This year’s top candidate?
For those who aren’t familiar with Jrue the Damaja, he’s a 6-3, 185 pound guard who after a stellar high school career, was viewed as one of the NCAA’s top recruits upon committing to UCLA prior to last season. The move was supposed to put UCLA right back at the top of the class in the Pac-10, even with the departures of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.
However things didn’t exactly go as planned.
Darren Collison, UCLA’s All-American point guard, decided to return for his senior year and as a result, Holiday was forced to spend most of his time at the 2, where his impact was minimal to say the least. Yes, he did at times show some flashes but the argument has been that Holiday simply never meshed with coach Ben Howland’s system and overall, you’d be hard pressed to talk to someone who didn’t view his freshman season as a major disappointment.
Some have compared Holiday’s situation to that of Rajon Rondo when Rondo was at Kentucky. Coach Tubby Smith had Rondo playing off the ball, not something that emphasized Rondo’s strengths considering his shooting struggles. Rondo ended up falling all the way to 21st overall in the 2006 draft but a good case could be made that if you were to redo the draft, Rondo would be a top 5 pick.
However outside of perhaps issues of fit with the systems they played in, that’s where the Rondo-Holiday comparison stops in my books. Long-time HQ readers will remember that I was about as voracious about the Raptors grabbing Rondo as I have been about making a play for Terrence Williams. Even at the 2 with the Wildcats, Rondo always stood out to me. His length, athleticism, explosiveness and overall basketball acumen made me believe that even with his shooting issues he could be a tremendous NBA player. In Holiday, I haven’t seen those same things.
In fact, I put the question of Holiday’s upside to the HQ Associate the other day, as he’s a die-hard UCLA fan who too was disappointed with Holiday’s first year with the Bruins. Here was his take:
Having watched most of UCLA’s games last year, overall, I wasn't impressed, given the expectations I had from his recruitment...certainly not enough to say that I think he should have gone pro. The pre-season comparisons originally were with Eric Gordon and he clearly did not have that kind of impact, nor was as explosive scoring wise.
But, we all know that people don't move up the draft board because of what they did in the previous season...at least, not at this time of the year. He is a 6-3 PG who was (essentially) out of position last year as Collison ran the point. He's fairly athletic and has long arms and is quite sound defensively. I would not be surprised to see him vault up the boards with good workouts, kind of like Russell Westbrook last year. However make no mistake…this is no Westbrook.
PS - I feel old. Jrue Holiday was born in 1990.
The Westbrook comparison is another that’s floating around obviously because of the UCLA connection, and CNN SI yesterday broke this down in depth.
So why discuss Holiday?
Well besides reportedly being on the Raptors radar, Holiday could indeed hold the key to Toronto’s draft success in a few weeks.
Like Westbrook last year, Holiday is suddenly being discussed as not only a lottery pick, but possibly a top five option. Chad Ford had him slotted in at number four to Sacramento in Wednesday’s latest Mock Draft on ESPN.com, and there are rumours that other clubs above the Raptors have interest in the former Bruin. So perhaps now Holiday being selected in the top 8, could push someone of interest down to the Raptors spot.
As early as February, my fear was that if the Raptors didn’t end up with a top 7 or 8 pick in the draft, they were going to have serious issues getting an impact player. And as prospects like Ed Davis, Willie Warren, Cole Alrich and my personal favourites, Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu, withdrew from consideration, this seemed to be even more the case. Now, it’s quite possible that the three players most coveted by Raptors’ fans, Evans, Harden and DeRozan, will all be gone by the time Toronto is on the clock.
The top 3 picks appear to be fairly locked-in barring trades. But after Griffin, Thabeet and Rubio fall in some order, who’s to say that Evans, Harden and DeRozan aren’t the next three players taken?
-Sacramento could use talent at just about any position other than power forward so all three could go there.
-Who knows what Washington is going to do but if they keep the pick, why wouldn’t they take one of these three swingmen and look to deal Butler or Jamison to cut their salary woes?
-The Timberwolves are almost in the exact same situation as Sacramento, the last thing they need is another power forward, and considering how well their Corey Brewer pick is looking, who’s to say they don’t grab someone like DeRozan?
-Golden State? This is the biggest wildcard of them all, and maybe the one team that I could see Hill going to if he falls. But otherwise, there’s no certainty that the "miss-management" of the Warriors doesn’t just pick a name from a hat – one of those names possibly being the player Toronto covets.
-As for the Knicks, I don’t buy this Stephen Curry stuff for a minute. Yes, he makes sense there to a certain degree, but I’m not sure why a Tyreke Evans wouldn’t be an even better option for Mike D’Antoni. (My fear actually is that it will all come down to New York, and whoever is left from the Harden-Evans-DeRozan trio will be taken right before the Dinos’ make their choice.)
So suddenly, if Holiday leapfrogs into the top 8, things start looking a lot better for the Raptors. Especially since from the latest Chicago Pre-Draft Camp rumours, it sounds like Oklahoma is taking a hard look at Harden at 3, and that DeRozan’s agent Aaron Goodwin is telling folks that DeRozan may not even work out for the Raptors, believing he’ll be selected in the top 8.
That would leave Evans and again, there’s just no guarantee that he’ll be around at 9.
Besides Holiday, the other name that could shift things up seems to be Brandon Jennings.
Much like Holiday, his freshman foray (albeit in Europe) disappointed to a certain degree and apparently, he’s not going to play in the Reebok Eurocamp, opting to show his skill-set in individual workout settings. Many of the top 8 teams desperately need point guards so if Jennings can catch the eye of one of these GM’s, he too could help Toronto’s cause.
The bottom line right now is that there is just so little difference in talent between most of the lottery prospects, that the order of picks will probably be a crapshoot right up until nearly the day of the draft.
Toronto obviously has some serious needs, some of these that the draft could potentially address.
The question is, can players like Holiday help get Toronto in a position to address them.