It was clearly apparent the Milwaukee Bucks needed a bounce back in the worst way.
Their 98-85 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder finally put an end to their five-game losing streak that served as the longest such slump in the Mike Budenholzer era. Enduring through such an unthinkable stretch certainly fits with the unpredictable season that unfolded around the league this 2020-21 campaign.
For some fans, Milwaukee’s 17-13 record feels less of a data point to refer to, given their recent form. For others, it’s very hard not to overlook that this brutal stretch has all occurred since Jrue Holiday has entered the league’s health and safety protocols nearly two weeks ago and the Bucks have gone 2-5 since then.
With only 23 Bucks appearances under his belt at this stage, it appears as Holiday’s value has never been greater, just ahead of when he’s eligible for a max extension later this month.
Holiday’s absence has coincided with the Bucks falling apart defensively as they’re allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/stats. That mark ranks 17th in the league and the Bucks’ -4.6 net rating over that span is 23rd in the NBA.
Milwaukee’s once league-leading offense has been usurped by the Brooklyn Nets and the L.A. Clippers, which certainly wasn’t helped by the Bucks having their worst offensive rating in their second loss to the Toronto Raptors Thursday night. As much as Holiday’s presence and versatile defending has been missed, his well-rounded offensive game has been a key ingredient the Bucks have been unable to recreate elsewhere.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ slide has unfolded all without Jrue Holiday.
Seeing the Bucks, specifically Khris Middleton, struggle against the double teams and traps the Raptors constantly threw at him over the course of their two-game series illuminated not having a composed playmaker such as Holiday around.
And as the Bucks are driving less without Holiday as they’re averaging 35.8 drives per game, which is down from the 39.3 drives they’re averaging on the season, the Bucks are more dependent on their shooting and shotmaking to keep them afloat offensively.
Of course, being without an integral piece such as Holiday for any considerable length of time, more flaws than positives are going to surface. The fact that Milwaukee’s roster makeup is so dependent on the likes of Holiday as well as two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Middleton has only exacerbated this woeful stretch of basketball.
The unfortunate reality is that the Bucks’ issues have gone beyond just missing Holiday in both obvious and subtle ways.
The new approach the Bucks have employed for this regular season after the first two seasons of the Mike Budenholzer era have led to obvious growing pains amid plenty of roster turnover and a condensed runway to the start of the 2020-21 season.
Multiple Bucks players have talked at length about learning more lessons through defeats this season, which was going to be expected with the kind of continuity and structural changes we’ve seen. But putting those lessons into practice has been a struggle in themselves and shows the unfinished nature of this Bucks team.
Expectations for this Bucks have been rapidly decreasing, even under these circumstances where they’ve been without Holiday. As muddled as the top of the East looks right now, the Bucks have yet to answer some of the more fundamental problems that have existed over this era.
Once Holiday is fully healthy from his unconfirmed bout of COVID-19 and returns back into the fold, some of the current problems the Bucks are faced with will be fixed. But the overarching problems that have popped up with and without Holiday in the lineup have largely yet to be answered.