When the whirlwind of the NBA draft finally settles down and Jrue Holiday has a chance to take a breath and start thinking about how he's going to earn minutes in his rookie season, he really needs to sit down with Andre Iguodala. Actually, I'll take it a step further, he needs to become Iguodala's shadow. In the gym, in the weight room, in film study. You name it, they need to be attached at the hip because these guys have a whole lot in common.
Back in 2004 the Sixers were coming off an extremely tumultuous, disappointing season. They were saddled with a mismatched roster but weren't quite bad enough to reach the top of the lottery. They sat in their war room watching Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon and Devin Harris go off the board. The odds of a useful player dropping to them falling by the second. Then, a miracle happened. The Toronto Raptors selected Rafael Araujo at #8. Andre Iguodala, and athletic - if unpolished - wing had fallen into their lap. (Araujo lasted 3 seasons in the league, playing a total of 1,585 minutes and accumulating a total -0.4 win shares).
Coming out of Arizona, Iguodala was known as an athlete without a jump shot, but a guy who could stuff the stat sheet. I can remember people saying he was a consistent triple double threat at the time.
When he was drafted, however, the Sixers had Willie Green, John Salmons, Aaron McKie, Kyle Korver and Allen Iverson on their roster. A starting spot was not guaranteed, in fact, it wasn't even really expected. Iguodala appeared to be too raw, he was a long-term project. But something happened between the draft and opening night. Iguodala didn't wow the team with his ball handling, shooting, rebounding or playmaking skills that Summer, those traits would emerge much later. Iguodala wowed them with his defense.
This is the reason Holiday needs to become Iguodala's shadow, because Holiday finds himself in the exact same position as Iguodala, five years later. The Sixers don't need him to be an offensive threat, they have Iguodala, Thad, Brand and even Lou to score points. They don't need him to orchestrate the offense, really. The Princeton offense doesn't demand the traditional point to get things going. Holiday can play the point without really needing to trigger offense. Again, he'll have playmakers on the floor with him at all times.
Honestly, just like with Iguodala, it's an ideal situation for a kid to come into, especially this kid. Plenty of talent around him, no pressure to be the man offensively, no pressure to carry any kind of load on offense, really. If he can come into training camp and focus learning the offensive system and playing tough, sound, fundamental defense at the guard position he's going to earn minutes and he's going to earn them quickly.
Iguodala learned this truth about the NBA very early, he started the first game of his career and he's started every game he's played since. The offense has obviously come around, his role has evolved over time, but from the get-go it was his defense that got him on the floor. It was his defense that bought him the minutes to allow the rest of his game to catch up. Five years later, it's his defense that has made him the leader of this team. If he can get that message across to Holiday, it will open up a ton of doors not only for Jrue, but for the entire team. Doors that didn't even exist a week ago.
For example, my main concern heading into the draft was that far too much time was being spent talking about a lineup with Brand at the five, Thad at the four and Iguodala at the three. I hated that lineup because of the defensive deficiencies and the rebounding problems. If Holiday can prove himself to be a plus defender sooner rather than later, I think you can actually have success with a smaller lineup up front, because you have someone on the outside to ease the burden of the center in protecting the rim.
Here's one lineup:
Holiday takes the tougher matchup on the perimeter and youv'e got some balance. Four offensive weapons, 4 good-to-very good defensive players. You can do the same thing with Kapono
These lineups take on a whole different look when you add a defense-first guy to the backcourt, and I think they become much more palatable than what I had originally envisioned.
That being said, I still believe the future of the team has to be a lineup something like this:
C: Sam (until a suitable replacement is found)
I'm not saying I prefer the smaller lineup with Holiday at the point and someone other than Iguodala at the two, I'm saying it's preferable to the options before he was drafted.
Now, all of this reasoning is predicated on one thing, Holiday's defensive learning curve being much shorter than his offensive curve. I believe his lone season at UCLA, playing the role of defensive stopper for a defense-first coach, in a tough conference against very talented opponents will help, but ultimately it's going to come down to Holiday himself. The first step is realizing that defense equals minutes and he's got a great example right there in the locker room to show him the way.
To be clear, though, I'm not saying Holiday should start. I'm not saying that's even a remote possibility. This Sixers team is in much better shape than the team Iguodala joined. I am saying that Holiday's role can be more than 5-10 minutes per game from the start of the season, though, if he can figure out what to focus on and put the work in.