It’s November 18, and Aaron Holiday hasn’t predetermined his next move. Starting in place of an injured Malcolm Brogdon, he dribbles east-west off of a double ball screen and stays cognizant of his options. Instead of attempting a challenged runner over the top of Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen, he stays in motion and finds Myles Turner galloping down the lane for two. Not only did the pocket pass turn out to be his second of 13 assists on the night, it was an early sign of improved feel — a quality which can be easy to spot, yet hard to quantify.
In the 16 games since then, the fiery guard has actually shot on an even higher percentage of his touches (24.4 percent) than he was prior to that career-night in Brooklyn (22.7), but he’s doing so more efficiently and with greater restraint. Playing at the two alongside Brogdon or McConnell has opened him to taking more of his shots as catch-and-shoot threes, and it’s served to tamp down on some of his especially unruly possessions where it appears as though he’s intent on scoring no matter what while he learns to be more resourceful with the ball in his hands.
Granted, his growth hasn’t been entirely linear in terms of reads. He still occasionally works up a lather searching for a seam in the defense where McConnell would keep things moving, and there continues to be moments that creep in when he attacks away from the play and then runs out of ideas once he’s too deep to make a pass; but, on the whole, he’s come a long way from the 6-of-26 box scores he racked up at Summer League — let alone his 5-of-18 start to the season when it was evident he was pressing to prove himself instead of searching for balance.
But for all that, even through the early lows and lately more encouraging highs, one thing about Aaron Holiday’s game has rarely wavered: His confidence.
As such, and with this being the Holiday Season, we’re counting down Aaron’s gutsiest plays as a sophomore by category without any fear or trepidation.
Let’s. Do. This.
6. Confidence for nerds
Confidence doesn’t always roar with chutzpah in isolation or heat-check threes ...sometimes, confidence is the quiet trust exhibited in being able to call upon a specific skill in a specific instance.
That’s what Aaron Holiday does when he pulls the string on this particular shot:
In order to appreciate that for what it is, detach yourself for a moment from the outcome. Being able to step behind a hand-off and fire away from three while moving away from the basket — even if not at a full-sprint — is hard. That’s why, for the majority of the ball-handlers on Indiana’s roster, they either automatically turn the corner and attack the paint or Sabonis re-screens to flow into pick-and-roll.
Most teams will likely be willing to live with the results of those sort of high-difficulty threes, but by virtue of him taking them he has the potential to strike gold — when, or if, he starts knocking them down.
Keep an eye on this, for now.
5. Loaded for Bear
Neither missed shots nor an increased focused on keeping his eyes up and his options open has made Aaron Holiday gun shy. If he misfires on a three and the ball bounces back out his way, he doesn’t hesitate to reload.
Admittedly, this can at times border on tunnel vision (especially in the instances where he attacks first and scans the defense later), but there’s also something to be said for the fact that his confidence isn’t tied to his production. As a 43 percent shooter off the catch, the Pacers need him to stay ready and willing to shoot when he’s open — make or miss.
4. Holiday, Aaron Holiday
Never one to shy away from taking risks, Aaron Holiday’s defense away from the ball can at times feel like a scene from an Ocean’s film. Aware of every camera angle and pointed laser, he somehow manages to pull off dangerous heists by attuning himself to the precise moment when the coast will be clear.
**cues spy music**
Focus too intently on the high-side digger or turning middle, and he’ll release himself from the player cutting through under the basket in order to ambush the post like a car unexpectedly appearing from a blind spot.
Turn your back to the post feeder, and it’s deuces.
Heck, put your head down for a split-second on a drive, and he might even be daring enough to put his hand in the cookie jar coming off the strong-side corner (which, if you haven’t heard, is pretty much always a big no-no).
Granted, as of late, Holiday’s ankle-biting speed has been deployed more frequently to slow down lightning quick guards at the point of attack, and his steals rate per 36 minutes (1.4) doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but the sort of takeaways he pursues are generally ballsy— perhaps with the exception of testing the passing-IQ of Thon Maker, who has more turnovers than assists for the season.
Even so, taking a chance on giving up one-pass-away kick-outs and potential shots under the rim is sort of the very definition of betting on yourself. If you’re going to do it, you have to make good on it. And he often does.
