The Indiana Pacers were surprised that Aaron Holiday fell to them at the 23rd pick in the first round of the NBA Draft on Thursday night.
“We were shocked that he was there,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard.
Pritchard, General Manager Chad Buchanan and Head Coach Nate McMillan all had praise for his basketball IQ, his toughness and his fit with the Pacers budding culture.
“There are certain things that we look for and value in a player and he checked all those boxes,” said Buchanan who praised his toughness, maturity, composure and work ethic,
They praised the intangible aspects of his game repeatedly, but what does Holiday bring to the table as a point guard that intrigued the Pacers into taking him in the first round?
“He’s got a lot of things that will transfer from day one,” said Buchanan on draft night. “… Everything we’ve heard about him as a worker is phenomenal. I think he’s just going to turn into a great Pacer.”
One of the few tangible things that Buchanan brought up with Holiday was his shooting and that’s easily Holiday’s greatest skill. He’s an efficient shot maker from range whether that’s on or off the ball.
Not many people in college basketball shot the ball better than Holiday. Both when guarded and unguarded, Holiday ranked in the 98th percentile in shooting percentage on catch-and-shoot looks. He shot 43% overall from deep on high volume with over six attempts per game and is capable of hitting shots while running off screens or while being at a standstill before the catch.
He’s got the ability to knock down bombs in his pull-up game too. If you don’t look too close at the jerseys or the court, this play might make you think it’s a Victor Oladipo highlight.
Elsewhere on offense, one thing that you seem him do often is split the defenders on the pick and roll. You see a bunch of examples of that ability here from Grant Afseth.
“He’s a good pick-and-roll player,” said Pritchard. “He plays with pace. He is good at finding players in transition.”
While Pritchard noted that his passing still needs work especially on the pocket passes out of the pick and roll, he did praise the guard’s penchant for timely passes in transition. His passes in these plays are instant and instinctual, knowing exactly when and how to feed his teammates.
While Holiday racked up a decent amount of assists, he also struggled with turning the ball over, averaging 3.8 turnovers per game. Sometimes it’s dribbling himself into trouble (he turns it over at times trying to split the defender on the pick and roll too) and other times it’s lazy passes.
He gets compared to Darren Collison a lot, but that is one area where Holiday will have a lot to learn a few things from the veteran in his rookie season. Collison is very good at taking care of the ball and led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio last season.
“We see a lot of similarities,” Pritchard on similarities with Collison, who also went to UCLA and is a little undersized. “We see speed, we see elite shooting.”
Holiday is only 6’1″ and this causes problems for him while finishing in the paint (49th percentile) and limits him to only being able to defend a single position. He’s got a couple of things that will help him succeed at the next level despite his height: wingspan of 6’7″ and a nice floater game to help him finish inside. He doesn’t overly use the floater and still is able to draw a decent amount of fouls while driving to the rim as well, taking nearly six free throw attempts per game.
This example below is a tough floater in transition and you can see another more difficult floater in the previous video highlighting his ability to split the defenders.
Defensively, scouts seem to be split on how good he is on that end. The Pacers believe he can play defense well with McMillan calling him a 2-way player and Pritchard highlighting his ability to slow down the ball handler in the backcourt.
“He’s a bulldog defender,” Pritchard said. “He’s as tough as they get. When we talk about players, the first thing we talk about is, is he tough. And he’s that.”
Lateral quickness may be an issue, which doesn’t seem nearly as bad as last year’s rookie TJ Leaf’s lack of lateral quickness but may still make things difficult for him on that end.
This scouting video does a nice job of summarizing with examples his strengths and weaknesses.
His size and weaknesses are reasons why some think he tops out as a back-up point guard in the NBA but at the 23rd pick if you can find a rotation guy you’ve done pretty well. Pritchard thinks that he could be a starter eventually, highlighting his fit next to Oladipo with his catch-and-shoot prowess.
“We felt we needed a point guard in the pipeline who could at least fill a backup role in the future,” said Pritchard. “He has some characteristics of a starter.”
Holiday likely won’t play a ton of minutes next season with both Collison and Cory Joseph returning to the team but his shooting ability gives him the chance to spend some time on the court with Joseph, who is big enough to defend some shooting guards, and in a long season, he’ll likely fill in at times when small injuries pop up.
“He’s hungry to play. He goes in the season behind Cory and Darren,” said Pritchard, “but I see him competing for minutes. One thing you know about that third point guard position is that during the season, you get a chance to play. I would be shocked if he didn’t play some next year.”
With both veteran point guards hitting free agency next season, Holiday will likely have a much larger role in year two.
“Having a young player in the pipeline that can develop and learn from those two guys this year gives us a little bit of comfort in knowing that we have a player at that position,” said Buchanan. “That’s going to be a need next summer.”
Holiday will play in the Summer League as Indiana will join the Las Vegas league for the first time. Games start on July 6.