Inside the Sixers: Sixers' commitment to Jrue Holiday paying off

Posted: November 25, 2012

While they have not had the opportunity to begin the grand experiment of dropping the first legitimate center they've had in years, Andrew Bynum, into the middle of their lineup, the Jrue Holiday experiment is going fine.

Holiday became the last member of the 2009 draft class to get an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline - four years at about $41 million. Sixers coach Doug Collins, who views Holiday as an extension of himself on the court, has made it clear that the ball is his to dominate and that Holiday, until Bynum can get healthy enough to prove otherwise, is the team's cornerstone.

Let's first dispense with the negative, his turnovers.

Holiday has committed at least three turnovers in all but two games this season and, going into Saturday's meeting with Oklahoma City, Holiday was averaging a league-high 4.7 turnovers per game. During one recent stretch of four games, Holiday turned the ball over 29 times.

There is a bright side, however. In the last five games, Holiday is averaging just 2.8 turnovers. He has been talking unprompted about reducing his turnovers, and over the last five games his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.86. Through the first seven games of the season it was 1.50.

The even brighter side for the Sixers and the 22-year-old point guard is that 12 games into the regular season, the only Eastern Conference point guards who are playing at a higher level are Boston's Rajon Rondo, New Jersey's Deron Williams, and perhaps Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings.

When Collins said he was going to put the ball in Holiday's hands, he meant that, despite the presence of Evan Turner, himself a gifted ball handler who can play the point, the coaching staff has decided that Holiday must be the trigger man if the offense - with or without Bynum - is going to achieve optimum results.

One of the knocks on Holiday has been that he's not really a point guard. Part of the reason for this is that until recently, he has had to share the ball. In Philadelphia at times, the offense has been run through Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, and Turner. At UCLA, after being designated the top high school point guard in the class of 2008, Holiday wound up having to share the ball with Darren Collison, who's having a very good season starting at the point for the Dallas Mavericks.

So far this season, Holiday is averaging 8.6 assists per game, almost double the 4.5 he averaged during the 2011-12 season, and good enough for third in the league behind Rondo and the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul. After recording seven assists just 11 times last season, Holiday has nine games with seven assists already.

This is with the Sixers again struggling to score points and, perhaps most important, without having Bynum to partner with on the screen-and-roll and to feed with lobs.

Holiday is the only Sixer to reach double figures in scoring in all 12 games this season, and he has scored 20 points four times after doing it just 10 times all of last season.

It would be a stretch to think that he's going to continue to average 18.4 points, 8.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.58 steals this season. Those are numbers that only LeBron James, Kevin Johnson, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Paul, Gary Payton, Rod Strickland, and Isaiah Thomas have notched for an entire season. But it's good to know that Holiday appears to be making the next step that the Sixers need him to make.

Others have noticed.

"I know that the Sixers think very highly of him, something they made clear when they worked right up to the deadline to reach an extension with him," said an Eastern Conference general manager, speaking anonymously. "Jrue's reputation is that he's easy to coach and he's got a lot of growing to do. Being receptive to coaching is more than half the battle when it comes to having a player reach his full potential. That's what I think the Sixers have found."

Contact John N. Mitchell at Follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer

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