Imagining the Sixers Without Iverson: Jrue Holiday's NBA Orientation

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2009

NEW YORK - JUNE 25:  NBA Commissioner David Stern poses for a photograph with the seventeenth overall draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers,  Jrue Holiday during the 2009 NBA Draft at the Wamu Theatre at Madison Square Garden June 25, 2009 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With Sixers coach Eddie Jordan downplaying the slew of "Allen Iverson back to the Sixers" reports , I wanted to take some time and examine what the next eight weeks could look like for the team sans "The Answer."

The question that should be on most Sixers' fans minds as they've been watching these past few games: Just who is this new starting point guard?  Who is Jrue Holiday?

The Sixers drafted Holiday this past summer as the No. 17 overall pick, assuming that then-starting point guard Andre Miller would leave the team in free agency. (He did.  After reportedly asking the Sixers for $10 million/year for three years, he signed a three-year, $21 million deal with Portland.  Goodbye and good riddance, Dre-day.)

Holiday came into college as the No. 1 ranked point guard and No. 2 overall prospect in the class of 2008 by the recruiting website Rivals.com .  Scout.com , another recruiting website, threw a curveball and ranked Holiday the No. 1 shooting guard and No. 4 overall prospect in his high school class.  

(Who was the No. 1 point guard in Scout.com's class?  Only some guy by the name of Brandon Jennings—you know, the one who already dropped 55 points in a game within his first 10 games as an NBA rookie.)

Needless to say, Holiday's talent generated some serious expectations when he signed with Ben Howland and UCLA this past season, especially with most Bruin fans assuming that incumbent point guard Darren Collison would depart to the NBA after a strong three-year career. 

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Instead, Collison shocked the nation by returning for his senior year after a below-average performance in the previous year's NCAA tournament, relegating Holiday to being an off-the-ball shooting guard.

"Last year, I don’t want to say that I was out of position, but, I was out of position," Holiday told DraftExpress.com before the draft this year .  

"I’m a floor general, a leader, a captain and that I can run a team. Even though I didn’t get a chance to last year and I didn’t perform the way I wanted to, at the next level my position is a point guard. I truly don’t think people saw that this [past] year."

Holiday averaged 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last year for UCLA —certainly not a stat line to sneeze at, but at the same time, not one that screams "17th overall pick."

So what did the Sixers sign up for when they drafted Holiday, and can he fill the hole at point guard for the next eight weeks as Sweet Lou recovers from his broken jaw?

Coach Jordan seems to think so.  

"It's a rite of passage. You need some time, and for Jrue Holiday his time is here," Jordan said to   The Philadelphia Inquirer .

This year, of all years in recent memory, the idea of a rookie manning the point for a team doesn't seem nearly as terrifying as usual. Rookie guards like Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Ty Lawson, and Stephen Curry have managed to more than meet lofty expectations so far this season.

Holiday has shown flashes of brilliance this season as well.  In 15 minutes against Phoenix early in the year (before Williams' injury), Holiday came in off the bench to score eight points (including two three-pointers), and added three rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

In the past three games, Holiday has been forced to become more of a focal point in the offense.  He knocked down three three-pointers on his way to 11 points, six rebounds and an assist in 10 minutes off the bench in the loss against Washington  on Tuesday. He followed that up with another double-digit scoring effort with 10 points, six assists, and three rebounds in 34 minutes in his first game as a starter against Boston.

Despite struggling defensively against Mike Bibby on Friday night against Atlanta , Holiday has shown enough promise to inspire confidence for the future.  

At 6-foot-4, and anywhere between 180-205 pounds (different sources list different weights), Holiday has the size of guards like NBA Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose or fellow rookie Tyreke Evans, allowing him to bully smaller guards like Chris Paul.  And when Lou Williams comes back, Sixers management reportedly were planning on starting Holiday alongside Williams, giving the Sixers a quick, versatile (albeit young) backcourt.

Whether the Sixers opt for "The Answer" or keep the faith in Holiday, Sixers fans should expect the season-long growing pains from Holiday that all NBA rookies go through.  

However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Holiday live up to the potential that had him ranked in the Top 5 of his stellar high school class.

(For those who want some idea of what Holiday can do, check out this video of some of his high school highlights .  I know, the NBA is a little different than high school,  but keep in mind, Holiday's only 19 years old.  He was  in high school two years ago.  The kid's got a high ceiling.)

If the Sixers opt not to bring back Iverson, it's not necessarily time to panic, or a sign that they're giving up all hope on winning this year.  They're simply committed to developing Holiday into a long-term member of the Sixers' backcourt, and giving him the requisite minutes to allow him to flourish.  

Whatever happens with Iverson, you should enjoy the ride with Holiday.  Not every team has the luxury of developing a potential future All-Star.

(And who's gonna be the first to think of a catchy nickname for Mr. Holiday?)

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