Jrue Holiday has asserted himself as the Milwaukee Bucks’ second option

MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08 (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08 (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

When the Milwaukee Bucks traded for Jrue Holiday before the 2020-21 season, they were willing to give up such a substantial haul to add a competent third option behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Holiday proved to be worth every penny as he was the needle-mover in their quest to end a 50-year title drought, fitting seamlessly next to Milwaukee’s two other stars. Given that Holiday won a championship in his very first season with the Bucks, everyone expected even bigger things entering year two with the franchise. He has delivered on that thus far, as he might have asserted himself as the team’s new second option.

Khris Middleton has struggled mightily for the Milwaukee Bucks this season

For years, the Bucks were plagued with the question as to whether or not Middleton could be the second option on a championship team behind Antetokounmpo. That burning question was finally put to rest as he played a significant role in Milwaukee’s triumphant title run, but after an eventful summer where he won the NBA Finals and a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, Middleton has not looked like himself throughout the 2021-22 season to this point.

The forward, who averaged over 20 points per game while toying with 50/40/90 shooting splits over the past two seasons, has struggled mightily offensively this season. Middleton is currently averaging 18.3 points while shooting a career-worst 41.9 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from 3-point range, the second-worst of his career behind his rookie year with the Detroit Pistons. Part of Middleton’s lackluster start can be attributed to his recent bout with COVID-19, which he tested positive for in early November. He missed a significant stretch of games as a result, and he is still looking for a rhythm since returning.

With Khris Middleton struggling, Jrue Holiday has filled in as the second option for the Milwaukee Bucks

Middleton’s struggles have shouldered more burden on Holiday. The guard had a difficult start to the season as he battled through a foot injury and a non-COVID-related illness that forced him to miss time, but since returning, he has found a groove, especially lately. Over his last 14 games, he is averaging an eye-catching 22.6 points while shooting an extremely efficient 57.8 percent on his field-goal attempts and 42.4 percent from long range. Holiday has been outright unbelievable over this stretch offensively, attacking the rim with force and posting up defenders with ease. With his 3-point shot also falling, the point guard has been virtually unstoppable when trying to score the basketball. Yet, he has been far from selfish by also dishing out 7.1 assists on average, taking on more ball-handling responsibilities, which is proving to be a winning formula.

Holiday’s outstanding play recently has many clamoring for him to earn an All-Star nod this year, and it is getting hard to argue with each passing game. Meanwhile, Middleton’s biggest flaw, his sheer inconsistency, has reared its ugly head once again throughout the season. This was on full display during Milwaukee’s brutal loss to Detroit Monday night, where Middleton returned to the lineup following a one-game absence due to personal reasons and scored a measly 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, including 1-of-6 from three. Meanwhile, Holiday was sensational as he tallied 29 points while shooting 11-of-19 from the field, which included 4-of-8 from deep as he nearly brought the Bucks back into the game. The Bucks needed more from Middleton, but his shooting woes unfortunately continued in what was a gutting loss. Of course, one game will not determine whether or not a player is a second or third option, but Holiday has been better all season.

Middleton currently has the edge in usage percentage with a 25.6 mark compared to Holiday’s 23.6 on the season, but the latter has been more productive in several categories. The guard is averaging more points, field goal attempts, field goal makes, and assists while averaging fewer turnovers than Middleton this season. Holiday has taken charge offensively all throughout this season, and it has worked out well for the champs. That goes without mentioning his efforts on the defensive end, where Holiday has played tremendously this season.

To be clear, this Bucks team does not care too much about pecking orders. Antetokounmpo is what gets the wheels turning on a nightly basis, but this group is unselfish as they come with a locker room devoid of egos. As long as it leads to winning, Middleton and Holiday do not put too much thought as to where they stand in Milwaukee’s lineup hierarchy. Yet, given how well Holiday has played and how sluggish Middleton has looked, it is clear right now that the former has taken on that second fiddle role, as their production suggests.

Next. Assessing Bleacher Report’s Brook Lopez trade for Milwaukee Bucks. dark

The Bucks need Middleton to regain his footing on the offensive end and return to form as they look to defend their title as the world champions.