While the season may have been a disaster for the Philadelphia 76ers, there was at least a silver lining in the shape of Jrue Holiday, a young point guard who gives the Sixers faithful a lot of hope for the future.
Leading the team in scoring and assists, Holiday’s hard work paid off with his first All-Star appearance and UK-based fans will have a chance to see Holiday up close in October when the Sixers head to Manchester to take on the Oklahoma Thunder in a pre-season friendly.
It will not be his first visit to Blighty, having been a spectator during the Olympic Games last year.
Although he’s only 22, Holiday already has four seasons of experience and is becoming a more valuable asset all the time. Unless there are major roster changes during the summer months, Holiday is in line to become the face of the franchise.
“There is a lot of pressure that comes with it,” he said. “I think last year, it was a start. Because I am young, it was a little nervous for me, going in and making big decisions like that.
“Yes, there is a little bit of pressure that comes with that, but at the same time not knowing what Andrew [Bynum – who missed season through injury] is going to do, someone had to step up to the plate.”
Having made the Eastern Conference semi-finals in 2012, and pushing the Boston Celtics to seven games, the Sixers took a step back this season as they finished with a 34-48 record, which was not good enough to secure a second straight play-off berth.
Reason number one for the decline? Bynum, with the All-Star centre missing the entire the season because of injury following his arrival from LA.
Holiday believes Bynum’s presence in the middle would have seen a radically campaign.
“Honestly, I think we’d still be in the play-offs,” said Holiday. “[Bynum] brings a big presence in the post and he brings a big presence on defence.
“I think he brings leadership to our team and even though I guess people really didn’t get a chance to talk to him this year, he was a big part in my development… talking to me about where people what want the ball, especially bigs. The way Andrew communicates with me, definitely helped me improve.”
It’s going to be a summer of change for Philadelphia and the Sixers’ roster could be a lot different when they visit Manchester.
The overhaul began this week with the hiring of new President and GM, Sam Hinkie, lured away from the Houston Rockets where he was part of their front office crew which jumped ahead in the use of advanced metrics to analyse player performance.
Holiday is hoping the Moneyball approach will help turn around the fortunes of the struggling Sixers.
“I think it’s something new, it could be something fresh,” he said. “Obviously you don’t really know for sure and sometimes you have to adapt to things.
“Going with I guess that Moneyball-kind of mentality, I think there’s a fair chance for people all around the board to show off their talent. I think that’s far and away the best way to play because you kind to have to take egos out of it when you bring in that mentality.
“I think that might bring chemistry and a lot of good things to the team.”
One of Hinkie’s first jobs will be to appoint a new head coach to replace Doug Collins, who retired from coaching at the end of the season. Someone new will get the opportunity to turn the Sixers around.
Holiday’s advice to his new boss? “You’d want someone with a lot of energy,” he states. “NBA players know how to score but defence is under-rated in the NBA so hopefully we have somebody who really can expand the defence.”
Whoever follows Collins would do well to lean on the Sixers emerging leader.
“You never know about new coaches,” said Holiday. “I feel like every coach that comes in is looking to change and looking to win. Honestly, that’s what I’m all about it.
“As a point guard, you have to represent the coach on the court so it’s good to be on the same page. I don’t think it will be hard. This will be my third coach in five years and usually coaches in this league have a handle on those situations.”
The Philadelphia 76ers will be playing against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Manchester on October 8. Make sure you beat the queue for tickets by signing up for NBA All-Access at www.nba.com/allaccess/
(Additional reporting, Mark Woods. Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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