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Jrue Holiday: An Analysis of the Milwaukee Bucks’ New Point Guard

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a Bucks fan. My bias is that I want the Bucks to succeed. However, a necessary aspect of getting better is facing harsh criticism and rectifying past mistakes. After the massive Eric Bledsoe for Jrue Holiday trade that kicked off the shortened NBA offseason, my criticism quietly began before exploding in a rant on the Premium Hoops offseason prospectus pod. A second rant even made the cut on a recent Thinking Basketball pod.

Finally, I cooled off and decided to shut up and objectively look at the trade. Who is Jrue Holiday as a player, and what are the Milwaukee Bucks getting in their new starting point guard? While this won’t be as thorough as my Ben Wallace article, I hope to shed some light on Jrue Holiday’s offensive and defensive value.

Jrue Holiday on Offense

It’s impossible to separate Jrue Holiday from Bledsoe in this article, but I’m going to try and focus exclusively on what Holiday brings to the table. I may make a vague, anecdotal or basic statistical reference to Bledsoe, but I don’t intend to make this a hardcore “Holiday vs. Bledsoe” article.

When watching the Pelicans, the first thing that stands out is that this was not a heliocentric team. Holiday was heavily involved with the offense, but he was far from a solitary focal point that drove them to victory. On the contrary, I found multiple possessions with Holiday either not touching the ball or simply swinging it around the perimeter. The clips I’m going to use may paint an entirely different picture, so I want to highlight the fact these are just examples of Holiday’s involvement in certain plays.

Three-Point Shooting

With 5.7 three-point attempts per game, Holiday clocked in at 62nd in the league. He shot threes at a 35.3% clip which is a little lower than you’d like to see on that volume. However, this matches Booker’s (who is much more known as an off-ball threat) 5.7 on 35.4% from the season. Conclusion: Holiday is viable but not deadly from three.

His mediocrity allows teams to strategically leave him open for three. Ben Simmons, one of the best defenders in the league, could easily contest Holiday on this jumper, but he saves his energy.

It’s no secret that the Holiday pickup was to improve the Bucks in the playoffs, yet this might show that Holiday could be exploited like Bledsoe’s struggles with three.

Nonetheless, Holiday confidently fired threes in a variety of contexts. In the pick-and-roll, Holiday found daylight with McCollum chasing and took advantage.

I also saw a few instances where he stepped back into a Harden-esque three with a hand in his face.

He’ll be handling the ball plenty in Milwaukee’s offense, but a key to unlocking Giannis is spacing the floor. The Simmons clip from above shows how this might be exploited, but his shooting numbers from the last few years show that he can’t be ignored on the perimeter.

Pullup 3-point%Catch-and-Shoot 3-point%
2019-2034.736.4
2018-2930.935.4
2017-1828.439.5
2016-1737.230.1
Rough 4-Year Average32.835.35

Mid-Range Shooting

When running the pick-and-roll, players find themselves somewhere between the three-point line and basket. In those moments, a dangerous mid-range shooter opens up more opportunities for kick-outs and layup assists because defenders need to guard him in space. This is what elevates Chris Paul’s pick-and-roll game when compared to similarly skilled passers like Ricky Rubio.

Here is how Holiday’s pull-up mid-range percentages have compared to Bledsoe’s over the last four seasons.

Holiday Pullup 2%Bledsoe Pullup 2%
2019-2035.338.1
2018-1940.738.9
2017-1848.542.8
2016-1740.737.1

In general, Holiday is at least a couple of percentage points better than Bledsoe. His accuracy being above 40% three different times while Bledsoe only broke 39% once shows that Holiday is a clear upgrade in this area, but I also wouldn’t call his mid-range game a certifiable weapon.

Even though his pull-up mid-range game isn’t as dangerous as someone like Chris Paul’s, it still allowed him to bail himself out when caught in no-man’s land.

Finishing at the Rim

Holiday’s seeming ambidexterity has been a story since his 76ers days, yet, like Mike Conley with his right hand, it seems that Holiday prefers finishing with his non-dominant left hand. In this first play, he shows off slippery change of pace before deftly using the rim to protect his reverse layup.

Not known as a flashy ball-handler, Holiday busted out a move like this once in a while to burn through defenders. Unlike Kyrie, it never seemed to stagnate the offense, nor was it for show. This conservative handle paired with his impressive strength for a guard allowed him to bully through defenders.

