It's hard to believe, when watching Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday, that he's the youngest player in the league.
But there he is, steadily running the show in Philly, giving Sixer fans a glimpse of what appears to be a bright future. So, when asked what the hardest adjustment has been, it's surprising to hear Holiday's answer.
"The travel," Holiday says.
Not adjusting to the NBA's bigger, faster defenders. Not learning the different angles of the NBA in order to pick apart NBA defenses. Not the longer three-point line.
But rather, the travel. Of course, Holiday admits that as a 19-year-old, he has the advantage of fresh legs in that arena. Still, the answer belies Holiday's confidence in his skills and what he brings to the Sixers -- a mature-beyond-his-years presence at the point who just happens to have what Philly coach Eddie Jordan calls "one of the prettiest jump shots on the team."
And since he has no say in the day-to-day scheduling, Holiday says he instead focuses on one area in particular -- the pick and roll. For that, he has a more than capable mentor in Sixers assistant Aaron McKie, who spent 13 seasons in the league, to help him out.
"[McKie] works with me on the screen and rolls and staying aggressive," Holiday said. "He's helped me a lot with my jump shot and helping me know when to take the shot and when to try to get into the lane. Coming off the screen and roll, I'm just trying to lead my team in the best way. Most of it is just coming with experience and building chemistry with the other guys. We're trying to figure each other out."
Taken with the 17th pick after playing one season at UCLA (alongside fellow rookie Darren Collison), Holiday spent the early part of the season backing up Lou Williams and Allen Iverson, then filling in admirably when Williams went down and Iverson left the team. With the new year came a new opportunity for Holiday, who was handed the starting job alongside Williams in the backcourt.
Holiday's numbers haven't been eye-popping, but show steady improvement. For the season, Holiday is averaging 7.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists while hitting on 43 percent of his shots (41 percent of his 3s). Over the past five games, though, Holiday has averaged 13.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.2 steals.
"I think he's doing a good job of understanding his game within the NBA game," Sixers forward Andre Iguodala told the Philadelphia Daily News. "He had a problem with coming down and taking a shot with his toes on the line a lot with 20 seconds on the shot clock. I think he has a great understanding about that, he's really changed it up. Instead of shooting those shots he now shoots open shots after a few passes and getting the whole team within the offense. He's grown tremendously throughout this year. Hopefully he continues to grow."
NBA.com's Rookie Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Wednesday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for Drew Packham, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter. For past week's rankings, click here.
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
In our interview this week, Holiday put it simply when speaking of Evans: "He's a beast." And when it comes to getting into the lane, the statistics back up the argument. According to hoopdata.com, Evans gets to the rim more than any other player in the league, with 8.3 attempts per game. The next closest is Carmelo Anthony at 7.9, followed by Zach Randolph at 7.7. Evans also leads in makes at the rim at 5.0 per game. Even more telling is the fact that Evans is only assisted on 24.5 percent of those, which means -- as we already know from watching him play -- that he is very good at creating his own bunnies. (As a comparison, LeBron James is assisted on 47.9 percent of his shots at the rim; Dwyane Wade on 31.9.)
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 7
Curry missed a pair of games this week with a sprained left ankle, but returned to the lineup for the Warriors' last two games this week (both losses). Curry showed signs of the injury, going just 10-for-25 from the field and averaging just 11.5 points and 7 assists. He did, however have four steals in the Warriors' 133-131 loss to the Suns in 34 minutes of action. With Evans out for a week dealing with his concussion, this would have been a perfect last-ditch opportunity for Curry to win over voters.
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 43
Chris Paul's return from injury drew the headlines, but it was Thornton's insertion into the starting lineup that may have energized the Hornets. In New Orleans' 115-99 win over Dallas on Monday, Thornton went 12-for-22 from the floor (4-for-9 on 3s) for a game-high 28 points to help stop a three-game slide. "(Bower) told me awhile back that a change might come and I might be back in the starting lineup," Thornton told Hornets.com. "I just wanted to take full advantage of it."
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 10
After the Bucks' first two games this week, I was ready to give Jennings a serious bump in the rankings. He had just gone for 21 points in a loss to the Clippers and then 35 two nights later (in a double-OT win over Evans' Kings, no less). In those two games, he'd gone 11-for-20 from three-point land and looked to be finding his stroke. Of course, Jennings came back to earth going 4-for-17 for just 11 points and five assists in the Bucks' next two games combined (while playing just 46 minutes). His supporters will, of course, continue to throw out the "but the Bucks are winning" argument, to which I ask: Would the Bucks be in playoff contention with Evans or Curry as their starting point guard?
