I started writing for the 700 Level in April 2009, wanting a forum to discuss the Sixers' '09 stretch run and subsequent post-season appearance, and not knowing anyone else in non-internet life that cared all that much. The Sixers' playoff run was brief, but exciting--they lost to the Magic in six games, but took an unexpected 2-1 lead on the back of a couple big Andre Iguodala games. It ended in heartbreak, as Philly lost the next three games in increasingly embarrassing fashion, but I was still enthralled enough with the whole experience that I knew I'd be writing about this team for years to come.
Two months later, the Sixers would take Jrue Holiday with the 17th pick in the NBA draft. I wanted them to take Ty Lawson, selected by the Nuggets with the next pick, and though that opinion has vacillated between seeming smart and stupid at various points between both players' careers, looking back on it now, it'd be pretty dumb to try to find fault with their selecting Holiday, who blossomed in his relatively short tenure with the 76ers from an intriguing prospect to a clear starter to an All-Star point guard, all before turning 23 years old. (Four seasons into his pro career, he's still younger than Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, taken in the first round of the 2013 draft last week.)
Last week's trade of Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans--technically still pending, but basically good as done--hurt more than any other Sixer trade of recent years that I can remember. The Damaja lacked the counting numbers or years of service of Allen Iverson or even Andre Iguodala, and was probably never as valuable to the Sixers as those guys were at their peak. But dealing Jrue feels different, for a couple reasons.
For one, the trade came completely out of nowhere. AI's fate with the Sixers was sealed long before he was actually shipped to Denver late in '06 for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and some crappy draft picks, and AI9 had been included in trade rumors for a good two-and-a-half seasons before finally being dealt in the Howard/Bynum megadeal last summer. But Jrue? I can't remember him ever being even rumored to be rumored to be included in any kind of trade scenario. For four seasons, he was the closest thing we had to an untouchable, the kind of around player who you make deals to build around. When I first heard on draft night that the Sixers had dealt for Nerlens Noel, I figured it was a trade-up deal that included the #11 pick, maybe a future pick, or at worst an Evan Turner or Thaddeus Young personnel throw-in. It never occured to me that Holiday could be the primary expense, and when I finally heard that it was, I was as stunned as Bill Simmons.
For another, the Iverson and Iguodala trades came while both players were already comfortably into their peak years. After eight seasons as a Liberty Baller, we knew pretty well what we had with Iguodala by the time we parted ways with him, and Iverson was already 31 by the time of his dealing. Both obviously had quality basketball left in them, but both were fairly unlikely to get any better on their subsequent teams. But with Holiday...we just don't know yet. He's only 22, just coming off a breakout season, and while his ceiling is hardly limitless, there's no telling how much he'll iron out the little kinks in his game--improving his shot selection, getting stronger on off-ball defense, learning how to draw and finish through contact--to become one of the best all-around point guards in the league, someone who could be a perennial All-Star for years and years to come. As much as it hurts to give up the player that Holiday already was, it hurts twice as much to give up the player he might one day become.
And for another, more personal reason, it hurts me personally because Jrue's time with the Sixers is an almost exact timeline reflection of my time with the 700 Level. He's the first Sixer for whom I've carefully watched every important game (and just about every game period) of his career, the first who I've written about so much from Day One that I feel like I know him personally, to a point where it'd probably be creepy if we ever met in a non-media capacity. I remember the way he came on late in his rookie year and made covering the end of that awful Eddie Jordan season bearable, I remember how exciting it felt when he seemed to really take over control of the team in the 2012 post-season, and I remember how lucky I felt getting to watch him bloom into an actual All-Star in the first half of last season, and getting to write about his evolution every step of the way only served to enhance those feelings.
Come July 11th, Jrue will officially be gone, shipped to New Orleans with second-round pick Pierre Jackson, in return for much-hyped big man rookie prospect Nerlens Noel, and the Pelicans' top-five-protected first-round pick in next year's draft. (A cruel twist of the Holiday deal is that at least at first, it'll be hard to root on the Damaja in his new home, as the better the Pelicans do, the worse the pick they'll give the Sixers in next year's loaded draft will be.) It's a move that most, including myself, agree is probably for the best for the team's future, and one whose eventual benefits will hopefully make the loss of Holiday palatable in due time.
But before we settle all tabs for Jrue Holiday's four seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, I wanted to take a minute to remember some of his finest moments in the red, white and blue. Come read through my ten favorite games Jrue played as a Sixer--including my own original thoughts from the time--and say a fond farewell to the guy who represented the best reason to watch 76ers basketball in the last five years.
#10. Two straight 20-point rookie performances, against the Raptors and Pacers (3/7/10 & 3/9/10).
Technically cheating with a 10a and 10b here, but these were the games that really showed Jrue's scoring potential for the first time in his debut season, as he became the first Sixers rookie since Speedy Claxton--and I remember scouring game logs on a pre-streak finder Basketball-Reference at the time trying to find the last example--to score 20 in consecutive games. The Raps performance was especially sweet, Jrue posting a 21/7/6 in a rare Sixers win from the time (also including a career-high 32 from Thaddeus Young), showing what a shame it was that Holiday had been stuck behind the Allen Iverson reunion tour for the first half of the season.
