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Position Battles Part I: Backup Point Guard

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Brooks Hepp takes a look at the first of three position battles on the Pacers: backup point guard between Aaron Holiday and T.J. McConnell.

Indiana Pacers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Position Battles is a three-part series of stories, released every weekend, highlighting different spots in the rotation that are up for grabs on the Pacers roster. This week, we look at the battle for backup point guard.

The Indiana Pacers entered the 2018-19 season with the most stability in the NBA, returning the eighth most minutes from the previous season in the NBA.

The rotation was set in stone, and there wasn’t much competition for minutes.

This year, that is different.

There are arguably 13 players on the roster vying for consistent minutes.

At point guard, the second unit has been anchored by Cory Joseph. Aaron Holiday showed promise as a rookie and seemed to be in line to replace Joseph, but with the addition T.J. McConnell, who has just found a way to consistently play on a good Sixers team, this is officially a position battle.

The Candidates

Aaron Holiday

Size: 6’1’’ 185 lbs.

2018-19 stats: 50 games, 12.9 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.8 TPG, .483 eFG%

The case for: Holiday is at his most impactful when he’s the primary ball-handler, surrounded by players who can space the floor. With Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott, Jeremy Lamb/T.J. Warren and Goga Bitadze slated to run with the second unit, that’s exactly how Holiday would be used. Also, he’s only 21 years old and has some real potential as a sixth man in the NBA. At some point, the team needs to develop its young prospects by giving them consistent minutes.

The case against: Defensively, Holiday struggles. With the possibility of below average defenders playing behind him (McDermott, T.J. Leaf, Warren, Bitadze as he adjusts to the NBA), it’s not ideal to have a bad defender at the point. His defense should improve with experience, but I’m not sure it will ever reach a positive level. Although he’s a good shot-creator, Holiday is prone to mistakes (bad shot selection, specifically) on offense. Sometimes, it’s better to have a steady presence for the second unit than an up-and-down performer.

T.J. McConnell

Size: 6’2’’ 190 lbs.

2018-19 stats: 76 games, 19.3 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.4 PG, 1.2 TPG, .542 eFG%

The case for: McConnell does nothing that jumps off the box score, but he is as steady as they come. He’s a heady defender and doesn’t make mistakes on offense. Despite the lack of NBA-quality physical traits, the former undrafted free agent has found a role on the Sixers every year he’s been in the league. All accounts point to him being a great leader, as well; that’s something the second unit may need.

The case against: McConnell can’t shoot. As Caitlin Cooper points out in this piece, the Sixers often put McConnell at the dunker’s spot because he was such a liability from deep. That makes him essentially unplayable in the playoffs. It may be better to establish Holiday as the focal point of the second unit from the get-go if McConnell isn’t going to be able to play in the most crucial point in the season.

The Skinny

I think this is Holiday’s job to lose. If McConnell wins the job, the Pacers will send out a second-unit of McConnell-J. Holiday-McDermott-Leaf-Bitadze. I know there is some minutes staggering Nate McMillan can do to prevent this, but there’s little to no shot creation in that lineup. They need Holiday to control the ball and become a facilitator that can give his brother, McDermott and Bitadze looks from deep. I’m not sure McConnell can do that.

They should be able to hide him on defense by putting him on the worse of the opposing team’s guards and having his brother take the tougher assignment. Bitadze may be able to contribute as a rim-protector as well, which could also help compensate for his defense.

McConnell is a more than capable emergency option, though. If Holiday doesn’t cut it, McConnell has showed that he can steady a second unit. He becomes more of an option, too, once Victor Oladipo comes back from injury and Lamb or Warren slides to the second-unit.

Check back in next weekend for Part II of Position Battles, where we will take a look at the battle for the starting Small Forward position once Oladipo returns.