Milwaukee Bucks: Jrue Holiday holds the keys to success in second half

Jan 9, 2021; Milwaukee, WI, USA: Nick Monroe/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2021; Milwaukee, WI, USA: Nick Monroe/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports /

No player may be as important to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of the season than star guard Jrue Holiday.

Milwaukee remains in a strong position in the Eastern Conference standings as they’re two games out of the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. While they’ve underwhelmed compared to their lofty standards and have gone through ups and downs within the context of this strange season, they remain within striking distance of making a bid to this year’s NBA Finals and a chance for a title.

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For the Bucks to realize their greater potential and find more lasting consistency, though, it’s Holiday who holds the cards.

There’s no question that Holiday has made quite an impact on the Bucks, especially based on how he arrived to Milwaukee and the massive haul of draft assets the Bucks surrendered to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Over his 26 appearances on the season, Holiday is averaging 15.3 points on .491/.364/.766 shooting, 5.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and a career-high 1.8 steals across 31 minutes per contest.

The 30-year-old’s counting stats to what he achieved last year with the Pelicans, but he’s traded that for career-high marks for efficiency, as evidenced by his 55.9 effective field goal percentage and 57.7 true shooting percentage. Holiday has hit 36.4 percent of his 4.7 3-point attempts per game this season, the highest mark he’s posted since his limited 2014-15 campaign.

Along with his efficient complementary scoring, Holiday has been incredibly precise and reliable with his playmaking as well. Though his 5.1 assists per game total is one of the lowest of his career, his 3.17 assist-to-turnover ratio has been incredibly strong. Doing that while having the second-lowest usage percentage of his career (20.2 percent) has been hugely beneficial to the Bucks’ offense as a whole, especially as they have the second-best offensive rating, per

Jrue Holiday has catalyzed the Milwaukee Bucks across both ends this season.

Holiday’s ability to steady the Bucks’ offense, even as a secondary facilitator, has been immense. His passing may not always lead directly to assists, but his moving the ball and ability to make the right read makes the Bucks’ offense much more dynamic and leads to hockey assists for Holiday.

His driving ability and his movement off-the-ball hold opposing defensives accountable too. Holiday is converting 67.8 percent of his 118 attempts within the restricted area this season as he’s fully optimized his shot selection. Teams cannot afford to double Giannis Antetokounmpo or cheat towards him on defense as often as they would like when Holiday is on the floor because of what he can do.

And it goes without saying that Holiday has also been a key cog to the team’s defensive success. He’s the best defender the Bucks have and his ability to guard on the ball makes things challenging for even the most dynamic guards and premier scorers the league has to offer.

Being able to throw Holiday on to stronger-bodied wings and hold his own has given the Bucks greater defensive versatility as a result. It’s both allowed the Bucks to use Antetokounmpo as an off-ball helper or extra defender near the rim, and it’s enabled the team to run a switch heavy defensive lineup that can contain teams on the perimeter.

The best example of this was in the final minutes of their 105-100 win over the L.A. Clippers just before the all-star break when the Bucks were able to stifle the Clippers in the half-court in the final minutes of a very tight game.

When Holiday is on the floor, the Bucks are allowing 107.6 points per 100 possessions. That number ticks up 110.4 points per 100 possessions in the minutes he’s been on the bench. For context, that former rating would put the Bucks at second best in the league in defensive rating compared to their current 12th place ranking.

With the composure he’s brought to the Bucks on the court, Holiday has backed that up his clear leadership on and off the floor. His communication has been critical on both ends and in the times when the Bucks run a more structured offense, especially late in games.

All of that was brought home in the 10 games Holiday missed due to contracting COVID-19. As Holiday recently told ESPN’s Eric Woodyard, he believes his absence was ultimately a good thing for the Bucks and supporting role players to step up as he was sidelined:

"“This is gonna sound weird, but I think it was a good thing,” Holiday said of the time away from the team. “I feel like it gives a chance for other people to step up. And that kind of shows the type of team we have.”"

The Bucks still have a tough task ahead of them if they want to make to the top of the league. If things hold in the Eastern Conference standings. they’ll have to work their way through both Brooklyn and Philadelphia just to reach to the NBA Finals. However, if they’re going to have any shot at doing that, they’ll need to Holiday to be healthy and playing at a high level.

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There’s still potential for him to contribute even more in the second half of the season. We’ll see if he can do just that in the weeks and months ahead.