What I Said Back Then: "I think we're all hoping that Jrue's third 20-pointer as a Liberty Baller will be pretty far from his last, though. Indeed, with the young'n starting to come of age a little ahead of schedule, seeing The Damaja at work is probably the best reason to tune in to any Sixers game between now and the draft lottery. Even if he can't keep up the pace, he's given us a reason to give a crap about this team again. And I, for one, am grateful."
#9. 23 and 8 in momentum-building win over Hornets (1/4/12)
The best run that Jrue had with the Sixers from a winning perspective was in the first half of the strike-shortened '11-'12 season, where the team got off to an awesome 16-6 start that had them looking like one of the tops in the East. It was a little slow out of the gate, though, as the Sixers dropped two of their first three in disappointing fashion, until they blew the Warriors out on New Years' Eve and then finished their season-opening road trip by squeaking out a win in New Orleans, with Jrue outdealing New Orleans' Eric Gordon down the stretch, hitting a couple huge threes late, and getting the team over .500 for the first time. From there, they were off, winning the next four at home and starting to build previously modest team expectations to unsustainable heights.
What I Said Back Then: "On a team that has so badly craved a closer in recent years, Jrue is starting to present a pretty convincing case that the guy’s been there all along, and if Coach Collins continues to put the ball in Andre Iguodala’s hands in the final seconds, he’s gonna have a lot of explaining to do in his post-game press-conferences."
#8. Jrue's first triple-double against the Nets (2/2/11)
Jrue wasn't quite the regular triple-double threat the way Andre Iguodala was, but scoring and diming in the double-digits was never too far out of reach for the Damaja, and he was a pretty solid rebounder for his position as well, grabbing four a game twice in his Sixers career. He finally got that first elusive trip-dub of his career towards the end of his sophomore season, though it was of the Jason Kidd-type variety, with Jrue going for 11 points, 11 assists and ten boards. In any event, it was still the first triple-double the team had posted since Andre Miller did it two seasons prior, and it was in a Sixers win against the division rival Nets.
What I Said Back Then: "Congrats to Jrue, who in just his second season has become a great source of stability at the most important position in the NBA to have stability at, and who should be notching a few more nights like this over his Sixers tenure before all is said and done." (Surprisingly, Jrue would post just one more triple-double in his Sixers career, a 16/10/10 performance in a loss to the Suns last January.)
#7. Defensive breakout against the Suns (11/9/09)Jrue's stat line in this game--eight rebounds, three rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes--certainly wouldn't seem to merit its inclusion on this list. But his performance in this one, just the third game of Jrue's pro career, was still an eye-opener, particularly for the damage he caused on the defensive end, where he absolutely suffocated Suns backup point Goran Dragic and grabbed a couple steals in the process, showing the potential the Damaja had as a tenacious on-ball defender. I left this game absolutely convinced Holiday was gonna be a game-changer for the Sixers at some point, and probably fairly soon.
What I Said Back Then: "You never want to make too much out of one game, but man did Jrue show us something last night. The Damaja entered midway through the first half, and instantly changed the complexion of the game...The only person more pleased by all this than me was Andre Iguodala, whose beaming smile from the bench reflected a man who just received the best gift a swingman could ask for."
#6. 27 points in gritty Spurs win (2/11/11)
Winning against the Spurs is never easy, and it certainly wasn't back in February 2011, when the unexpectedly decent-ish Sixers (then 24-28, still far closer to .500 than most would have predicted) took on a 44-8 San Antonio team at the WFC. The game was all-around rough, with both teams shooting well below 40% from the field, but Jrue had the game's lone offensive spark, going off for 27 points on 9-14 shooting, scoring over a third of the Sixers' total points in the hard-fought 77-71 victory, the most validating of the season for the Liberty Ballers. To see Jrue coming through like that in his sophomore season in a man's man's NBA game was heartening, to say the least.
What I Said Back Then: "Props to Jrue Holiday last night for being the one player on the court with the ability to hit shots (9-14 for 27 points)–good to see that he hasn't completely disappeared since being moved off the ball by Doug Collins. Let's keep that up tonight then, Jrue."
#5. 26 and 6 in Game Two in the Chicago Series (5/1/12)
Even though Derrick Rose's super-dispiriting season-ending ACL tear in Game One of the Bulls-Sixers first-round series two seasons ago would seem to have swayed the matchup in Philly's favor, as Chicago proved this season, beating the Bulls even without their MVP is no simple task. But Jrue set the tone in the series' second game, exploding for 26 points on 11-15 shooting (including 3-3 from deep) and handing out six assists without turning the ball over once, helping to steal Game Two in Chicago with a convincing 17-point win, and setting the stage for the Sixers' first playoff series victory in almost a decade.
What I Said Back Then: "Jrue Holiday probably gets the lion’s share of the credit, having kept the team afloat in with his first-half scoring, ending with 26 points on impressive 11-15 shooting, including going 3-3 from downtown." (As was frequently the case with the too-rare instances of Evan Turner actually having a good game, I spent most of my recap of this one raving about ET's performance.)