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 21
Chris Paul is back, and after one game at least, Collison's playing time hasn't taken a hit. In Paul's return to the starting lineup, Collison came off the bench and had 16 points, eight assists and two steals in 35 minutes of the Hornets' 115-99 win over the Mavericks. "I've been telling people with all this time I've been out, all I've had time to do was shoot," Paul said. "So I told DC (Collison) before the game that when we're in the game together, that's still your team. If you see me open, just kick it to me and maybe I'll make a few shots." As for Collison, he's just glad to have CP3 back in the backcourt. "He's been extremely important. He has a lot to do with my success," Collison told the Times-Picayune. "He's been helping me on and off the court. I thank him every day, and I'm blessed for it. That's the person he is. He doesn't have to do it, but he chooses to do it."
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: 26
The Bulls are clinging to slim playoff hopes in the East, but Gibson isn't slowing down, despite his chronic plantar fasciitis. Friday night, Gibson played 38 minutes, the most since Jan. 28, finishing with 20 points, 13 boards, three assists and three steals in a tough home loss to the Cavs. Then, Gibson capped his week off with 10 points, 12 rebounds and a career-best five blocks in the Bulls' 98-88 win over the Rockets on Monday. In the Bulls' four games this week, Gibson finished with averages of 12.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks and had a pair of double-doubles (tying him with Collison for most among rookies at 12).
Last Week: 10 | Drafted: 29
You can say this for the Knicks, and Douglas in particular: They're finishing their season on a high note. New York has won four of its last six, and Douglas has been a revelation at the point. In a 92-88 win over the Sixers on Friday, Douglas had 14 of his 22 points in a big fourth quarter and finished 4-for-7 on 3-pointers, drawing praise from coach Mike D'Antoni, especially for his defense. "He was terrific," D'Antoni said. "Mostly defense is heart and brains, and he has both. A good combo and he's quick. The biggest thing is he wants to do it. When you put your mind to it like he does and he's always ready, good things happen." Douglas followed that performance by matching his career-high with 26 points (hitting six treys, tying a Knicks' single-game rookie record) in a loss to the Rockets, then scoring 16 and dishing seven assists in a big win over the Nuggets at Madison Square Garden.
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 6
Despite Minnesota's 13-game losing streak, at least one opposing coach sees a bright future for the Wolves -- Lakers coach Phil Jackson. After his Lakers beat the Wolves 104-96 on Friday despite Flynn's 20 points (his first 20+ game since Jan. 23), Jackson had this to say about what his pupil, Kurt Rambis, is trying to build in Minnesota. "I think without a doubt ... this is still a team that has great potential," Jackson said. "When you look at the five-year plan, I think it's a good idea to keep perspective of the long term and not the short term." Obviously, Flynn is part of that long-term plan but things could get very interesting if the Wolves end up with the top pick, especially if a certain point guard ends up leaving school early.
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: NA
The Jazz won three of four this week, but Matthews is in a bit of a shooting slump from three-point land, which doesn't bode well for Utah. In games in which Matthews hits more than two 3s, the Jazz are 10-3. Matthews missed all eight 3-point attempts this week, but still finished the week 45 percent from the floor (15-for-33). Matthews' saving grace, though, were his 2.0 steals per game, which is good enough to keep him in the top 10.
Last Week: NR | Drafted: NA
He's only played 12 games in the NBA, but already Williams is making quite the impression. This week was no different. In four games, the 2008 VMI graduate who was called up from the NBA D-League averaged 20.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in 32.8 minutes. "I like everything about [Williams]," Warriors coach Don Nelson told the San Francisco Chronicle after Williams scored a career-best 29 points in a 133-131 loss to the Suns on Monday. "Most D-League guys are single-statistical guys, but he's a guy who does it all. Those guys are hard to find." For his part, Williams is just trying to stay in the league, and Golden State rewarded him Monday by signing him for the rest of the season. "Coming from the D-League, we're trying to get jobs," Williams told the Mercury News. "We don't have four-year guaranteed contracts or big buzz coming into the league. We have to stay hungry."
Honorable Mention: Terrence Williams, Nets: Averaged 11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in three losses, but was just 12-for-36 from the floor (33 percent); Chase Budinger, Rockets: Tied his career-high with 18 points in 116-112 win over Knicks. Wayne Ellington, Wolves: Averaged 13.3 points in three games while going 13-for-25 from the floor (6-for-12 on 3s); Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies: Averaged 7.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in three games; Serge Ibaka, Thunder: Averaged 7.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in four games; Jordan Hill, Rockets: Stuck it to Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, who had called him a "bad rookie" before the game, with 13 points and five rebounds in Houston's 116-112 win in New York; Eric Maynor, Thunder: Had 15 points and 11 assists in 33 minutes of blowout loss in Indiana on Sunday;
Dropped out: Jonas Jerebko