Aaron Holiday came into Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks having played just 16 minutes in six games and barely making it onto the court outside of garbage time.
But with Victor Oladipo down, the rookie out of UCLA made his presence known and scored 12 points in 15 minutes, including a pull-up three that put the Indiana Pacers up for good in the third quarter.
It’s worth mentioning that the confidence Holiday had to have to take that shot at that moment in the game shows a lot about the player he may become.
Holiday finished the game 4-6 from the field including 3-4 from three, scoring more points in his short time on the floor then Darren Collison has in half of his games this season.
I’m not going to overreact and call for the immediate trading, benching or shipping off to Siberia of Collison. I’ve been known to overreact but I won’t do that in this situation.
However, Holiday’s performance highlights an issue that has now plagued the Pacers for the past three seasons:1 the sacrificing of developing young players for short-term, frankly mediocre success.
After Myles Turner had an amazing rookie year he accelerated Indiana’s retooling around Paul George after Roy Hibbert and David West left.
The Pacers were in a position where if Turner kept developing they would be able to combine him with an elite talent (either George or eventually Oladipo) to succeed.
All Indiana had to do was add quality rotation players around their two stars and they could have made deep playoff runs every year. This situation is similar to what’s happening in Utah with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
In 2016 Indiana traded their first-round pick (20th overall Caris Lavert) for Thaddeus Young. By doing this, the Pacers sacrificed their opportunity to draft a guy like Lavert — or even Pascal Siakam, who went seven picks later — for the short-term success Young. The plan worked and without Young, the Pacers wouldn’t have made the playoffs the last two seasons.
It’s worth noting Lavert was averaging 18.4 points per game before his injury this season.
After the Young trade the Pacers were left in a position where, when George wanted out, they didn’t have enough young talent to go into a full rebuild.
This forced Indiana to sign Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison and trade for Cory Joseph in the 2017 offseason in a desperate move to prevent going into full tank mode.
Remember, at the moment of the 2017 moves Indiana had no idea how good Oladipo was going to be.
By essentially betting all-in on a Turner-George core without understanding that George had one foot out the door, Indiana didn’t have enough young players to convince owner Herb Simon to go into a complete rebuild and youth movement during summer 2017 .
Indiana was forced to sign good rotation players to remain average. Kevin Pritchard’s genius (or luck) would have it that Oladipo became as good as (if not better than) George and Domantas Sabonis became a borderline top 50 player.
With Oladipo and all of the 2016 and 2017 moves the Pacers no longer needed young guys to be competitive.
But now the remaining issue is that the Pacers have too many rotation players to give any minutes to their rookies that need developing. This includes players like Holiday, T.J. Leaf, Edmond Sumner, Alize Johnson, Ike Anigbogu or, until recently, Ben Moore.
For the past three seasons the Pacers have essentially put themselves in a position where they would rather sign reliable rotation players with limited futures in order to win 45-50 games in the present, rather than develop their young players.
This kind of system makes sense when soon-to-be draft busts like Leaf or Anigbogu prove how unreliable rookies are, but the flashes Holiday has shown prove that maybe that same system is ill-advised.
It never made sense to me why Indiana brought back Collison and Joseph except if they were trying to guarantee a competitive first-round playoff series.
Both players are good players but the Pacers have two young guards in Sumner and Holiday who could use those minutes this season to develop.
Holiday’s great performance on Saturday was a reminder of why some teams would rather give young guys a chance rather than stick with semi-reliable veterans.
Draft picks and young players are like lottery tickets: most of the time they aren’t winners, but if you can hit on one it can completely change your franchise.
And if you don’t buy a ticket, you definitely can’t win.