#4. Career-high 35 vs. the Knicks (1/26/13)The Knicks absolutely throttled the Sixers in their first two match-ups last season, winning by a combined 38 points, but in the teams' third meet up, the Sixers would finally get their say, beating a reeling New York team by 17. Jrue had perhaps his single-best game as a Sixer, scoring a career-high 35 points on 16-25 shooting, with six assists, five rebounds and just a single turnover, absolutely dominating the 'Bockers at every possible turn just days after being named to the All-Star team for the first time. Sadly, it was Jrue's last truly great game for the Sixers, as he would soon find himself mired in a shooting slump that he would only sporadically emerge from for the remainder of the season--though he did score 30 points once more for the Sixers, against the Knicks again about a month later, this time in a Sixers loss.
What I Said Back Then: "Jrue Holiday proved that he is not one to coast on his banked accomplishments, following his All-Star nomination on Thursday with arguably his best game of the season and possibly ever...the real crazy thing about Holiday’s performance in this one is that it didn’t even seem all that extraordinary—he got to the basket easily a couple times to start off the game, and from there it was just Jrue doing Damaj. This guy is special, for real."
#3. 20 points in Game Three vs. Miami (4/21/11)
We already knew Jrue was on his way to being the business from his first two regular seasons, but it was his performance against Miami in the first round of the 2011 post-season that showed his potential for being a true killer. Though the Sixers managed just one win in the series, encouraging performances from some of our young guys pointed the way towards a better tomorrow, and none moreso than Holiday, who had his best game in Game Three, the first in Philly. The Heat ultimately proved too much, as they did all throughout the series, but Jrue hung tough with 20 points (including 4-5 shooting from deep) and eight assists, responding to the big-game pressure and proving that at just 20 years old, he could already hack it.
What I Said Back Then: "The player of the game, the series, and possibly the season for the Sixers would have to be Jrue Holiday...Most encouraging to me was the open top-of-the-arc three that he stepped into with the Sixers trailing late in the fourth—it wasn’t the smartest shot, but it was a shot that the team desperately needed, and one that Holiday would never have had the confidence to take earlier in the season. Getting Jrue that kind of big-game experience might end up being our biggest takeaway from this series, and seeing him respond to it like he has is a real positive."
#2. The takeover game in Toronto (1/18/13)
It's not #1 on the list because of its relative lack of significance, but if you ask me for my happiest moment watching Jrue as a Sixers fan, it was probably as he led the team to this improbable overtime win against the Raptors last season. Jrue made every big play down the stretch, including hitting the game-tying bucket in regulation and scoring ALL 12 PHILLY POINTS in the OT period, looking like a guy who was putting the league on motherf---ing notice. The Damaja ended this one with 33 and 14, tying or setting career highs in both points and assists, and actually closing a game for the 76ers the way neither he nor anybody else on the damn team seemed able to do for practically the entire Iverson era. It was just so much fun to witness.
#1. Game Six against Boston (5/23/12)
Even if the '11-'12 Sixers, who managed to sneak past the injury-ridden Bulls in the first round of the playoffs and put a scare into the Celtics in the second round, had somehow emerged victorious in Game Seven of that semi-final series, nobody who actually watched the team that year could be deluded enough to believe they were actually better than Boston, or that they stood a chance against Miami in the next round. They weren't, and they wouldn't have--they were an overachieving team in the right place at the right time, and sooner or later they were going to run out of luck and be exposed for what they were. None of it really meant anything.
Except that is, for Jrue. After an underwhelming season that saw him regress some from his '10-'11 campaign and increasingly lose ball-handling and general leading responsibilities to Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, Jrue's year was redeemed with an excellent post-season run, particularly in Game Six of the Celtics series. His stat line from the game was hardly stunning--20 points on 7-15 shooting with six assists and two turnovers--but points came at such a premium in that series (the final score in this one was just 82-75), and his scoring came at such opportune moments, that it felt far bigger than that. My prevailing memory from that series will be Jrue attacking the lane and scoring a twisting layup around the help defender, as he seemed to do in every big spot in this one.
And so, even when the Sixers lost in that Game Seven, it was hard to be too upset about it. The team may have maxed out its success, but in Jrue, we still seemed to have room to grow, and when Sweet Lou was let go in the off-season and 'Dre eventually included in the Bynum mega-deal, it was clear the Sixers felt pretty strongly about their young point guard. Jrue was given the keys to the team last season, and he certainly did not disappoint in the driver's seat. And no matter where the team goes from here, it'll always hurt just a little that we never got to see the rest of the future with the Damaja.
What I Said Back Then: "The Sixers’ own point guard was easily the superior of the two tonight. Jrue Holiday’s distributing numbers were solid, six assists to two turnovers, but it was scoring the ball where he really excelled, taking the ball to the basket seemingly whenever the Sixers needed a basket, and hitting more often than not, finishing with 20 points on 7-15 shooting—a Herculean offensive performance by Sixers post-season standards."