Chicago Bulls: Could Justin Holiday be better than we thought?

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(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Might the Chicago Bulls be getting back an even better Justin Holiday than they expected this season?

When the Chicago Bulls re-signed Justin Holiday this offseason, I immediately viewed the move as a solid bench addition for a Bulls team desperately lacking talent and quality depth going into this season.

His length, defensive effort and ability to reasonably shoot the three is exactly what you hope for from wing players coming off the bench. Plus, he had already shown those capabilities back in 2016 during his brief Chicago stint.

But as we’re watching Holiday early in this Bulls preseason as a starter, is it possible that, despite some warts, that there’s more here than we assumed?

In four preseason games, Holiday has averaged 16.6 points (43.8% from the field, 48.4% from three), 2.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals in 26.8 minutes per game. And he torched the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night for a double-double of 28 points (4-7 on threes) and 11 rebounds.

Obviously, that’s a tiny sample size from which to draw any real conclusions. But the apparent improvement in his game does raise this question: could Holiday actually be a decent starter and not just a role player?

Head coach Fred Hoiberg has already named him the starting shooting guard for the Bulls’ season opener, per the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, so we know he’s going to get a chance to show what he can do.

The question is: can we expect more of what he’s done of late or a regression to his career mean?

What the Numbers Say about Holiday

Now, most of you will probably just look at his career numbers and laugh at this thought.

To this point, Holiday has only averaged 5.7 points, 1.1 assists and 2.0 rebounds over his young career, per his Basketball-Reference profile. And he certainly has never shot that well from the field, posting an FG% of 40.8 and a 3PT% of 34.2%. Nothing spectacular about that.

However, if you look at Holiday’s averages over 36 minutes—which is closer to what he’ll actually play as a starter—you see numbers similar to what he’s putting up right now, minus the improved shooting percentages.

Those more-full game averages over his career? 13.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. That’s a bit more like it.

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And if Holiday continues shooting the mid-range jumper and three as well as he has this preseason, those numbers will go up.

Truthfully, his touch inside the arc has arguably been the most impressive part of his game so far. He’s been a threat off of the dribble, coming off of screens and has shot without hesitation off the catch in general.

More of that, please.

Of course, preseason performance doesn’t entirely predict what a player or team will do when the games matter. Everyone knows that, so there’s no need to remind me.

Plus, while much of Holiday’s game has looked good, it would be nice if he turned the ball over less (six TOs against the Cavs). Let’s just say I hope his games at shooting guard involve a lot more shooting than passing.

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But, at least until Zach LaVine is ready to play, Holiday could be a very capable starter at shooting guard, based both on his limited numbers this preseason and his statistical projections.

And who knows? When/if LaVine returns this season, maybe the young journeyman can stay in the lineup as a small forward.

Whatever comes next, Holiday has made himself an unlikely person of interest on this rebuilding Chicago Bulls squad.