AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Had the NBA not changed its collective bargaining agreement with players in 2005 to insist American teens needed to be one year removed from high school in order to be eligible for the draft, Jrue Holiday almost surely would have been a member of the 2008-09 rookie class.
He was that highly regarded coming out of high school in suburban Los Angeles. But after a year at UCLA in which he averaged just 8.5 points a game and managed to score in double figures only six times in 20 Pac-10 Conference games, scouts began to question his NBA future.
That was before individual workouts began and last weekend’s NBA scouting combine, the first of its kind, was held in Chicago. Over the past few weeks, Holiday from all accounts is rapidly repairing the damage done to his NBA draft stock.
It now seems a long shot that Holiday will escape the lottery and be on the board when the Pistons select 15th in a draft rich in point guards but spotty almost everywhere else. As many as eight point guards, nine if Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans is evaluated at that position, could be taken in the first 20 picks. Holiday has been working out at the IMG Academy in Florida while maintaining amateur eligibility by not hiring an agent, though it seems highly unlikely – especially in light of his ascending status – that he will return to UCLA. The deadline for pulling out of the draft is June 15.
A survey of NBA general managers conducted by ESPN.com’s Chad Ford from the Chicago combine had Holiday ranked fourth among point guards behind Spain’s Ricky Rubio, Davidson’s Stephen Curry and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn. Holiday reportedly had a strong workout for Sacramento, which holds the fourth pick and needs a point guard, and probably wouldn’t get past Indiana at 13.
Some scouts have invoked the name of Rodney Stuckey in drawing a comparison to Holiday, who in Chicago measured in at slightly taller than 6-foot-4 in gym shoes. That type of size means Holiday, already thought to have the potential to become an elite defender, could guard at either backcourt position.
Holiday, who has compared his style to that of Chauncey Billups or Deron Williams, played off the ball at UCLA due to the presence of senior point guard Darren Collison, also considered a likely first-round draft choice. One season earlier, Russell Westbrook found himself in a similar situation at UCLA, but an injury to Collison gave Westbrook the opportunity to show NBA scouts he was capable of running a team and Westbrook, taken No. 4 in the 2008 draft by Oklahoma City, didn’t disappoint as an NBA rookie.
While Holiday might lack the extreme explosiveness of Westbrook, he is also regarded as a top-notch athlete who has tremendous pure basketball ability. In drills, Holiday reportedly has displayed a surprisingly accurate jump shot. In Chicago, scouts came away extolling his vision and point-guard attributes.
So how do scouts reconcile the glowing physical and personal attributes Holiday, who won’t turn 19 until two weeks before the June 25 draft, seems to possess with marginal production at UCLA? Good question. While Bruins coach Ben Howland is highly regarded for his team-building expertise and ability to impart defensive fundamentals, his players rarely put up flashy offensive numbers. Still, 8.5 points and 3.7 assists a game, while shooting .307 from the shorter college 3-point arc, does not seem to add up to a lottery lock.
Yet that’s where Holiday seemed to be headed even before the Chicago camp, where his wing span (6-foot-7) and standing reach (8-foot-4½) came in tops among point guards and he seemed to stand out athletically at his positional drills.
In the unlikely event Holiday would fall to 15, he might be hard to resist for the Pistons. His versatility would allow them to use him and Stuckey interchangeably and his size would give them the flexibility to play the undersized Will Bynum with either one.