Milwaukee Bucks: Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez excelling defensively

Dec 30, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks have looked relatively great throughout the first 16 games of the season, and their top-tier play on both ends of the floor is to thank for that.

Surprisingly, they are playing the best offense out of any team in the association right now. The Bucks lead the league with a 117.9 offensive rating, which tops the league by a marginal amount. While the team’s strongest attribute for the past two seasons has been defense, they have struggled slightly to find their footing on that end of the floor.

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The team has undoubtedly struggled as a whole, but there have been several defensive bright spots individually.

The most obvious is reigning Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is currently averaging career-highs in both blocks and steals per game. However, two players on the team that are working overtime defensively are Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez.

Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez have been putting in work on the defensive end for the Milwaukee Bucks in the early going this season.

Holiday needs little introduction as a defensive specialist. He has been crowned by severe of his peers as one of, if not the best overall defender in the entire association today, regardless of position. That defensive expertise was one of the many reasons the Bucks were content with trading away the prized package of assets that they did to acquire him this offseason. So far, he is living up to his stature on that end of the floor.

First and foremost, Holiday is not the prototypical defender. Standing at 6’3″ and weighing 205 lbs., the two-time All-Defensive honoree is willing to embrace even the most sizeable defensive matchups. As seen throughout the season, the Bucks have given Holiday looks against Aaron Gordon, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and other matchups that should put him at an immediate disadvantage.

However, for him, there is no such thing. Holiday can hold his own defensively against any opponent, and it has been masterful to watch him work early. Simply put, head coach Mike Budenholzer can throw the guard at the opposing team’s best player and not have to think twice about it. But how does he do it?

The most notable contribution from Holiday defensively is that he is averaging 1.9 steals per game, a new career-best for the time being. With 30 steals through 16 games, he is tied for fourth in the league in that category, showcasing that pesky presence that he has been known to be. Looking deeper into it, Holiday is racking up these numbers by doing far more than just waiting around for a slip up from the offensive player.

Per, the guard has totaled 54 deflections on the season, tied for sixth-most in the league. Holiday is making sure to keep his hands active at all times defensively. When he does cause a deflection, Holiday is constantly looking to retrieve the ball and get that basket on the other end, as he currently is tied for fourth place with 24 total loose balls recovered. It goes without saying that he has been fantastic this season on the defensive side of the ball, and that might be an understatement.

Along with Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez has been stellar defensively for the Milwaukee Bucks.

This marks Lopez’s third season anchoring Milwaukee’s defense as the man in the middle, and it has been met with mixed results. Milwaukee is currently just letting up 41.1 points in the paint per game, the third-fewest mark in the league. Although that is a step backward as they ranked top overall in the previous two seasons, this defense down low is still among the league’s most formidable, thanks to Lopez’s contributions.

The big man is currently tied for 11th place in blocks this season by an individual with a team-best 25. While he has not replicated his outstanding defensive form from last season, he is still putting up league-best numbers under the radar.

One stat that stands out the most is the total amount of contested two-point shots per game. Brook currently leads the league with a total of 234 contests from inside the arc. For reference, the second player on the list is Rudy Gobert, who has just 194 two-point contests. This shows Lopez’s activity on the defensive end and just how pivotal he has been. Although his offense is still coming along, there is no questioning his contributions defensively.

Both Lopez and Holiday both do things very differently defensively, but they have contributed significantly to this team in their own right. That goes without mentioning the impact of players like Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Donte DiVincenzo, all of whom are also well-respected defenders.

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The Bucks are still trying to figure things out defensively, and there is room to grow as a collective unit before they reach their final form on that end.