Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jrue Holiday vs. Bayless: My own draft foolishness

I mentioned this in passing not long ago, but I am sort of fascinated by a certain point-guard in the NBA Draft. The more I learn about Jrue Holiday the more I wonder how he would look in a Blazers uniform. This is a long post. I had to get it out of my system. Sorry.

You can't think about a young point guard that would need some development time without considering the one already on the Blazers' roster, Jerryd Bayless. Many fans and media in Portland seem sold on Bayless as the long term solution at point guard. I'm more skeptical. I see a player that needs to dominate the ball on offense to be effective, a characteristic that is hard to change and does not really fit with what the team needs. (At least not when Roy is on the court. I don't think "point guard of the future" discussions are intended to focus on back ups.)

Equally worrisome is that Bayless has not shown the will or the ability to direct the team offense over a sustained period of time. Not in high school. Not in College. Not in summer league. Can you alter the characteristics of player's game so drastically at the NBA level? Is it wise to assume you can? Ultimately, any starting point guard in Portland will have flourish while complementing Brandon Roy. Competing with Roybot for touches is not going to fly.

Then there is the defensive side of things. Portland wants a versatile perimeter defender, a player that can shackle guards of all varieties. (Here's a crazier discussion for another time: with the game officiated the way it is now, does it even make sense to focus so much energy on defending the position? Or does it mean we should be spending more time trying to figure it out? Is it even possible to have a lockdown point guard defender in today's NBA?) Is Bayless this defender? He certainly has shown promise and has some of the physical tools for the job. So does Jrue Holiday.

We can see other things these players broadly have in common. They both spell their first name differently than you'd assume. They both can't shoot are still developing their 3 point shot. But we can go deeper.

We can compare results of each player from their respective pre-Draft workouts. (Bayless here, Holiday here) At 6'3.25" without shoes Holiday is 1.5 inches taller than Bayless. Holiday's wingspan of 6'7 is 3.5 inches longer than Bayless and his gator arms. All the better to smother you with, CP3.

Then again, how much does wingspan make up for the athletic gap between the two? Much of what gets people enamored with Bayless is his exceptional strength and explosion. His max vertical leap at his workout was four inches higher than Holiday. He managed 10 bench press repetitions to Holiday's 6. Holiday's one edge came in the agility test, where he made it through the drill .62 of a second quicker than Bayless. Don't take that to mean he is necessarily the faster of the two, Bayless was .14 of a second faster in the sprint. Oy.

By comparing workout results it is safe to say that Bayless is more athletic while Holiday has more length. Drills and measuring tape can be telling but they do not measure an individual's ability to play basketball. For this we can compare the respective scouting reports from DraftExpress. (Bayless here, Holiday here.)

This post is all ready too long so I'll throw in everything. Here are the strengths the scouts have identified in Jerryd Bayless:

- Ability to get to free throw line
- All-around offensive polish
- Go-to scoring mentality
- Ability to create own shot
- Ball-handling skills
- Commitment to playing defense
- Lateral quickness
- Confidence
- Potential
- Strong Intangibles
- Unselfishness
- Work ethic
- Excellent first step
- Explosiveness
- Fluidity
- Incredibly quick
- Ability to come off screens
- NBA 3-point range
- Perimeter shooting ability
- Pull-up jumper

I admit that seeing shooting listed under "strengths" is a little surprising. Really though, Bayless can shoot, provided he gets to dribble around first. This usually won't happen in situations where he is playing with Roy. In Portland's system, the spot-up 3 is crucial. Steve Blake can do it. Perhaps these DraftExpress observations mean that all Bayless needs is a little more consistent opportunity and he will be able to do it too.

Now Holiday's strengths:

- Executes offensively
- Pick and roll play
- Versatility
- Ability to create own shot
- Change of gears/Hesitation moves
- Ability to fight through screens
- Ability to get in passing lanes
- All-around defense
- Defensive awareness
- Defensive fundamentals
- Lateral quickness
- Off-ball defense
- Versatility to defend multiple positions
- Basketball IQ
- Likelihood of reaching potential
- Role-player potential
- Unselfishness
- Winning mentality
- Work ethic
- Positional versatility
- Young for class
- Court vision
- Solid passer
- Ability to finish around basket
- NBA body
- Size for position
- Wingspan
- Excellent rebounder

Scanning these strengths is what really helps me envision Holiday in Portland's back court. I would argue that Portland needs these things more than they need what Bayless provides, which is mostly athleticism and individual offense on the condition that he dominates the ball. Things like 'Role player potential', 'Executes offensively', 'Basketball IQ', and 'Versatility to guard multiple positions' make me get all sorts of excited.

The weaknesses cloud things up a bit. While Bayless is a good shooter in certain situations, Holiday is not really consistently effective in any. Doubts that Holiday is good enough at any offensive skill to have NBA success is a little troubling. We at least know that Bayless can take the ball to the rim. Will Holiday have something besides defense to hang his hat on?

He does have time to develop such things. I have not heard any in Rip City advocate for this team to go younger, but if it means getting the right pieces then so be it. Bayless is 20 (8/20/88). Holiday is 18 (for a little while, 6/12/90). This can make Holiday more exciting in terms of potential for individual skill development, but is he too young to be the right guy at the right time for the Trailblazers? This team is still a couple seasons away from being a serious title contender. Holiday's youth means he could be molded to fit the system better, and he may need less system-molding than Bayless anyhow.

Jrue Holiday could very well end up being that big, long, defensive minded, role-playing point guard that Portland needs in the starting line up. It might not even matter though as his stock seems to be climbing in the various mock drafts. (For example: here, here, and here.) Will Kevin Pritchard be able to get him with the assets he has available? Does KP even want him? Who knows. I guess we will keep watching.


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