76ers guard Jrue Holiday is bigger, stronger, better

Posted: January 29, 2013

 DRIBBLE. DRIBBLE. Bump. Turn. Swish.

Jrue Holiday protested.

"That's a foul, 'Blue.' You chicken-winged me," said Holiday.

Aaron McKie snickered, retrieved the ball from under the rim, walked back to the top of the key and resumed the game of one-on-one.

McKie again showed Holiday his hip; again, backed toward the free-throw line; again, threw a meaty shoulder into Holiday's narrow chest, pivoted in the space the contact created, and shot the 17-footer.

Dribble. Dribble. Bump. Turn. Swish.

For 3 years, McKie, a Sixers assistant in his late 30s, abused Holiday, a first-round pick in his early 20s. McKie weighed 30 pounds more than Holiday, and, at 6-5, is 2 inches taller.

McKie, like Holiday, is no high-flying roadrunner. McKie instead parlayed his size and his savvy into 13 NBA seasons, mostly as a backup.

"That's the way he got off and got his shot: creating space with his shoulder and his body. For my first 3 years, that's all we did," Holiday said of their daily lessons.

Holiday's frustration matched his incredulity, like a little brother bewildered by his big bro.

"My arms are longer than his, but he would create space and get that shot off. He was so much stronger than me, once he bumped me and created space, he froze me," Holiday said. "We just kind of kept on going at it."

Holiday is more athletic, more versatile. This offseason, Holiday managed to incorporate some of McKie's signature weapons.

And, now, Jrue Holiday is an All-Star.

His 19.4 points per game ranks fourth among point guards, second in the East behind Cleveland's Kyrie Irving. It is a career high by almost six points.

His 8.9 assists also put him fourth and second, behind league leader Rajon Rondo, whom Boston just lost for the season. It is a career high by 2.4 assists.

Dribble. Dribble. Bump. Turn. Swish.

That was the move Holiday used Saturday against the Knicks. Holiday faced five different defenders. None had an answer.

If anyone questioned the appointment of Holiday to the East team, he answered those questions with a career-high 35 points against a fully stocked Knicks team.

A first-place Knicks team.

The Sixers won by 17. They led by as many as 27 as late as the 1:12 mark of the third quarter. Holiday punctuated his appointment with one of the better games of his career in the team's biggest win of the season.

"I felt that he probably was a bit more relaxed. He controlled the game from start to finish," said Thaddeus Young, who has played with Holiday since the Sixers drafted Holiday 17th overall in 2009.

Holiday knew Brandon Jennings might steal his slot. Jennings, taken seven spots ahead of Holiday, is enjoying a second straight standout season for the Bucks, at 18.6 points per game. Like Holiday, Jennings is carrying a team ravaged by injury.

Unlike Holiday, Jennings' team is above .500, by four games, and well inside the playoff hunt. The Sixers are seven games below .500 and stalled in the ninth spot.

Jennings also dropped 33 on Holiday and the Sixers on Nov. 12, then, on Tuesday, 2 days before the All-Star reserves were announced, Jennings put 25 on the Sixers. The Bucks won both games.

Holiday scored nine points on 3-for-12 shooting Tuesday, perhaps his worst game of the season.

He fretted so much Thursday that he went to a Flyers game.

"I just didn't want to think about it," Holiday admitted.

Holiday's 8.9 assists and 46.1 percent shooting dwarfs Jennings' 6.0 assists and 40.5 shooting. So, Holiday is in. (Jennings graciously acknowledged Holiday's superior showing.)

"He's grown as a player, and become one of the stars in this league," Young said. "We're just complementing him."

That was the plan . . . sort of.

When the Sixers traded All-Star and Olympian swingman Andre Iguodala last summer and acquired center Andrew Bynum, they expected Holiday, a revelation in last season's surprise playoff run, to take a step toward All-Stardom.

Iguodala often served as offensive coagulator. They hoped the Holiday-Bynum tandem would, one day, carry the Sixers to the top of the league. They did not expect Holiday to leap straight into the stratosphere.

"Probably not so quickly," said general manager Tony DiLeo.

They did expect Bynum to be an annual All-Star. Bynum's bad knees have kept him off the court. As such, Holiday's development has been accelerated by Bynum's absence. Right?

"I could see it both ways," DiLeo said. "With Andrew, we might be winning more, and winning teams tend to get All-Stars."

Bynum was an All-Star last season. He developed a few moves opponents found impossible to defend; moves that incorporate Bynum using his shoulder to create space.

Everyone learns at his own pace.

"A lot of it is me getting a little bit older and stronger, but a lot of it is me working on being in that position on the court," Holiday said. "Blue is a lot heavier than me. At first, it was, like, 'I can't move him, he's not going anywhere.'

"Now, I do it to him and you see him complaining like I did before."

Of course, the move doesn't work against every defender. An athletic, bigger guard might take that move away.

"That's OK," Holiday said. "I have a couple of other tricks up my sleeve."

All-Stars always do.

Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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