The Bulls appropriately celebrated a shooting guard Sunday in the United Center with the tributes to Kobe Bryant amidst the Bulls 126-115 victory.
But as one shooting guard departed, quietly, another shooting guard arrived in the United Center. Justin Holiday isn’t likely to ever receive a video tribute and standing ovation like Bryant. But Holiday may be able to help the Bulls avoid an early vacation, a premature holiday of their own, if you will.
“First of all, my effort is going to be there,” said the 6-6 shooting guard who arrived somewhat unknown and overlooked in the Kirk Hinrich trade to Atlanta. “I’m going to play hard and defensively use my length. I can stay in front of guys and also help (on defense) pretty well. That obviously comes with time on the floor and getting comfortable and offensively knocking down the open shot, playing smart.
“To tell you the truth, whatever team I go to I feel is a good opportunity for me,” said the 26-year-old journeyman. “Obviously, with guys being hurt (here) I feel I’m someone who can come in and help. Because what is going to be there every night is my effort regardless of how well I am playing or not. That’s where it starts. You have to have the effort. And fight to help the team. I’m going to have that and feel I can help.”
And why not take a look?
Because Holiday, at least at first glance, looks like he might be able to contribute.
He’s a big guard who whose specialty is defense as the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He was undrafted in 2011 out of the U. of Washington in 2011 playing with Isaiah Thomas, the last pick in that draft. He then began that route back to the NBA common for players overlooked in the draft. Holiday, who is the older brother of New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday, wasn’t considered a good enough shooter or shot creator and a bit thin. But he could run the floor effectively in a fast paced game.
Perhaps he’s worth a look now for the Bulls with Jimmy Butler out, Mike Dunleavy having to defend the great wing players and Tony Snell in the worst slump of his three-year career. Snell Sunday came in for defense on Bryant. But he played about nine minutes and not in the second half after failing to register anything in the box score.
It has occurred several times with Snell this season. He seems to have regressed, averaging fewer points per game than last season while playing more and shooting a career low 37 percent. Snell hasn’t scored in his last two games, has eight scoreless games this season and hasn’t scored in double figures the last 18. Only two of those were more than six points. His scoring average has declined each month this season. He may just need a break to take some pressure off and relax as he has shown flashes at times of being able to make threes and run the court and defend.
Since Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has used Snell primarily as a defensive replacement lately, perhaps it might be a good time to take a look at Holiday, who did stick with Golden State last season and is still due his championship ring.
“I’ll be getting it and I’ll let everyone know when I do,” he said with a laugh in the Bulls locker room before Sunday’s game.
He seemed confident and outgoing, joking and engaging with reporters even in his first time with the team.
But that also comes from being a mature four-year college player who worked himself from little used freshman and sophomore to all-league defender. He didn’t score much in college and began the basketball gypsy route overseas. He played in summer league for the Cavs in 2012, the 76ers in 2013 and Warriors in 2014. Holiday had stints with the Cavaliers, 76ers and Jazz and then was in Hungary in 2013-14. He played in the D-league in 2012-13 in Idaho and averaged 17.3 points and found his three-point shooting and shot 41 percent. He had four starts for Golden State last season and a high 23-point game against Denver. He signed with the Hawks this summer but didn’t play much.
He’ll get to see his old team back in Atlanta Friday when the Bulls play the Hawks, against whom the Bulls have struggled this season with Atlanta’s passing and perimeter game. The Bulls host Washington Wednesday after two off days and with an encouraging two straight wins.
Butler and Mirotic remain out, but the Bulls offense has been percolating in the two wins. They’ve averaged 120 points on 53 percent shooting with more than 30 assists, and that included a game against a tough defensive Toronto team. Derrick Rose has been the catalyst, averaging 21.9 points and six assists in February and a respectable 32 percent on threes. Rose is averaging 26 points in the three games since the All-Star break. Doug McDermott in nine February games is averaging 13.4 points, his only month averaging in double figures, and 45 percent on threes. Since the All-Star break, McDermott is shooting 57 percent on threes. And Pau Gasol is having one of his best overall months, averaging 19.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and five assists. Plus, Mike Dunleavy had his best game Sunday since returning after back surgery with it obvious his ball movement and shooting helped the offensive flow with everyone running the lanes again.
So a little defense would help with the Bulls having given up at least 100 points in 10 straight games. Of course, did you know when the Bulls won their first title in 1991 opponents scored more than 100 points in almost half the games? It’s the margin of victory that matters. The Warriors already have given up at least 100 points in more than 30 games. If a team can score enough as the Bulls have done lately, the rule still is the team with more points wins. But perhaps a little defense here and there, and maybe Holiday can help send some opponents on vacation.
“I was on a good (Atlanta) team,” Holiday said. “Obviously, I felt I could help. It just wasn’t my time to contribute that much on the floor, but I tried to help my team the best way I could. I had no clue about being traded here, but I’m excited to be here. It’s another opportunity for me and I feel I can contribute and help the team do well.
Asked what he could bring to the Bulls, Holiday said: “Pretty much playing defense, using my length, being a long guard who can stay in front of guys and understand their principles. I think I am a person who can catch onto things quick and can knock down the open shot and play smart, play for the team.
“If I had to pick one (position), I guess I’d say shooting guard,” said Holiday. “I can play both (guard and small forward) pretty much fine; it depends on offenses, too. In our offense, those spots are interchangeable. There are a lot of plays and things they do here that are interchangeable. So I think it’s going to benefit me. I guess I would say I’m a two guard, but my height is what makes people think (I can play three); it really doesn’t matter.
“With the Warriors, I got the opportunity to play and did well with the time I was given,” Holiday said. “With the Hawks, I got to play a little at the beginning, but not much, which is perfectly fine. It is about opportunity and hopefully I can get that here and show what I can do. Get comfortable enough to show what I can do to help the team.
“After being here and meeting these guys and being a part of this organization, I’m very excited,” said Holiday. “Obviously as a kid watching Jordan it’s crazy to think I am playing for this team. I like the coaching staff a lot so far; I want to play for them, do well for them. I am excited to be here and hopefully I can help.”