Justin Holiday may have had a poor shooting night against Minnesota, but he found himself on the court when it mattered most. In what has become an often occurrence for the Knicks' reserve, he was once again on the floor in the closing seconds of an important game. Alongside Carmelo Anthony and the team's more notable players, Holiday was depended on for defensive prowess.
Once considered simply an after thought in the Derrick Rose trade, Holiday has been much more than that. In the absence of Lance Thomas, he has given New York's second unit exactly what they needed: a mature veteran who can spread the floor and play intelligent defense.
"There's such a premium on guys that can make shots. You have to make shots. With the way the game is today, defenses are rotating so quickly and the ball is going to find the open man," Michael Peck, who coached Holiday in 2012-13 on the Idaho Stampede of the NBA D-League told SNY.tv and TheKnicksBlog.com. "If you're that guy, you've got to be ready to knock those down. He has great length and great elevation on his shot, which makes him hard to cover."
But that isn't the only thing Holiday brings to the table. There's more than meets the eye, especially when it comes to the intangibles and nuances of the game.
"I remember being in (the formerly affiliated) Blazers training camp that year. The one thing that Coach Stotts and the rest of us were all impressed with was his high basketball IQ. He had a great feel for the game. You could say things without having to do dry runs on the court and Justin understood it," Peck explained. "You could tell him to reject a down screen, build a back side, when to hang in the corner, when to penetrate. Justin understood the terminology. He was able to visualize and grasp it without any hiccups."
As the Knicks were making final cuts to start the season, Holiday very well could have been on the bubble. The team had more than the maximum allowed fifteen guaranteed contacts and had to let familiar and intriguing faces go. Holiday's play in preseason hadn't suggested he could fill the role he is right now. Moreover, his limited opportunities made it difficult for him to put up numbers to suggest he deserved a spot at all. Peck, who is now the Associate Head Coach at UTSA, says the Knicks' coaching staff could have easily caught on to the steady presence Holiday brings as a veteran in camp.
"Training camp at this level is so accelerated. You have four or five days; a couple of those days, you're running two-a-day practices, but one is non-contact. Things are moving so quickly," he said. "If guys aren't getting it, you can clearly see the difference between them and those who do get it. Justin is a guy who doesn't need a learning curve."
Holiday may be unknown and relatively unproven at the NBA level, but he's certainly been around long enough to mature and adjust. At 27, he's already had stops in the D-League, overseas, and became an NBA champion despite limited playing time with the Warriors in 2015. It wasn't until last season that he had somewhat of a breakthrough. A midseason trade to the Bulls provided the swingman with the minutes he craved. Shooting 43% through a 27 game stint, it's safe to say he made an impression.
"Justin was a complete professional in his short time with us. He was very low matience and got to know his coaches and teammates well," Nate Loenser, the head coach the Windy City Bulls who spent last season as an assistant with Chicago, said.
"He was a sponge with our coaching staff. It worked out well for both sides because he provided a spark. He can shoot, but he also handled the ball well and was a good wing defender. He checked off a lot of boxes for us," Loenser said. "It's nice to see him get rewarded with his play in New York." The coach went on to praise Holiday's positive influence and said he picked up the Bulls' system well in a short time.
As the league continues to evolve, development is a big part of finding talent. With the D-League more prevalent than ever, sometimes it's better for a player to take his time instead of rushing right into the NBA. Holiday is ready now.
"Justin was fresh out of school and so young. He needed to get the flow of an entire game. The pro game is so different. The whole flow of an NBA game verses a college game is so different; the pace, the rules, the quarters," Peck said of coaching Holiday early in his professional journey. "Just getting him the minutes, more than anything, was important."
"I think different situations can lead to opportunities. Every stop you go to, you learn something. There are lots of different paths. You start to see that the longer you're in the professional game. Not everyone's path is linear. There are ups and downs," Loenser added while praising New York's new second unit staple.
It's taken Holiday a while to make his mark, but he's finally beginning to display some staying power with ample opportunity.