The All-Star Game is supposed to be a place where the league's most recognizable faces gather in one place. For some, it's a reward for meeting their immense potential. For others, it's a lifetime achievement award for a great career. For still others, it's a coming-out-party where you show the world what everyone inside the league already knows.
And then there are folks like Jrue Holiday: high-school phenoms that go through rough patches before reaching the pinnacle of individual accomplishment. It's not fair to compare Holiday to one-time veterans like Chris Gatling, Antonio Davis, Jamaal Magloire or even Roy Hibbert, because Holiday is still incredibly young and has tons of room to get even better. But it is safe to say few expected Holiday to have his name called in Houston when the season began.
Now that he's here, it's worth making this point: nobody in Houston exhibits the "player development is not linear" theory better.
Holiday's path has been filled with ups, downs, twists, turns, the whole nine yards. The No. 4 overall recruit in the Class of 2008, according to Scout, Holiday got dinged by his own college choice. At the time, UCLA was a hot club, but this was just as things were about to go downhill. Holiday sometimes contributed to the program's downfall with some immaturity, but for the most part worked his butt off to be the best player he could be.
The bigger issue: Darren Collison was firmly entrenched at point guard, forcing Holiday to play off the ball. Needless to say, that did not work so well. Holiday averaged just 8.5 points and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 30 percent from three-point range on a UCLA team that disappointed to get a sixth seed one year after reaching the Final Four. You couldn't have scripted a worse situation for a young point guard, but many overlooked this and criticized Holiday for going into the draft. When the 76ers picked him No. 17 overall, many Sixers fans wondered why.
Success eventually came for Holiday in the NBA, but it didn't happen overnight. The beginning of Holiday's rookie year was a disaster, mostly because then-coach Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense was a horrible fit. It didn't help that Jordan buried him on the bench and showed little interest in developing him properly.
In a lot of ways, Holiday's own college experience worked against him. If he had chosen a school that would have featured him as a point guard, his first NBA coach wouldn't have been as scared to let him man the position. But because he was the dreaded "combo guard" without a position, Jordan wasn't sure how to use him.
Holiday finally broke through by default and started some games down the stretch when the season was lost, and it was only then when he showed flashes of the talent that made him such a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. The next season, Doug Collins came in and finally let Holiday grow while learning. Holiday rewarded him by showing flashes while starting all 82 games for a playoff team. Stardom seemed to be on the horizon after a rough beginning.
But once again, 76ers fans were forced to wait. Holiday wasn't bad last season, but he regressed from his breakout 2010-11 campaign. His scoring efficiency went down. His assist numbers sunk obscenely low for a point guard. Worse, he stopped being able to finish among the trees, shooting just 54.2 percent at the rim and taking only two free throws per 36 minutes, per Basketball Reference.
While still young, Holiday seemed to be settling in as a player that could hit jumpers if defenders ducked under screens, but couldn't consistently turn the corner and get into the lane. It seemed hard to believe that he would make another big jump, which made some wonder why the 76ers gave him a four-year contract extension that could pay him up to $46 million if certain incentives were met. Why pay for uncertainty, many asked? Had Holiday really shown as much as several of his peers -- Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, for example -- who got similar deals?
Few people are asking those questions now. The 76ers have floundered without Andrew Bynum, but Holiday has done his part. Carrying a dreadful surrounding cast, Holiday has seen his scoring, passing and efficiency leap back up to where it was before, if not higher. Better yet, he's now driving and actually finishing at the basket, hitting on better than 61 percent of his shots at the rim and shooting one more free throw per 36 minutes. Not only is he a better version of himself, but he's a different version of himself, showing growth in more ways than one.
And now, he's in Houston among the league's best. You can be sure that Holiday's development will continue to come in peaks and valleys, especially as he adjusts to a healthy Bynum. But with a history of learning from his setbacks, expect Holiday to be playing on the second Sunday in February many times in the future.