Out with the old and in with the new? Well, not exactly, but changes seem to be happening with the 76ers' starting lineup.
A ripple of surprise trickled through the media before Monday's game against the Golden State Warriors when the Sixers' starting lineup was revealed. In was rookie Jrue Holiday, out was veteran forward Elton Brand, the free-agent signee whom the team is paying $80 million over 5 years.
The reason for the switch, according to coach Eddie Jordan, was because the Warriors play at a fast pace and the thought of a starting lineup of Allen Iverson and Holiday in the backcourt was more enticing to Jordan than one that included Brand.
It seemed to work. The 19-year-old Holiday, the youngest player in the NBA, had his best overall game as a pro, contributing 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals as the Sixers posted their second-highest scoring total of the season in the 117-101 win. They also made 49.5 percent of their shots. Those are numbers Jordan wants from his team, which broke a 12-game losing streak with the win. And perhaps it's no coincidence that Holiday was in the starting lineup when it happened.
"I like what he does pushing the ball, making decisions, he makes great decisions," said Jordan of Holiday, who made his sixth start of the season in Monday's win. "I like his shotmaking, I like his savvy on the floor and, obviously, defensively he picks up early, he gets through the screens well and contains the ball as well as anybody on the team."
Is it a sign of desperation that the 17th overall pick is starting this early in the season, or is he simply that good?
Desperation might be too strong a word, though it would appear that Holiday's minutes were exaggerated due to the injury to starting guard Lou Williams, who broke his jaw a few weeks ago. But the UCLA product has shown massive improvement since training camp, and he looked pretty good there.
"I saw him pre-preseason, when we were playing five-on-five pickup," said Brand. "I saw his talent level, especially on the defensive end he was playing Lou Williams, a guard who was slated to basically start, and he was defending him every single play, tenacious D. His passing abilities are amazing and he shoots the ball well. He's a great young player."
Brand has been the ultimate professional through a season that has seen him struggle to the point of almost being relegated to the bench, then a return to his 20-point, 10-rebound-a-game-form for a handful of games, followed by an injury and now a spot as a sub.
"As long as we get those 30-point leads, absolutely," Brand said of his acceptance of coming off the bench. "Of course I feel that I'm just as good starting."
Another reason for Jordan starting Holiday is because of the spark Brand gives coming off the bench, where he can play the center position as opposed to the power forward spot he occupies when he starts. That creates matchup headaches for opponents.
"[With me] at the five, Thad [Young] is a great player at the four, no forwards can guard him because he's so quick, so that gives us a mismatch there. Coming in to play the five, yeah, I could do that also. I get touches and move the ball and pass the ball. It's fun playing the five, you get a lot of touches out there."
A reserve spot might be the role he finds himself playing a lot in the near future.
"I really don't know, I don't want to change so much, so my initial thought was to start the same way we started [Monday]," said Jordan when asked who might start tonight against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers. "I want to look at things a little bit more. I know they start big, so we'll see. Like I said before, I don't like changing a lot. When you get a rhythm going with your starters - a good rhythm - and you're successful then you ought to keep those guys together."
Whether he's starting or coming off the bench, all is good for Holiday.
"It's pretty fun, the chemistry is good," said Holiday of his starting role. "The coaches told me when they drafted me that they're looking for me to play extensive minutes even though they had Lou, Willie [Green] and Royal [Ivey]. Now that we have Iverson, I didn't know what to think. But again, the coaches were saying they like the way I play defensively, so they'd buy me some time."
Does Holiday see himself in the starting lineup tonight?
"I don't know. I anticipate playing," he said. "We'll find out at shootaround [today]."