From reading comments on various message boards, I got the feeling that not all NBA fans are as high on Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday as I am. They point to his "pedestrian" numbers at UCLA (though they fail to mention he played shooting guard) and so-so rookie season and thus, see him as nothing more than an average NBA player.
I could not disagree with them more as you have to remember a very important fact: He was the youngest player in the league last season. At just 20 years old, he's still among the youngest players in the game and John Wall will be the only starting point guard younger than Holiday. How can you assess what a player will be based off one year of evidence? You can't, especially when that player started just about half the season. But that in itself is an accomplishment for Holiday who was promoted to the starting lineup far earlier than anyone planned. Last season Holiday became just the third point guard ever to start at least 50 games before the age of 20. The others were Stephon Marbury and Tony Parker.
I just can't comprehend any negativity associated with Holiday. After all, it's not like 6-foot-4-inch point guards with all-world defensive chops grow on trees. Over the past 20 years only Jason Kidd and Gary Payton fit that bill but Holiday has the physical tools to join that company. Payton is a great comparison to Holiday not only because of their similar builds (both are listed at 6 feet 4 inches, 180 lbs.) but also because of their defensive presences. When you're bigger than everyone you guard and still just as quick as they are, chances are you're going to be pretty good defensively.
I'm not the only one who sees a Payton comparison as this is what Andre Iguodala said about Holiday at the team's media day:
"He might go down as one of the greatest point guards defensively. I think defensively he has a Gary Payton presence where he can pressure a guy fullcourt."
Yep. That pretty much sums up my sentiments perfectly. Right now, at the age of 20, he's already among the best at his position, defensively. As he gains experience and adds some bulk I think there is no doubt that he can be among the best defensive point guards of all time.
Iggy wasn't the only one who had some bold predictions for Holiday. His coach, Doug Collins, took it even a step farther when he made these comments,
"I honestly believe that next year, you're going to be talking about him being one of the top five point guards in the NBA. I think you're going to speak about him in the same breath as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Jrue."
While it's nice to predict into the future and anticipate what a player can become, I am never a fan of when people put timelines on players. I liked everything about that quote from Collins except for two words: next year. Whenever you put a timeline on someone then that date sticks in the back of their mind and they may only focus on it instead of their job. We don't need Holiday to think that if he's not among the top five point guards in the league by the start of the 2011 season, then he failed. We also don't need him to try to hard in this upcoming season and overcompensate just to prove his head coach right.
A common cliché among many athletes is to "let the game come to you" which is a way of saying I shouldn't be putting too much pressure on myself and just play with the flow of the game. I fear that with those words from Collins, Holiday will not just the let game come to him this season and will instead try to live up to the hype which ultimately affects his play. I also fear that Rondo will put up a triple-double each time Boston faces us because Collins didn't include him among the top five point guards but we'll save that discussion for another day.
Now compare what Collins said with this quote from Iguodala when talking about Holiday,
"I said he'll be one of the top point guards in the league. In his prime, he'll be a top five point guard."
It's basically the same thing that Collins said with "in his prime" replacing "next year." As a current player, Iguodala understands the pressures that players face and thus, he knows what not to say to add even more pressure to another player. I think that in this instance Collins had the mindset of a broadcaster instead of a coach and said something that would make headlines without realizing the ramifications on the player being talked about.
Jrue Holiday is just a 20-year-old kid and projecting him to be among the elite by 21 is a little too much to ask for, especially considering the position he plays. Payton didn't average 10 points per game until he was 24, Stockton until he was 25, and Nash until he was 26. Barring a complete disaster, Holiday will do that this season at 20 so he's ahead of schedule as far as I'm concerned. Hopefully his coach will realize that and not say anything else that will stunt his young point guard's growth.