Is Jrue Holiday an All-Star? Breaking Down the Damaja's Mid-Season Qualifications

Is Jrue Holiday an All-Star? Breaking Down the Damaja's Mid-Season Qualifications

It's pretty cool to even be talking about All-Star consideration for one
of our young, homegrown guys this season. It took Andre Iguodala eight
years and a lucky hot start from the Sixers to be given even strong
consideration for the All-Star team, but this year, fourth-year point
guard Jrue Holiday is putting up career-best, Most Improved Player-type
numbers that have forced his name into the discussion. However, the
Damaja's case is far from cut and dry, so let's analyze his chances from
five relevant factors and see what kind of odds he has of making it to
H-Town this All-Star Weekend:


Superficial Stats. This is the category where Jrue is the
strongest. His first-level stats—the kind you'd see in a box-score—are
almost across-the-board excellent. Not only is he third in the league in
assists with his 8.9 a game, but he's thirteenth in the league in
scoring with his 18.9 a game. His 45% shooting and 36% from three are
very acceptable for a point guard, and even though he still turns the
ball over too much (3.7 a game, one of the league leaders), that number
is down from the league-leading four-something he was averaging earlier,
and is no longer such a blight on his resume. He's also grabbing four
rebounds a game and averaging over a steal per, for a very strong
overall stat line. There's no question that Jrue is a worthy All-Star by
these numbers alone.


Advanced Stats. Jrue starts to slip a little here. His
advanced stats, while still quite good, fall a little short of All-Star
worthiness. His PER is a team and career-high 18.7—up four whole points
from last year—but usually, an All-Star PER is considered to be around
20 or higher, with Jrue's efficiency hurt by his relative lack of free
throws (just 3.5 a game, low for a lead guard) and his high turnover
rate. More damning is Jrue's defensive rating of 108 (the higher over
100, the worse), which is a big slip from his last few years. His low
defensive rating means that his Win Shares per 48 minutes–roughly
determining how many wins a player is worth over the course of a game—is
actually lower than it was his sophomore season, when he was averaging
just 14 and 6.5 a game. Defensive metrics are a lot less reliable than
offensive ones in basketball, but that still hurts Jrue's argument among
the NBA statheads.


Team Record. For better or worse, All-Star qualifications are
still built largely around team success—statistically, Andre Iguodala's
season was virtually identical last year to his last two or three, but
he was an All-Star for the first time because the Sixers had gotten off
to a 16-6 start and were still one of better teams in the East by the
time of the break. This year, Jrue will be getting no such boon from the
Sixers, who at 15-17 are arguably doing better than many would've
expected with 'Dre, Lou Williams and Elton Brand all gone and Andrew
Bynum still riding the pine with injury (and in fact would be in the
playoffs if the season ended today, somehow), but who aren't exactly
turning heads and making people go "How are they doing this???" with
their record. The record doesn't hamper Jrue's chances the way it would
if the team were 9-23, but nobody's gonna choose him just to make sure
the Sixers are represented at the Mid-Winter Classic this year, that's
for sure.


Eastern Conference Competition. Jrue is definitely helped by
the relative dearth of strong guards in the East this season. After
Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo—current leaders for the fan-voted guard
slots, and almost pre-ordained sure things for the game, one way or
another—there's a huge drop-off in All-Star obviousness. Deron Williams
and Joe Johnson have both disappointed in Brooklyn, Derrick Rose has yet
to play a game for Chicago, and none of the Knicks guards have
complete-enough stat lines to really earn consideration. Brandon
Jennings and Monta Ellis boast a superior record in Milwaukee, but their
shooting numbers are markedly inferior to Jrue's, so it's hard to see
them posing all that much of a threat. Kyrie Irving would be a shoo-in,
and might still be chosen, but missing 11 of the Cavaliers' team's 32
games hurts his case a little.


Really, when you get down to it, Jrue is third among qualified
Eastern guards in scoring and second in assists, playing for a
borderline playoff team. That's a pretty strong argument right there.

Name Recognition.
Another not-particularly-fair aspect of All-Star competition is that
certain names ring out among voters and coaches, while other names
aren't quite there yet. I would say Jrue fits more into the latter
category, as a zero-time All-Star who while obviously playing the best
ball of his career, hasn't exactly been setting the league on fire in
Philly—tellingly, he's not even close to qualifying in the fan vote,
ranking only eighth among guards, behind "name" players like Ray Allen
and Deron Williams. First-timers always have a tough time breaking
through in these votes, and ones without the huge hype of a Kyrie Irving
are even further behind the 8 ball.


