Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Sixers' Jrue Holiday ready to shine

By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com

Jrue Holiday
With Andrew Bynum out, Jrue Holiday is running the show and putting up All-Star numbers for Philly.

PHILADELPHIA -- The sense of uncertainty in Philadelphia is inescapable, with question marks surrounding 25-year-old cornerstone center Andrew Bynum and his ailing knee.

That, however, isn't currently paired with panic or confusion or doubt.

Part of that is because the roster, even without Bynum, features so many new parts that there's a natural sense of excitement.

Part of it is because head coach Doug Collins won't let disappointment set in. It does his healthy players no good, and it would only add angst to an already eager-to-return Bynum.

But perhaps the most calming influence on a team that has every reason to be uneasy is Jrue Holiday, the point guard who finally gets to play that role.

As a whole, the Sixers were considered winners in the four-team trade that sent Andre Iguodala to Denver and brought Bynum to Philadelphia. But combine that with Lou Williams signing in Atlanta, and Holiday was arguably the biggest individual winner in the Sixers' offseason facelift.

Gone is the wing player, Iguodala, who essentially played the point forward position during his Philly tenure. Gone is the undersized gunner, Williams, who created mostly for himself and created a bit of overlap with Holiday.

Now, even with former No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner still finding himself and hoping to become a star, Holiday is running the Sixers' show.

Even Turner will tell you that.

"It's his team," said Turner, who was one of four capable ball handlers available to Collins since he arrived in Philadelphia.

"Dre's not here anymore. [Holiday's] going to be the main ball handler, and he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. Along with that, he can do a lot of things. So we'll be fine regardless."

From the outside, it's understandably difficult to be comfortable with Holiday as the highlighted piece of a team that was considered void of a superstar even with Iguodala on board.

But that's assuming Holiday was a finished product.

He wasn't. And still isn't, actually, though the progress has been evident.

Remember, Holiday is all of 22 years old, with three years of NBA experience.

He went the old-school route, growing into his NBA game. He didn't enter the league as prepared or as productive as a Deron Williams. But there's reason to believe he can join Williams on Eastern Conference All-Star teams in the near future.

Perhaps the best indicators of Holiday's true potential are his playoff performances.

Prior to his first postseason game -- against the second-seeded Heat in 2011 -- Holiday got a set of instructions from Collins.

The main message: Don't turn the ball over.

Not only did Holiday oblige, tallying zero turnovers, but he had 19 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals.

A streaky scorer at the time, Holiday finished that series 11-for-21 from 3-point range.

Last postseason, Holiday continued his penchant for performing in the most meaningful of games.

He led the Sixers in scoring with 15.8 points in 13 playoff games, shooting 41 percent from 3-point range with 5.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and a reasonable 2.0 turnover average.

It was enough to convince Collins that Holiday had the potential to be big time, even when the games aren't as big.

"I don't think you ever really know who a guy can be until you give him that opportunity," Collins said. "I think Jrue has a chance to be in the top five in the league in assists this year, because we have shooters, and he's going to have places to go on the floor.

"I actually felt like he's been better in the playoffs than he has in the regular season. His next step is he needs to be that guy in the regular season. We're going to need him for the 82."

Three games in, Holiday isn't letting his coach down.

He has had a couple of tough shooting games, with one six-turnover effort. But on the whole, he's averaging 19.3 points with 8.7 assists during his team's 1-2 start.

And perhaps most important, he has the confidence of his teammates -- even the ones who didn't see his playoff performances firsthand.

"I really love his game," said Jason Richardson, one of the new deep threats who should open up the floor for Holiday this season. "The way he plays the game, how smooth he is with the ball, his defense, his basketball IQ is amazing.

"He's level-headed, mellow. I definitely see him being an All-Star. I'm just excited for his future."

Presently, though, Holiday is performing that difficult balancing act of being a scorer and distributor. And he's playing with an aggressiveness that won't be as necessary when Bynum does return.

But adjusting his game is a concept Holiday is familiar with.

After all, he hasn't played the true point guard position since high school, and back then it came with a heavy scoring responsibility as well.

Collins has always preached low turnovers, which didn't necessarily jibe well with Holiday's driving game. Holiday, though, has shown enough maturity that Collins is less apprehensive when his point guard penetrates.

"I think sometimes I do kind of have the [green] light to force something sometimes, just because on the court coach wants me to be the playmaker," Holiday said. "But he trusts the ball in my hands, so I have to make the right decisions.

"Ultimately, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, they make their team better."

Holiday isn't in that company yet, but he is in a good place. He got engaged in the offseason. Collins made him one of the team captains. His coach wants him to be the quarterback of the Sixers. And he should eventually have Bynum, arguably the most offensively skilled center in the league, by his side to create a powerful one-two punch.

Could there be a clash with Turner, a play-making wing who has yet to live up to his No. 2 overall draft selection?

Not if Collins has his way.

Collins says he has never been around a player who wants to be great more than Turner. But the plan for now is for Turner to release that pressure.

"I want him to let that feeling go," Collins said. "Don't squeeze the air out of the ball. Just play.

"I want Evan to be a star in what he does. That's midrange game, be the best rebounder at his position, push it in the open court, defend that spot that 'Dre has left. Right now, that's the one area: Can we defend that 3 spot? Nobody's going to stop LeBron James, but can we show some resistance against LeBron?

"The most important thing for Evan is being at peace knowing that that's all we want him to do."

That means the Sixers won't have a two-quarterback system. Just the one: Holiday.

And everything about this QB screams "breakout season."

"I want him to feel like, when he has the ball in his hands, there's no place I'd rather it be," Collins said.

Those are words every point guard wants to hear. But especially one who's getting his first real chance to shine.