There's good, there's great and there's elite—and Jrue Holiday might be approaching a level that will have him skip over the great in just a matter of months.
Always a respectable player, the youngster from UCLA regressed slightly in his third season with the Sixers last year, leading fans and the media alike to wonder aloud whether we had seen his peek.
Six weeks into this season, and the questions are now: How much more is yet to come from the 22-year-old, and how close is he to becoming an elite point guard in a league that is currently saturated with superstars at the position?
The answers are: He's not done yet, and he's almost there. And for those who are still nonbelievers, the ones whose doubts inexplicably have carried over from last season, let's take a look at all the contributing factors that have taken place since that time and helped to catapult his meteoric rise to the upper echelon of the NBA...
The keys are finally in his hands
Although he entered the league as a point guard, Holiday did not have a chance to become a true floor general until this season. By trading former lead man Andre Iguodala, who also shared duties bringing the ball up the court, and releasing respected veteran Elton Brand via amnesty, the Sixers essentially handed Holiday the keys to the team.
Additionally, the absence of marquee addition Andrew Bynum has further thrust Holiday into the spotlight and given him the freedom to stretch his game.
Holiday has posted the largest (non-injury-related) jump in value this season, and we have to thank … Andrew Bynum?
Dealing Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets meant that the direction of Doug Collins' offense was being solely entrusted to Holliday. Then Bynum went bowling and the 76ers needed scoring and floor leadership. Enter Holiday.
He's embraced his new "leading man" role
When Iguodala entered the league, he had teammates such as Allen Iverson and Chris Webber to assume the pressure—as well as the scrutiny. When they left, so seemingly did his comfort with playing second fiddle. Iggy basically became a reluctant prophet, balking at taking the torch and running with it.
And since Iggy's departure, Holiday has done no such thing.
In his lone year in college, he shared both the attention as well as the backcourt duties with Darren Collison. In this first three seasons as a pro, he willingly accepted his role in the shadows of more established, bigger "name" players like Iguodala and Brand. And now, Holiday has embraced his new role as top dog of a playoff team in a major market, attacking the basket at will and showing a confidence to assert himself both on and off the court, which was previously fleeting.
And he may have coach Doug Collins to thank
As a former No. 1 overall pick, Doug Collins knows all about the pressure and high expectations that can be placed on a player upon entering the league. As both a successful coach and analyst for the better part of a quarter century, he also knows that understanding the makeup of players and being able to connect with them are just as critical as game-planning itself.
It's been quite obvious, through body language during the games and mutual praise after them, that Collins and Holiday have formed a connection. By allowing himself to mature (remember, he's only 22) and become more coachable, Holiday has allowed himself to reach his potential at a pace faster than most, if any, anticipated.
Because 33-point, 13-assist performances don't happen by accident
On Nov. 25, Holiday had his coming-out party to the NBA world, connecting for a career-high 33 points and 13 assists, including 11 crucial points in the fourth quarter during a come-from-behind victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Scoring 33 points can happen for good players. A respectable point guard can even dish out a baker's dozen on occasion. But to do both in one game is not a fluke.
Still not convinced?
Check out philadunkia.com, which uses some convincing research from Sunny Saini of the ESPN Stats & Information department to effectively get the point across.
What it all comes down to is that, in the very near future, discussions pertaining to the cream of the point guard crop, the ones which perennially include the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo, will have to add a Holiday this season.