Asked to carry load, Sixers' Holiday proves to still be work in progress
Andrew Bynum's absence has forced Jrue Holliday to take a larger role with 76ers
No position has larger stake in team success than PG, but Holiday is still a project
Also: Get To Know: Gordon Hayward; upcoming free agents to watch this season
The 76ers recently acknowledged that they don't expect to see Andrew Bynum providing a return on his $16.8 million salary until January at the earliest. The 7-foot center's dominance of the low post was supposed to transform Philadelphia into a tempo-controlling contender for the playoffs. Instead, his absence is turning point guard Jrue Holiday into a potential All-Star.
Holiday is leading the 4-4 Sixers with 18.3 points and 8.8 assists, the latter ranking him third in the league behind Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
"I can hang with the best of them -- I think I've shown and proved myself in that category,'' Holiday said. "Going up against Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, I want to get to the level that they're at. I'm definitely testing myself and really just trying to prove myself."
Consider the deep list of upper-tier point guards that Holiday hopes to join someday (the ranking is mine and it's always changing):
1. Rajon Rondo
2. Chris Paul
3. Tony Parker
4. Russell Westbrook
5. Deron Williams
6. Steve Nash
7. Jason Kidd
8. Andre Miller
Honorable mention: Derrick Rose (injured)
A point guard's play is often tied to his franchise's success. Nash, Paul and Williams have taken turns holding the unofficial title of best NBA point guard over recent years, and then Rose had his season as league MVP; now I rate Rondo as the best based on the huge numbers he has put up in the biggest games while leading the Celtics deeper than expected in recent postseasons. I'm in the minority on this one, but point guard is the one position that should be held to the same standard as the MVP. A point guard should be held accountable for wins and losses, and in that regard Rondo is setting the highest standard.
The problem for Holiday is the mistakes he's been making as the 76ers have heightened his role. He is averaging a league-worst 5.4 turnovers, but recognizes the harm they are causing.
"The only stat that I really look at is my turnovers," he said. "I think the team will go as my turnovers go."
At 6-3, Holiday is a "big" point guard in this era of perimeter quickness. He knows how to use his size to his advantage.
"I think my length will bother some shorter guys who are quicker -- a lot quicker -- than I am, because I can back off," he said, which is to say he can give space defensively and still contest jump shots. "Then there are guys who I think I'm just as quick as, and I can use my body and my strength to get into them."
He can see over the top, which helps him to gauge the entire floor.
"I'd like to be somebody like Deron Williams," Holiday said, "who is a bigger point guard that can handle the ball and go into the post, too."
Holiday didn't play the point in his single year at UCLA, deferring instead to Darren Collison (as did Westbrook, who shared the backcourt with Collison during the previous two years at UCLA). But Holiday has always had the instincts for the position.
"I've always been a pass-first kind of guy,'' he said, "so when [Sixers coach] Doug [Collins] told me I need to score more, that was more of a challenge than me being a point guard."
Holiday has enhanced those instincts by immersing himself in much the same way that quarterbacks study their position.
"He's willing to sit down and watch tape and see where things are,'' Collins said. "We've talked to him about how teams defend -- are they going to trap you, are they going to go up underneath the screens, are they going to send you baseline? These are the things to look for. But you don't want to program him and take away his feel. You want to say there are only two to three things they can do and when they do that this is how you can attack that and this is where your team is.
"We haven't shot the ball well,'' Collins went on. "We're thinking when those guys make shots with his ability to penetrate, he has a chance to be in the top five in assists this year.''
The Sixers drew Boston to Game 7 of the second round as a high-achieving small-ball team last year. That style was supposed to change this season, but as long as Bynum is sidelined, they'll have to cling to their old ways -- without Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, who were the offensive leaders last season. It is asking a lot of Holiday to see them through these weeks of limbo, and it will be asking more of him to adapt the offense to Bynum when (or if) he should recover from knee soreness. Then again, that's what future All-Stars do.
Andrew Bynum has too much time on his hands. That is the only explanation for his hairstyle choice Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Pistons win! A 94-76 clobbering Wednesday at Philadelphia elevated Detroit to 1-8, ending self-imposed fears that the Pistons would be winless going into December. A difficult schedule -- Detroit has played seven road games -- has brought out the inexperience in the young Pistons, who look very much as if they should invest this season in positioning for a high pick next spring. The 0-7 Wizards remain the NBA's only winless team, but at least they have the excuse of injuries to John Wall and Nene.
Could Grizzlies win the West? Memphis (6-1) trounced the Thunder 107-97 in Oklahoma City on Wednesday for its sixth straight win -- three days after a 104-86 victory at home against the Heat. The Spurs (7-1) and Clippers (6-2) are the only other contenders playing at a high level in the West. The Grizzlies have supplemented their talented front line with scoring on the perimeter. But do they have the necessary depth to carry them into June? Probably not.
Royce White vanishes. The absence of the first-round pick -- he has not played this season and failed to appear at practices as well as Houston's game Monday against Miami -- became public when the Rockets considered demoting him to the D-League. "In hindsight, perhaps it was not a good idea to be open and honest about my anxiety disorder -- due to the current situations at hand that involve the nature of actions from the Houston Rockets," White said in a statement. White's mental illness has created a new set of complex issues for the player and his team to work through, and he has taken to Twitter to explain his side with brief, confusing statements. There promise to be no easy answers.
DeMarcus Cousins is suspended for two games. The Kings' turbulent center confronted Sean Elliott after the Spurs' broadcaster criticized him for trash-talking Tim Duncan. The union appealed the penalty, but the suspension has the look of an intervention: If the volatile Cousins doesn't seize command of his emotions, one wonders if he may someday make the kind of mistake that threatens his career.