Still, I'd say Jrue is coming around in this regard. During the game
in Portland, where Jrue lit up the Blazers for 29 and 9, the announcers
kept talking about the Damaja's pending All-Star campaign, and after
his performance certainly sounded convinced of his worthiness. A couple
more wins out West and Jrue's name is certainly gonna be out there,
forcing people to recognize.


Ultimately, I'll say that Jrue does get in this year. Were he in the
loaded West, with Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James
Harden and Stephen Curry (among others) all clamoring for inclusion,
he'd have a much, much tougher time. But in the relatively weak East,
with three spots basically up for grabs, even if the coaches decide that
the games Kyrie Irving missed don't matter and that Deron Williams
isn't having that miserable a season, it's virtually impossible
to imagine Jrue getting screwed out of all three backup slots. Unless he
and/or the Sixers fall apart over the next few weeks (always a
possibility) or a couple of the Nets/Knicks guys lead their teams on hot
streaks that beef up their stats significantly (probably less likely), I
do believe it's gonna be a Holiday in Houston come February 17th.

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA – Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall scored a team-high 19 points – including five dunks – and Kris Jenkins added 15, as No. 2 Villanova pulled away late to beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, and clinch the 2017 Big East Conference regular-season title outright.

Paschall, starting during Darryll Reynolds’ injury absence, shot 8 for 12 from the field and added six rebounds.

Creighton’s last lead was 45-43 six minutes into the second half, but a Paschall slam and Jenkins’ first three after five misses sparked a 16-4 run that gave the Wildcats a 59-49 lead with 8 ½ minutes left. Creighton got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

Paschall’s career high is a 31-point game for Fordham against NYIT on Nov. 14, 2014.

Villanova again struggled from three-point range but had tremendous success attacking the basket, especially in the second half of the final game at the Pavilion for two years.

The Wildcats shot just 17 percent from three (3 for 18) but 69 percent from 2 (24 for 35) and repeatedly got to the foul line in the second half, when they were 14 for 18.

Jenkins again struggled from three (1 for 7) yet still finished with 15 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Josh Hart shot 7 for 11 for 16 points and added seven rebounds and three assists.

Villanova opened a streaky first half by taking a 7-0 lead, but Creighton hit four straight threes in less than two minutes and led by three. Villanova then went on a 17-2 run and led by as many as 10 points before Creighton finished the half on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 33.

There were seven lead changes in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Villanova finally pulled away and outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes.

Mikal Bridges added 11 points and eight rebounds for Villanova, while Jalen Brunson had nine points and three assists.

Freshman Dante DiVincenzo came off the bench to contribute nine points and four rebounds for Villanova.

What it means
Villanova improved to 27-3 overall and 14-3 in the Big East, clinching the conference title outright. Entering play Saturday, only Villanova or Butler was in position to win the conference title, with Villanova holding a magic number of one.

Villanova, which lost to Butler on Wednesday, has now won 12 straight games immediately following losses (15 if you carry over to the next year).

The Wildcats last lost consecutive games at the end of the 2012-2013 season, when they fell to Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals and to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Creighton fell to 22-7 overall and 9-7 in the Big East. The Bluejays are 4-6 since an 18-1 start.

Stat of the day
Marcus Foster had 25 points and eight assists, becoming the first player with 25 points and five assists against Villanova since Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds (and five steals) in a 93-72 win over Villanova on Feb. 28, 2011 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind.

Turning point 
Villanova led by one at 48-47 when Jenkins finally buried a three for a four-point lead.

Moving out
This was Villanova’s last game at the Pavilion for about 20 months. Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year while renovations are made to the Pavilion.

Villanova is 293-62 all-time at the Pavilion, which opened in 1985. That includes a 131-12 mark since the start of the 2004-2005 season.

By the numbers
Khyri Thomas scored 17 points for the Bluejays … Creighton was 7 for 14 from three in the first half but 4 for 13 in the second half ... Villanova has won six straight against Creighton since a 101-80 loss in February of 2014 when Doug McDermott scored 39 … Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fifth straight game with a rib injury.  

What's next
Villanova has a week off before facing Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington at noon Saturday. Georgetown is 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East.

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.
 
He liked what he saw.
 
Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.
 
Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.
 
Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.
 
He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.
 
“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”
 
Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.
 
“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”
 
There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.
 
Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.
 
“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.
 
“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”
 
Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.
 
He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.
 
“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.
 
“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”
 
The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.
 
Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.
 
“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”
 
Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transition to the bullpen at some point this season.
 
Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.
 
Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.
 
Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:
 
1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B
 
Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.
 
Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.