Jrue Holiday’s inspired play early this season isn’t coming from out of the blue.
After all, it should be no surprise that the McDonald’s All-American and former No. 17 overall pick is playing well. Coming into this season, Holiday boasted third-year averages of 13.5 ppg, 4.5 apg and 1.6 spg. He also played his best career ball this past May, when he went head-to-head with Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and more than held his own.
The truth is, the 6-3 Holiday has improved incrementally every single season since entering the NBA at 19. A lot of that improvement is, obviously, thanks to increased minutes and opportunities. But even more of it is due to, well, Blue.
“Working with him (Aaron McKie) has been huge to my development,” Holiday told SLAM before a recent game. “Blue really realizes what I’m going to get in the game. I think that now that I’ve done it so much, I know my spots and what’s going to happen, but I think it all kind of started with him.”
McKie, who’s known as “Blue” around the League, is now in his sixth season as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers. In his time on staff, McKie has exhibited traits that promise a bright future on the bench. Aside from generally connecting well with players on the roster, the 40-year-old has shown a real knack for player development, specifically with young guards.
Before he started working on the bench, McKie—a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, who attended Simon Gratz for high school and Temple for college—played in the NBA for 13 seasons. His best year was in 2001, when he and Allen Iverson, who still considers McKie a close friend, helped the Sixers reach the NBA Finals. Blue, who was known for using his 6-5 frame well and overall heady play, was named the Sixth Man of the Year that season.
When it comes to Jrue Holiday, a lot of his improvement correlates to pre-game work he does with McKie. And the rest of it stems from conversations the two have—conversations that Holiday takes seriously because of McKie’s impressive NBA resume.
“I think that’s probably one of the biggest parts,” Holiday said. “He gives me a lot of confidence and believes in me. He’s always positive and definitely shares his opinions. For him, especially as someone I would watch growing up, to give me his opinion means a lot.”
While McKie downplays his importance in Holiday’s emergence, he can’t downplay the amount of time he spends working out with the 22-year-old. If you arrive to the Wells Fargo Center two hours before a scheduled Sixers game, chances are you’ll see the two of them going through a workout that McKie tailor-made for Holiday. Over the course of the past three-plus seasons, the workouts have focused on the young point guard’s midrange game, understanding of screen-and-rolls, and ability to use his height and length in the post. Next, says McKie, he wants Holiday to not just settle on offense, and he wants him to “become selfish at the end of games.”
“I always tell him, ‘You can be as good as you want to be,’” says McKie. “Any time you have a guy that has the tools and loves to be in the gym, at some point they’re ready to just take off.”