Everyone on UCLA has benefited from Lonzo Ball, even the guy who wound up being sent to the bench because of the star freshman.
A year ago, Bruins guard Aaron Holiday started all 32 games. However, the younger brother of NBA players Jrue and Justin Holiday struggled as a freshman. He wasn’t the only one, though. The UCLA Bruins finished with a forgettable 15-17 campaign.
Now Holiday has been relegated to the bench solely because of the presence of Ball, who has quickly become a household name. Holiday hasn’t whined or complained about his role or the headlines that Ball is receiving. Instead, Holiday has thrived in his new role and become the nation’s best sixth man.
“It’s like we have six starters,” UCLA coach Steve Alford told ESPN recently. “Aaron would start on every other team, and he’s been great for us. We consider him a starter, and he plays starter's minutes.”
Ball’s unselfishness is contagious, but Holiday’s ability to accept his role has also aided the chemistry of a Bruins team that remains unbeaten at 12-0 after a 86-73 victory over Ohio State on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Holiday was the most important player in UCLA’s win over Kentucky on Dec. 3, had 17 points and only missed one shot in the win over Michigan Dec. 10 and finished with 20 points in the victory over the Buckeyes.
Holiday has made 15 of 26 shots from the field in the three wins and was 9-of-16 from beyond the arc. He’s shooting 55 percent from the field for the season, compared to 39 percent a year ago, and 53 percent from deep. He shot 42 percent from 3-point range last season.
“It’s easy playing with him,” Holiday said earlier this season about playing with Ball. “He moves the ball up the floor, passes it to everybody and gets everyone involved.”
Holiday comes off the bench and gives the Bruins a jolt. He can play alongside Ball as a scoring point guard or can also run the team and give Ball a breather – as a guy who can both put the ball in the basket and also distribute. He’s far more effective these days in his new role, and it’s made the Bruins far more impressive.
“I love the way we play now,” Holiday said. “We really run and that’s what every kid wants to do nowadays. We run and we shoot 3s.”
Holiday fits the new system in Westwood perfectly.
UCLA remains without a blemish despite being without starting center Thomas Welsh for the past three games because of a knee injury. It’s apparent that Ball has been the primary reason for the team’s turnaround, but this is far more than a one-man team. Bryce Alford has improved playing off the ball, Isaac Hamilton’s numbers are up, and fellow freshman T.J. Leaf has showcased his offensive versatility.
The guy coming off the bench has been as important as all of them for what he’s brought on the court and what he didn’t bring into the locker room.