally, a legitimate big man will grace the middle of a Philadelphia lineup. But as the timetable for his return goes ever more vague, Jrue Holiday continues to shoulder a heavier load. And his shoulders have been mighty impressive this season.
For the past three seasons, we've praised Jrue's talent but lamented his decision-making. He settled for too many long two's. He couldn't draw contact. His passing ability was just average. Through six games thus far (sample size alert), none of those things have been true. And he's been killing it.
Dude has been taking it to the basket a ton more, raising his shot attempts at the rim from 3.4 last season to 4.8 so far. And not only that, he's connecting on 70.8% of them, way up from 53.6% last year. Obviously that's going to go down, but getting to the basket (and getting fouled) are better plans for success than the alternatives. Speaking of getting fouled, he's more than doubled his free throw attempts from last year and he's now getting to the line over 4 times per game. And it's helped his true shooting percentage -- up to a career high 55.6%.
The knock on the Sixers last season was that only Bossy Louis Williams could create for himself and get to the line. I believe that was true because of how Doug Collins designed his offense. Now, giving Jrue more free reign to create for himself and for others has made that not the case. About 37% of his buckets last season were assisted. This season? Half that. 18.2%.
Now that's not to say that we don't want Jrue to get his within the flow of the offense, but it's an indicator that he can create for himself, which is exactly what the team needs without its centerpiece. And it's not like he's being unfriendly with the basketball. His assists have gone up from 4.5 last season to 9.5 through the first 6 games of 2012, and he's reached double figures three times. In fact, in all 6 games, Jrue hasn't gotten less than 5 assists once -- more than his average all of last season.
Having shooters like Nick Young, Dorell Wright, and Jason Richardson make assists come much easier, but a closer look will show that he's not just swinging the ball for threes. He's setting guys up in a position where they would literally have to try not to score. His assists leading to buckets at the rim has more than doubled from last year. 3.5 assists per game are at the rim.
And he's also taking threes of his own. His jumper, which still baffles me as to how much better its been than what we thought it was coming out of UCLA, gets silkier by the day, and he's got an eFG of 65% on three-pointers. That's positively nuts. He's doing it mostly on his own, getting his threes off his own dribble. That'll change once they feed to Bynum in the post and he kicks it out to shooters, but it's a great sign that he can shoot off the dribble -- something Andre Iguodala was less skilled at.
If you're worrying that his defense has suffered, it hasn't. In 25 isolation shots, Offensive Jrue is shooting 16-25 from the field, including 4-5 from three and two and-1's. That's a 1.48 average points per possession. Killing it. Defensively, his opponent is 1-11 with two turnovers in 13 isolation plays. An average of 0.15 points per possession. Murder, inc.
While his usage rate and turnover rate have respectively skyrocketed (25.9 and 25.8, respectively), that's to be expected with a young guy carrying the load more. The usage rate is perfectly fine for me and, as Derek has mentioned, aggressiveness at this stage is more important than being too pristine with the basketball. Make tough passes, go to the basket, do things that he wasn't doing enough last year. Be dynamic. The turnovers will go down on their own. I'm not worried about it.
And if you're a fan of sweeping advanced stats, his PER is up 3 points from his career high to 18.4 and his WS/48 is up a bunch to 0.114.
The Sixers will still struggle from time to time in the half court until Andy returns. They simply weren't built to be that kind of team. But Jrue's progression has been so impressive that treading water may not be as difficult as we'd previously thought. And we'll continue dreaming about the even brighter days to come.