During the offseason, the SB Nation network had various "themed post" days. Days where all the blogs would write about a similar topic. That has carried over to the regular season, and today all the blogs are taking a look at surprises so far in the season.
With 11 games worth of data, we're now beginning to be able to pick out some trends.
Positive Surprise: Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday was regarded as one of the primary keys for the 76ers this season. If he could somehow find a way to make that breakout we all thought was in him, to become a legitimate #2 offensive option and improve as a playmaker for his teammates, and if he could find a way to coexist with Andrew Bynum, the 76ers might have the chance to have something special.
When the 76ers shipped off Andre Iguodala and let Louis Williams walk this offseason, they needed somebody to pick up the slack, not only in terms of scoring output but also to replace the setup role Andre Iguodala so frequently performed. So far, Jrue Holiday has exceeded just about any reasonable expectation.
His per game averages have skyrocketed, from 13.5 points per game to 18.6, and from 4.5 assists per game to 8.9, while his efficiency has increased in a similar manner, from a 49.6% true shooting percentage to a far more respectable 53.3%.
You don't typically see a player become more efficient when he carries a higher offensive burden, but that is exactly what is happening with Holiday. A combination of more floor spacing around him and a much better offensive philosophy has led to Holiday's increased efficiency, both of which are welcome surprises.
Last year, 46% of Holiday's field goal attempts came from either at the rim or from three point range, and he only averaged 0.14 free throw attempts per field goal attempt. This year, 51% of his attempts are coming from those two areas and he is averaging 0.24 free throw attempts per field goal attempt, a much better rate for a point guard. In terms of isolations, he is as efficient as anyone in the league so far this year. He has been incredibly shifty with the ball, changing speeds and direction like a pro, and getting into the lane at will at times, something we didn't see last year when he settled for long, contested two point jump shots all too frequently.
More impressive has been his passing. With Bynum still on the shelf due to a combination of knee issues, the 76ers are short on players who can create their own shot. Holiday has been absolutely essential in getting good looks for the plethora of shooters the 76ers have on roster.
Holiday's assist rate last year was a meager 21.6%. That has jumped to 43.9% this year. That number puts him in pretty rarefied company, as only 4 players (Steve Nash, Jose Calderon, Rajon Rondo, and Deron Williams) had that lofty of a rate last season, and, with the exception of Deron Williams, none of them were asked to carry that much of a scoring load.
He has shown to be equally adept at the drive and kick as he is at finding divers to the hoop, he has shown court vision that he hasn't in prior years, and so far he has shown an excellent ability to control the pace.
Nor were any of them the defensive player Jrue Holiday is. Sure, he'll sometimes get caught losing his man off the ball (as he did last night against Jose Calderon), or he'll struggle fighting through pick and rolls (as much the fault of the big men we have to help him), but his on the ball defense is a thing of beauty. All you needed to do was watch him blanket Kyrie Irving to know that to be the case. If you need numerical evidence, the 0.478 points per possession he gives up is in the top 15% in the league, and he holds defenders to 22.2% shooting in these situations. Overall, his defense is top 15% in the league, according to Synergy Sports.
The one negative for Jrue Holiday has been his turnovers, although even that is turning out to be not that big of a deal. Through the first 7 games, Holiday averaged a staggering 6 turnovers per game, finding any and every way to turn the ball over. In the 4 games since, Holiday is averaging only 2.5 turnovers per game, compared to 8.8 assists per game during that stretch. He has done a fantastic job of taking care of the ball since then, and it's no coincidence that the team is 3-1 during that stretch.
A second place vote goes out to Thaddeus Young. Over the last 3 seasons under Doug Collins' tutelage, Young has turned into a terror defending the pick and roll, something this team seriously lacks. Beyond that, his improvement on the defensive glass (from a horrible 12.0% defensive rebounding percentage last year up to an almost respectable 17.2%) has been key, especially with Bynum out, and it makes Young a more legitimate starting option to play next to Bynum if and when he returns. While Young's offensive contribution so far is don (13.2 points/36 minutes, 52.6% true shooting percentage from 16.6 and 53.8%), if he is able to maintain this kind of defensive rebounding production, he becomes much more viable as a power forward, and I have full faith his offensive production will fall back in line to previous numbers.
Negative Surprise: Lavoy Allen
One could easy say Andrew Bynum is the biggest early season disappointment, especially with the news that there may be a possibility that Andrew Bynum doesn't play this year, but I'm keeping this strictly to players who are on the court.
After being ranked the 500th best player in the NBA by ESPN to start last season, Lavoy Allen came on strong to end the season and particularly strong in the playoffs, where his 6.3 points, 4.9 rebounds per game were big lefts for the 76ers near run to the Eastern Conference Playoffs, and perhaps more importantly his stingy defense on Kevin Garnett gave the 76ers their only real answer to KG. He came out of camp as the 76ers starter for the injured Bynum, and for the first time of his NBA career, had expectations placed upon him.
That starting gig lasted all of 6 games, as Allen averaged a meager 4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and shot 41.9% from the floor during those 6 starts. He has turned it around somewhat since (6 points per game, 5 rebounds per game in the 5 games off the bench), but is still shooting an incredibly low 35.7% from the floor. On the year, his PER of 10, WS/48 of 0.52, and true shooting percentage of 42.1% are all well below his numbers for last year, and way down from the impact he made in the playoffs.
The 76ers front court overall has been their biggest weakness. With Bynum out, they really needed somebody to fill in and give the team a lift, and Lavoy Allen was the most likely candidate, and the starter out of the gate. So far, he has failed to live up to expectations after signing his 2 year, $6 million contract over the offseason.