At Summer League, it often seemed like Aaron was allowing the results of his supporting cast to hijack his own process. Surrounded by a dearth of perimeter shooting without the benefit of a viable roll-man, he mainly used ball-screens as a means to rattle off shots in bulk as if they were about to reach their use-by date.
That carried over to the start of the season, too. His teammate would run at him with a ghost screen and there’d be little doubt as to who would end up finishing the possession — even when a help defender stepped over to impede his path.
Fast forward to now, and he’s seeing opportunities where his confidence can read through his teammates instead of just himself.
Yes, the upgrade in talent around him matters, but so does that fact that he isn’t dribbling past the point of no return with his head down and his mind already made up.
Sometimes, the simple act of giving up the ball is the gutsiest play a ball-dominant guard can make...Just ask T.J. Warren.
SO CLUTCH@TonyWarrenJr pic.twitter.com/Oa28uY1HUM— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 24, 2019
And, Myles Turner.
#SPLASH @Original_Turner pic.twitter.com/BKYdTT69Cp— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 24, 2019
2. Super Holiday Brothers
Look closely and you may just see literal beads of confidence dripping off this heart-warming moment of brotherly love.
From their driveway to the big stage @JustHolla7 feeds @The_4th_Holiday for the biggest make of his @NBA career #PacersWin x #HickoryGameNight pic.twitter.com/vQe2KIx90q— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) November 24, 2019
Here’s what you to need to know: Just prior to this, with the game tied and under 20 seconds to play, Aaron called his own number and misfired on a quick-draw, pull-up two, which Myles Turner fortunately collected. After snaking his dribble in front of Sabonis and dragging out the defense, the UCLA alum easily could’ve challenged Khem Birch at the elbow or shied away from shooting altogether. But, instead, he met both of those options in the middle.
He made the right play kicking the ball back out to his brother, and then, he didn’t think twice about firing away from three off the relocation.
Without Oladipo, the Pacers lead the league in turnovers committed during the final minute of games decided by five points or less, despite the fact that they’ve only played in 10 such games (24th).
Thanks to Aaron, that wasn’t the case, here. Nor was it against Toronto, when he scored or assisted on 12 of the team’s final 16 points, including tearing a few holes in the zone that had given the Pacers fits throughout most of the second half — and the season.
For that, the Pacers got a lot of play out of screening the top of Toronto’s 2-3 coverage over the last five minutes of regulation. Here, with Turner effectively backing into Fred VanVleet, all Aaron had to do was rise above the pick for three as if his defender was ducking under.
He also cashed-in on Sabonis’ screening excellence.
Once the Raptors came out of the zone and went to switching in overtime, he was happy to oblige Serge Ibaka in pulling the trigger from deep.
IT'S (and this can't be stressed enough) THE HOLIDAY SEASON!!! #Pacers— FOX Sports Indiana (@FSIndiana) December 24, 2019
TV: FSI | Stream: FSGO pic.twitter.com/4I0cLARP5H
That smile says it all. Also, petty clapping is the best clapping.
1. Sizing up the competition
With all due respect to that go-ahead three and the ice he clearly has in his veins, this is LeBron-freaking-James. The same LeBron James who has somewhere in the vicinity of 75 pounds on Aaron Holiday — not counting the weight of his timeless greatness.
And yet, none of that appeared to weigh on Indiana’s score-first guard in this particular moment. Nor did the fact that Dwight Howard had just blocked his shot at the rim one possession earlier. Nope, instead, when confronted by James mano-a-mano with the shot-clock winding down, Aaron backed it up, so as to build up a head of steam while signaling to his teammates that he was about to attack 1-on-1, and then he drove right at the match-up and used a spin move before finishing at the rim with his off-hand.
Under control without being overwhelmed, that basket had Aaron feeling so good that later in the same quarter he deliberately broke from choreography — waving off Sabonis out of pistol action with McConnell — in order to attack Rajon Rondo off the dribble.
Fortunately, McConnell’s basket cut salvaged the errant isolation attempt, but turning down a potential pick from one of the league’s leaders in screen assists is nonetheless bold. So bold that he was subbed out of the game as soon as Sabonis went to the free throw line.
That’s the two sides of Aaron Holiday. Every so often his confidence needs to be channeled, but rarely does it ever have to be stoked. He’s a gamer, and as last night’s clutch overtime performance goes to show, he’s growing up right before our eyes.