I want you to sit back and close your eyes with me for a minute. What if, instead of using a valuable first-round pick on a complete unknown and praying they struck gold, the Bucks decided to select a player with potentially limited future upside but the pedigree to be a contributor from the get-go? You know the kind of guy I’m talking about: He’s probably a guard with concerning physical limitations, has the occasional inspirational pass mixed with a mind-numbing turnover, and, of course, he can shoot the damn lights out of the ball.
Are you liking what you’re hearing? Yeah, I figured you would. Well, enough preamble. Let’s get down to meeting this undersized guard of your basketballing dreams: Aaron Holiday, junior out of UCLA.
Holiday, of the family that produced NBA players Jrue Holiday and Justin Holiday, has a chance to immediately be a sure-fire shooter in the NBA. Sure, his physical dimensions and average-at-best athleticism may limit just how much further he can expand his game, but he certainly wouldn’t be a work in progress.
For a team like the Bucks looking for help on the cheap a guy ready to contribute from the jump like Holiday could have plenty of appeal.
Next, the physical measurements (from the NBA Combine):
Height (without shoes) - 5’11.75”
Height (with shoes) - 6’0.75”
Weight - 187 pounds
Wingspan - 6’7.5”
Max vertical - 33”
Lane agility - 10.96 seconds
First things first, the guy can flat out score in bunches and is a proven threat from all areas of the court. That alone may make him a worthwhile pickup. You can always use more shooting on the perimeter and that’s doubly so for a Bucks team who neither emphasized the deep ball nor excelled at converting its limited chances.
The per game averages are impressive, and his per 40 minute numbers even more so: 21.6 points, 6.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.4 steals are values indicative of a guy who was ready and able to carry a heavy load at UCLA. He made the most of his 26.7% usage rate by garnering a .609 TS% while hitting 42.9% from three on 6.2 attempts a game. That kind of proven shooting ability is a relatively hard commodity to come by in any draftee and it makes Holiday an intriguing prospect.
For the Bucks, it is important to highlight the fact that Holiday enters the league with plenty of experience as a team’s primary creator. That fact shouldn’t be discounted given the difficulties Milwaukee has had for a number of seasons finding a front-line option for bringing the ball up the court and giving guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton a few breathers without sacrificing offensive flexibility. With the ball in his hands, Aaron also thrived in high ball screen sets, a fact which should get Bucks fans salivating at the idea of Holiday dishing to a diving Antetokounmpo or stepping back for an open three. I’m not saying Mike Budenholzer will be tempted to spam that action possession after possession, but it’d sure be handy to have available.
In addition to his ability to shoot from outside, he has a feel for initiating and moving in transition that opens up scoring opportunities not only for himself, but for teammates as well. His 1.3 steals a game denotes the play of a capable defender, and if he can translate his nose for the ball to the NBA he could become a deadly threat on above-the-break threes or working in tandem to create offensive chances. With Giannis Antetokounmpo probably running things when space opens up, the potential for Holiday to serve as a reliable outlet threat from deep is a big plus.
It should also be said that Aaron showed a propensity to grow into his ever-more important role at UCLA season over season. From spot-minutes as a freshman to bench guard as a sophomore and finally to go-to load bearer in his junior year, each and every season saw Holiday’s contributions grow year-over-year. There won’t be many concerns about his not being prepared for the rigors of NBA life, either: With two established NBA veterans as elder brothers Holiday will come in with plenty of familiarity of the dos and don’ts for rookies acclimating themselves to a far more demanding game. (Plus, imagine all the #HoliAntetokounmpBroz events that could be put on in the future!)
In today’s NBA everything revolves around being, well, bigger. You have to be taller, have longer arms and bigger hands, and be able to jump out of the gym on a whim if you’re going to infatuate NBA fans and front offices alike. Aaron Holiday is decidedly not cut from the “bigger” cloth like some of his fellow draft prospects. At 6’0.75” with a 6’7.5” wingspan and weighing in at 187 pounds, Holiday is actually one of the more compact players available in the draft.
Along with that size come all the common concerns for shorter players in the NBA: Will he be able to reliably get his shot off against larger defenders? Can he dig deep enough effort-wise to corral some of the league’s premier guards? Does he have the capability to mix it up in traffic either scoring or finding teammates as outlets after drawing defenders? These are all fair question-marks that apply equally to Holiday. While he was able to rely on sheer energy and craft to make an impact on defense, his average-at-best athleticism could give him a hell of a time against opponents who seem to get taller and longer with every passing season.
Offensively there are tangible concerns about just how capable Aaron will be as a primary creator. He’s a willing-enough passer (his 5.8 assists speak to that), but in trying to create chances he often gets himself into turnover trouble. His 3.8 turnovers a night isn’t a pretty number, and at nearly age 22 it is an open worry that any gains in making the right pass reads will prove to marginal at best or neutralized by the athleticism of NBA players. Sure, maybe Holiday can carve out a super-shooter role if there are other Bucks who will handle the ball more often, but at just a hair above six-feet Holiday’s odds of becoming a useful primarily off-ball guard are pretty slim.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that the kind of player Holiday is now is probably going to be what he is a few years from now. He’s 21 going on 22 and presumably done growing, nor is it realistic to expect him to have drastic improvements in his quickness or agility. Throughout college he was able to overcome his physical deficiencies thanks to willpower and a sharpshooter’s eye, but it must be said that, overall, Holiday’s ceiling isn’t the most impressive in the draft.
So, what kind of player would the Bucks have on their hands if they chose to select Aaron Holiday in Thursday’s draft, and will that player be a net-plus not only next year, but for years to come?
Like I highlighted at the very top, Holiday is as ready to contribute offensively as you can get in the latter stages of the first-round. If, like many assume, Mike Budenholzer is able to implement a more modern NBA offense, Holiday could step in seamlessly as a sure-fire shooter off the bench. Further, his capabilities as a passable ball-handler, even for short periods, will open things up for a guy like, say, Malcolm Brogdon or Sterling Brown, both of whom have flashed a ton of value as secondary guards who can roam within an offense.
Holiday may also prove to be a workable option when it comes to roster construction as a whole. Eric Bledsoe lacks the shooting threat Holiday would provide and with only one year on his current contract and heading toward 28, he may have a relatively short lifespan as Milwaukee’s top guard. Matthew Dellavedova is set to be around a lot longer, but he doesn’t have the type of impact that would prevent Holiday from supplanting his minutes as a more prolific scorer.
It is also a fair question whether it’d be even necessary for the Bucks to burn a first-rounder on Holiday or if maneuvering for a high second might do the trick. I’ve seen Holiday projected anywhere from just outside the lottery to into the depths of the 30+ overall picks. That type of variability in valuation isn’t uncommon once you get out of the top 10, but if the Bucks do run the risk of over-infatuation with a guy who could be got for much less in the way of assets.
For the Bucks, their drafting modus operandi has often revolved around getting a proven commodity like Holiday with a second-rounder, but there are valid questions as to whether another project player who may or may not work out is worth taking a risk on given the team’s timeline. Ownership wants to compete now, Giannis’s contract continues to tick, and squeezing your eyes shut and hoping a draftee reaches a franchise-altering ceiling may be deemed imprudent. If that’s the case, and I might argue that it is, Holiday may be a safe bet for the Bucks somewhere in the first-round.