THE PERCEPTION is that the 76ers are void of that superstar player who could catapult them to the NBA's upper echelon. That very well could be true, but it certainly appears they have a superstar just about ready to blossom.
Since the day he took over as coach, Doug Collins has repeatedly professed his admiration for Jrue Holiday, even saying at his first meeting with the media that he saw him becoming among the top five point guards in the league in the not-too-distant future.
Holiday is just 21. He is starting his third season in the league, second as a starter. Still, he possesses the maturity of a veteran the coolness of an All-Star and the ability of, well, a future superstar.
"I love where Jrue is at from this time last year to right now," Collins said. "I love the pace he plays. I watched the game the other night [Friday in Washington] and he's finishing off plays better defensively. A couple of plays where he got out of position and he fought his way back in to go for the defensive board. Last year he would have sort of stayed out there and it wasn't because of a lack of effort, it was just sort of a habit."
Last night, in the Sixers' 101-94 exhibition win over the visiting Wizards, Holiday played the role of Jonathan Papelbon, scoring 22 of his game-high 24 in the second half as the Sixers ended the preseason with another win.
"The first preseason game seemed a little bit easier [than last season]," Holiday said. "The game is slowing down a little bit. I see a lot more. I think I am a lot more comfortable in my team."
He answers questions with a kind of knowing chuckle, as if he knows the questioner is trying to get him to admit he knows how good he could be.
"I have a lot more confidence,'' he said. "I think my teammates have a lot more confidence in me. I think the coaching staff has a lot more confidence in me. [I have to improve on] decision-making. I know there are still some dumb turnovers that I still make. They say it's because I'm young, or whatever."
Holiday possesses that rare talent that great point guards have - an ability to shift gears and take the pace of the game where they want it to be. Collins compared it to another local athlete.
"I don't think that you can underestimate the pace that he plays," Collins said. "You see guys going 100 miles an hour and you don't know where they're going. He changes speed so great. To me, he's like that running back that gets to the line and can make that little step and then go. They talk about 'Shady' [LeSean McCoy] being like that, Barry Sanders was sort of like that. He stopped and then he was off. That to me, that change of pace, is a little bit harder to guard than it is somebody who's going 100 miles an hour. It's like a pitcher in baseball. Nolan Ryan threw 100 miles an hour and then he got a little curve and you couldn't hit him."
Collins sees Holiday needing some tweaks in his game to get to another level.
"The one thing that I would like for him to do is when he gets into that paint I'd like to see him be really aggressive and get that ball to the rim and get fouled," Collins said. "I told him the other day that Kyrie Irving shot 15 free throws his first game for Cleveland. One of the areas for Jrue is I'd like for him to get to the line a little bit more. He's so unselfish, he loves to make the plays. I thought the other night he may have overpassed two or three times around the basket. But that's OK. I'd rather he'd do that instead of forcing shots. Jrue's been great. His defense is terrific."
The second of two exhibition games prior to the shortened season, last night's contest had all the feel of a final tuneup before the regular season starts.
Despite turning the ball over 20 times and allowing 21 offensive rebounds, the Sixers were still able to pull out the victory. Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young backed Holiday with 13 points, while Jodie Meeks added 11 and Lou Williams 10.
Collins had said earlier in the week that relying on rookie big man Nikola Vucevic early in the season wasn't something he was comfortable doing. So his fourth big man, after Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Young, was going to be Marreese Speights.
Speights finished with two points and four rebounds in 12 minutes. After Speights missed a defensive assignment late in the first half, Collins pulled him in favor of Vucevic with 2 minutes, 5 seconds remaining. Vucevic calmly drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut Washington's lead to 52-47.
Hawes pulled down 13 rebounds, while Turner grabbed nine and Young seven. Holiday had six assists, but turned the ball over five times.
The team will practice the next 3 days, then have off on Christmas Eve so the players and coaches can spend the day with their families. They will fly out to Portland early in the afternoon on Christmas and practice that night in preparation for Monday's season opener. The week concludes with games Wednesday (Phoenix), Friday (Utah) and Saturday (Golden State). The road trip ends Jan. 4 at New Orleans . . . Comcast SportsNet announced that former Drexel star and two-time NBA champion Malik Rose will join Marc Zumoff on Sixers television broadcasts, replacing Eric Snow, who left for family reasons.
Follow him on Twitter