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On Aaron Holiday’s unorthodox finishing

And why his weak-hand might be key to strengthening his game.

Chicago Bulls v Indiana Pacers Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

From being undersized with combo skills to having a wingspan that is roughly 5-7 inches greater than his height, almost everything about Aaron Holiday, the player, is somewhat unconventional. Playing predominantly in a spot-up role, whether next to T.J. McConnell off the bench or sandwiched between Malcolm Brogdon and whichever wing happens to be healthy in the starting lineup, the 6-foot-1 shooting guard in a point guard’s body has shot just 23-of-72 (31 percent) on catch-and-shoot three-pointers this season — a drop of more than 10 full percentage points from 2019-20 (42 percent). Meanwhile, he’s only scored 1.83 points per 100 possessions at the free throw line, marking a career low, and converted 44 percent of his shots at the rim, good for seventh percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.

Taken altogether, despite taking only 22 percent of his shots from mid-range and attacking the basket more often, Aaron has the worst true shooting percentage (46.4 percent) in the league among the 152 players with at least 200 field-goal attempts. This leads to an obvious question: Why is he hitting on fewer shots and barely getting to the line even while putting forth his most modern shot-profile, taking 78 percent of his shots either at the rim or as threes?

Well, for one thing, he’s shooting just 42 percent on shots classified as layups, and even when accounting for how often his shot has been blocked (16 times), his unblocked field-goal percentage at the rim is still only hovering around 50 percent, according to PBP stats. To that point, there’s probably something to be said for less being more. After all, this isn’t the dunk contest. Points aren’t going to be awarded for style and originality. Only for conversion. There’s no reason to contort in mid-air for a reverse finger roll, when purposefully making contact first in transition for an on-target layup would suffice.

Still, some of the cute stuff he pulls around the basket stems from the fact that his lack of size and leaping ability make it difficult for him to finish, oftentimes resulting in rushed shots, awkward acrobatics, or both. And yet, there seems to be a curious through line connecting two of his strongest games this season, in which he scored 35 combined points while going a much improved 9-of-13 on layups against Philadelphia and Atlanta. Logging all but five of his 26 used possessions in the half-court, the fiery guard leaned heavily on driving left, particularly from the right side of the floor, finishing 6-of-9 field goals with his off-hand.

That’s obviously a minuscule sample size, but in tracking all of his non-jump shots this season, he’s been considerably more accurate with his left (47 percent) than his right (36 percent) on only 15 fewer attempts. Granted, neither mark is exactly stellar, but leaning into the comparative strength of his weak-hand might have the potential to buoy the weakness of his strong-hand. Take this possessions against the Sixers, for instance. With Danny Green ducking under on the hand-off, Sabonis sets a second and immediate re-screen, cleaning up room for Aaron to attack.

Watch what happens next, though. Rather than dribbling to his right off of the pick, as the lay of the land would suggest, look at how Aaron makes use of the screen by not using it, engaging with Green just long enough to shift his weight before going hard left and finishing with a wide-angle, lefty finger roll.

This technique also applies to more than just on-ball actions. He’s also taken to putting the ball on the deck with his left on right-side slot and baseline drives. Slicing middle, he raises his right arm slightly to protect the inside of the ball and then immediately floats up a sweeping lefty floater, quickening the speed of his release to avoid having his shot recycled by the rotating big.

In that way, it isn’t so much that he’s better as a lefty; it’s that going left from his typical spot on the floor, where he knocks down the highest percentage of his threes, allows him to use his body like a shield, warping expectations rather than forcing him to have to reach higher than the tallest trees.

Plus, because Aaron, a right-handed shooter, is shooting driving hooks, layups, and floaters about as often with his left as his right, there’s a certain level of surprise that has the potential to mitigate some of what he lacks in length by comparison to, say, buttery stop-and-pop scorer Jeremy Lamb, who has exclusively right-handed all of his tear-drops.

Of course, as is the case with most of Aaron’s game, which can occasionally be marred by making forced or predetermined reads, these lefty forays are best mixed with patience. Consider this gem, for example. Like the thrill of watching a big handle in space, there’s something special about the basketball diversity of a smaller guard stopping on a dime in the lane to pivot into a hook shot.

Aside from the nifty role reversal, however, that’s Aaron recognizing that he doesn’t have the angle on the defense to lay the ball up with his left and purposefully finessing that awareness into a better protected and more under-control finish with his right.

Oh, and that move also works in the reverse. It doesn’t happen quite as often because his sweet spot from deep is on the opposite side of the floor, but knife from left-to-right and he can spin around to finish with... wait for it.... yep, his off-hand.

Moving forward, in order to make defenses pay for sending extra defenders at the ball or the post without the benefit of T.J. Warren or Caris LeVert, it’s those types of composed drives in the gaps from Aaron, with savvy dexterity replacing overcomplicated bulldozing, that have the power to improve the team’s floor balance, at least while his outside shot continues to progress nearer to the norm, as it has over the last 10 games.

All of which is to say that there’s a path for how his finishing can become more proficient, but like his career arc up until this point, it may not be linear, and it will likely come via the road less traveled.