Holiday is not just another player. I wrote a couple years ago that I felt Holiday would be a special player and that his recruitment would be as important as that of Kevin Love. I still feel that way. Love is an exceptional player, and he should have a great season for the Bruins this year, but great guards can have just as big an impact in college as talented big men. Holiday is a great guard and he's also a versatile player – he could be equally valuable at the one or two.
Holiday is such a good prospect that other players at his position weren't a real concern, but it's still very impressive that he's joining Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson in the Bruin class of 2008. Lee and Anderson are both exceptional prospects, with Lee also having the ability to play multiple spots. Of course, the Bruins may have been helped in Holiday's recruitment by the fact that Jrue is good friends with Anderson. But when you look at Washington's roster, and the lack of elite talent in the backcourt, it's impressive that Howland was still able to convince Holiday that Westwood was the right spot for him. Russell Westbrook, Mike Roll, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee are a formidable group of guards. Adding Holiday to the mix gives UCLA a pretty good chance at staking a claim to the best backcourt in the country for the next couple years.
Holiday's versatility is really valuable in an age where college rosters can change dramatically from year to year. The fact that Howland can plug him in at the one, two, or possibly even three, makes it much easier to manage unexpected roster changes. If someone transfers out, or goes pro early, Holiday is a guy that can plug a hole on a roster. You can put him at any of those spots and he'll likely be able to excel. And his versatility is also helpful when recruiting future players. Because he's not limited to one spot, future players at backcourt positions can envision playing with him, rather than sitting behind him.
As I've said in the past, I believe Jrue Holiday is the best West Coast guard prospect I've seen in the time I've been doing this job. I've specifically said he is better than Baron Davis at the same stage and I've spoken with other scouts who feel the same way. That does not mean that Holiday will ever be the player that Baron Davis has become. What it means is that, as the same stage, Holiday has a better package of skills, athleticism, competitiveness, body type, feel for the game, makeup and a number of other factors.
Among Holiday's many positive traits as a prospect, body control is one of the most important. His ability to control his body is remarkable. He's very explosive and quick, yet he rarely gets out of control or off-balance. He seems to glide all over the court and can stop and start, or change direction, seemingly effortlessly.
Holiday's skill level with the ball, as a passer and ball handler, is above average. He's got excellent vision and a very good handle. His off hand is as good as any 11th grader I've ever seen. It's remarkable how strong his left hand is at this early age. While he's been asked to score a lot in high school and AAU situations, there's no question that he has the ball skills, feel and instincts to play point guard. He will no doubt spend a lot of time at the one in college and he's almost certainly an NBA point guard in the future.
Holiday's shot is good, but not great. He's tinkered a bit with his stroke in the last couple years and that has hurt his consistency. One thing he needs to work on is shooting more of a true jump shot. Sometimes he'll settle for a set shot and not use his legs on his shot. But his release and stroke are generally pretty good and I have no doubt he'll become a very good shooter once he gets consistent reps in college.
An exceptional competitor, Holiday has a chance to be a great defender. That competitive spirit is what makes him a very good defender already. He loves to attack opponents and he can be very aggressive at the defensive end. Sometimes that leads to steals, but it can also lead to foul trouble or allowing his man to get an uncontested shot. Holiday's defensive technique really just needs fine tuning. He'll have to do less roaming around in college and just focus on staying in front of his man and locking him up. Once he applies the lessons I'm sure Howland will teach him, I expect Holiday to be the best defender on the team. His strength, quickness and tenacity will bother a lot of opposing guards.
While Holiday is an exceptional prospect, it's important to remember the word "prospect." He has a tremendous amount of potential as a player. His unique combination of athleticism, body type, skill set, feel for the game and multiple other factors give him a chance at greatness. But he still needs to fine tune a lot of things before he'll be a great player at the college level. His exceptional skill level and athleticism have allowed him to be a bit sloppy in his approach at the high school level and still be very successful. At the college level, he'll need to improve his decision-making. As an example, he'll sometimes try to dribble through three players at the high school level. Sometimes, he'll get away with it. That'll be tougher to do in college. In high school, Holiday will sometimes drive to the basket and just throw the ball towards the basket, regardless of whether or not he has a good shot. He'll do that because he knows he'll likely just get the rebound anyway. That kind of play won't work in college.
These, however, are minor quibbles. Ultimately, I expect Holiday to absorb all of the lessons he'll get at UCLA, apply them, and develop into one of the best guards in the country. As for how long he stays in college, that's impossible to predict. Nobody knows what kind of experience he'll have, whether he enjoys the college experience, or just how quickly he works out the kinks in his game. It's possible he could leave after a year and it's also possible he'll stay for three years. I do think it's very unlikely he'll be in school for four years.
I spoke with someone close to the UCLA program recently and remarked that the group of Holiday, Anderson and Lee has the potential to be better than the Farmar, Afflalo and Shipp trio. I was told, "Well, Greg, two of those guys were just NBA first-round picks." That's true. But in Holiday (and possibly Lee), UCLA has a couple of potential lottery picks. And I fully expect Jerime Anderson to one day be a first-round pick. Needless to say, it's an exciting time for Bruin fans. And Jrue Holiday's commitment, on the heels of Love's commitment, and back-to-back Final Fours, signals that the Bruins are indeed back among the nation's elite programs.