Aaron Holiday’s season may have peaked in December.
Specifically, December 11. The Indiana Pacers began the fourth quarter down 10 points to the Boston Celtics. Holiday went 6/6 from the field, hitting big shot after big shot en route to a 122-117 Pacers victory.
Fast forward two months and Holiday found himself on the bench for most games. Since Victor Oladipo’s return on January 29, Holiday was the odd man out of the rotation.
The second unit, which thrived with Holiday, found its footing without him. Doug McDermott and his brother, Justin Holiday, could replace his outside shooting. T.J. McConnell was still the point guard and Jeremy Lamb replaced the secondary ball handling duties Holiday once held. The McConnell-Lamb-J. Holiday-McDermott-Domantas Sabonis lineup has a net rating of +7.2, as opposed to a net rating of +17.9 (!!!) when you replace Lamb with Holiday.
As DNP-CD’s accumulated on Holiday’s record, it begs the question: what is his role moving forward?
Holiday will finish this season with he second unit, since Lamb’s season is over with a torn ACL. But Holiday’s long-term role in Indianapolis is very much muffled.
Many Pacers fans anticipated the former 23rd pick in the 2018 NBA draft as the backup point guard this season, with McConnell providing veteran experience the third-string.
That lasted one game.
An early injury to Lamb gave Holiday an opportunity to showcase himself as an off-ball guard, which has proven that he isn’t really a point guard. He has a net rating of +8.3 when playing alongside Malcolm Brogdon as a shooting guard.
That’s largely because of his outside shooting. Holiday is shooting 39.4% from behind the arc on 3.5 attempts per game. That makes him the perfect guy to play alongside McConnell, who is a non-shooter from deep.
I wrote before the season that defense could be an issue with McConnell-Holiday lineups, but that hasn’t been the case. The duo has a defensive rating of 105 together. Sure, they give up size to most backcourts, but McConnell’s strength and Holiday’s length make up for that most of the time. It helps that both are relentless on that end of the floor as well, often times picking up their assignment 90-feet from the hoop.
McConnell has become a fan favorite, but many fans are still clamoring for more Holiday. He’s younger, a homegrown product and under team control for longer with far more potential. But the second unit runs through McConnell, and Holiday has hasn’t thrived in that role.
It’s not that he is a bad playmaker. He makes good reads when the second unit doesn’t find anything from their initial action and the ball comes back around to him.
But that’s what it is with Holiday: secondary action. He struggles when he has to initiate the primary action, which is where McConnell comes in. But McConnell needs someone like Holiday just as much as Holiday needs someone like McConnell. Offenses don’t succeed with one true playmaker unless he’s Lebron James or James Harden.
That’s why Nate McMillan can’t roll with a lineup of McConnell, Sabonis and shooters. There needs to be the second ball handler. Holiday was so good in that role, but Lamb was better. He’s bigger. More consistent. Better at defense.
With Lamb likely missing the 2020-21 season due to his injury, it leaves the 2-guard spot in the second unit open for Holiday to take. Will Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan trust a McConnell-Holiday backcourt for the entire length of the season? Or will they look to add a bigger secondary ball-handler to play alongside McConnell?
I’d like to see them roll with Holiday full-time. In the era of positions basketball, it’s okay to have a small shooting guard, as long as you have length and toughness around him to compensate.
It’s time to unleash Holiday in whatever role allows him to be a contributor. He’s too good to not be one of the first players off the bench moving forward.