Holiday to Get Starring Role in Summer League

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

If votes were taken among observers for the Most Valuable Player of the Pacers’ Summer League practices this week, Aaron Holiday would be the runaway winner.

As should be expected.

Anyone else would raise doubts about the only first-round draft pick participating in the workouts. Holiday was the Pacers’ best player in Summer League play last year and had enough encouraging moments in the regular season to provide legitimate hope for being able to handle a rotation position in the upcoming season.

Heading into his second set of games in Las Vegas, he’s older, wiser, thicker and more prepared to put his athleticism and leadership on display. Steve Gansey, who coaches the Pacers’ G League affiliate in Fort Wayne and will coach the Summer League team again, plans to give Holiday free reign and make him the focal point of the offense.

That’s a strategy borne of necessity to a great degree. This year’s first-round draft pick, Goga Bitadze, is a questionable participant in the games in Las Vegas. The Pacers are working to complete a shortcut to have the native of the Republic of Georgia approved for a working visa in time to join the team, but his status remains uncertain.

Gansey said Wednesday the Pacers are taking a uniform for Bitadze just in case, and he’ll play despite his lack of practice time. If necessary, tape will be put down on a carpet in the hotel banquet room to simulate a free throw lane and the coaches will teach Bitadze some of the offensive sets.

“I’m pretty sure there will be a period he doesn’t know where he’s going, but we’ll get him acclimated as much as possible because he’s going to play,” Gansey said, hopefully.

Edmond Sumner is more likely to join the team in Las Vegas. He hasn’t practiced this week because of a pulled hamstring, but will travel with the team and play when the medical staff gives approval. He’ll require no banquet-room walkthroughs, having averaged 22.1 points while playing 26 games for the Mad Ants last season.

“Edmond knows who I am and what I’m about, so it should be a very easy transition,” Gansey said.

Holiday will be on hand regardless, hoping to expand on what he showed last summer when he averaged 14.5 points, 6.8 assists and 2.8 steals in the four games he played. He’ll get plenty of work at both ends, picking up ballhandlers fullcourt and establishing a fast-paced tempo for an undersized Goga-less team.

“I want him to have the green light,” Gansey said. “If he sees an open area, to attack it and play off it. We’ve been working on a lot of reads with him and he’s doing a great job."

“He’s an NBA player. He’s a heckuva NBA player.”

He has been at times, anyway, to this point. Holiday took advantage of Victor Oladipo’s first injury last season to score in double figures in five consecutive games in November. He did so nine other times the rest of the season, including a 17-point outing against the Lakers in a 42-point blowout victory.

He finished the season with a 5.9-point average, shooting 40 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. It was a solid showing for the 23rd overall pick in the 2018 draft, but leaving plenty of room for growth.

Holiday went home to California for a few weeks after last season ended to work out with his brother Jrue, at Jrue’s home gymnasium. Anthony Davis, Jrue’s former teammate in New Orleans, was part of the group participating the sessions that consisted mostly of weight training.

Aaron has been working out at St. Vincent Center most of the off-season, however, and appears stronger. His bulk is important, because it gives him the strength to deal with the physicality of pick-and-roll action on both offense and defense - a major challenge for former starting point guard Darren Collison. At 6-foot-1, Holiday will need to maintain his speed and quickness, though, not to mention shoot a better percentage and run the offense.

Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan both said at the season-ending press conference they expect Holiday to have a greater role next season. Summer League will offer the next opportunity to prove he’s deserving.

“Last year I felt I could have done more for us, but it was a situation where my name wasn’t called as much,” he said. “Now I have an opportunity to play, so go out there and see what I can do."

“I like to play fast, so as long as we get the ball up and down and play defense, it should be a fun time.”


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