And really, when I say through defenders, I mean straight at and through defenders.

What makes me confident about his offensive fit in Milwaukee’s system is that he used his size, strength, and guile to score without self-creating. He is a strong screener that could be used in a reverse pick-and-roll with Giannis (or any other guard).

His offensive rebounding also didn’t jump off the page, but his willingness to constantly move into open space opened up more offensive opportunities near the rim. Again, look at how he uses his body and left hand among the trees!

Jrue Holiday’s Passing

Playing next to Lonzo allowed the two starting guards to complement each other’s strengths. Easily a more gifted passer, Lonzo was nonetheless hamstrung by his inability to create in the half-court. He created more out of kick-outs after rebounds and with extra passes in the flow of the offense.

Consequently, Holiday took the bulk of half-court creating responsibilities with Brandon Ingram. Moreover, this egalitarian offense tempered Holiday’s ability to flex his passing chops that a heliocentric offense would otherwise allow.

This is a long-winded way for me to say that Holiday is a good but not great passer. His passer rating of 7 ranks him 27th(ish) in the league out of all players who played over 1,000 minutes (right between Mason Plumlee and Lou Williams and right above Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul). Like Paul, Holiday seemed to always make the correct pass without risking too much for a home-run attempt.

In the pick-and-roll, a favorite move of his is to draw-in dropped defenders with a shot or pass fake before hitting his roll-man with a lob or layup pass.

He relished in having sky-scrapers like Zion and Hayes, and Giannis should benefit from being spoon-fed near the rim.

Jrue Holiday on Defense

Complimentary Words

I hate using comments from other players as serious analysis, but I couldn’t ignore this praise from Iguodala. Iggy and Holiday overlapped in Philadelphia for three seasons, so he obviously has some bias in this analysis. Nevertheless, I don’t often see players complimenting other players’s defense.

A few days ago, Shamit Dua of Bourbon Street Shots also spoke highly of Jrue Holiday’s defensive chops.

Well, let’s look at what the tape says.

Defensive Film Study of Jrue Holiday

A difficult aspect of analyzing defense lies in a player’s ability to make spectacular, basket-saving plays. Players like Luol Deng excelled at staying in front of his man and rotating on a string, but he rarely performed an “Oh shit!” defensive stop (I try not to swear in my writing, but that’s literally the scientific name).

In my truncated study, Holiday had one defense stop that left me speechless along with one other “Oh shit!” moment.

This is a point guard! Centers provide the most impact on defense because of their ability to stop easy baskets at the rim, so having Holiday being able to do this greatly increases a defense’s ceiling.

Stationing him near the basket didn’t spell doom for the Pelicans. Even on this play when Walker catches Holiday ball-watching, Holiday easily disrupts an alley oop pass. Granted, this is a mistake from Holiday and a better pass would’ve beaten him, but this is a tremendous recovery.

However, I don’t want to mislead you and say that Holiday is a legitimate rim protector. As the last line of defense, he wouldn’t be an adequate replacement for a solid interior defender. In this play, he misses a rotation and watches as Thompson easily cuts for a dunk.

Perimeter Defense

One-on-one, Holiday is a devastating defender. His combination of quick feet, strength, and size allows him to, like Shamit says above, defend 1-4 (though I’m still a little skeptical on the efficacy of consistently guarding 4s). In these three plays, you can see his active hands against drivers along with his ability to quickly navigate screens.

An often overlooked aspect of perimeter defense is a player’s closeout skill, and Holiday excelled in this area. When trapping, the Pelicans essentially deployed Holiday to guard multiple players on the perimeter. House’s shot is more open than you would like, but not many guards could be used this way.

In addition, Holiday’s closeout speed allowed him to help off his man. For example, these next two plays showcase the no-stats side of his defensive ability (well, I guess the first one would be marked as a contest, but the second wouldn’t appear at all). When Sexton catches the ball on the perimeter, Holiday is still deep in the paint, yet he recovers for a strong contest. The second play shows McCollum, a 46% catch-and-shoot three-point shooter, immediately passing the ball because he sees Holiday coming at him. While this sort of deterrent can be measured in the paint, it’s much harder to quantify the impact of this sort of play on the perimeter.

Admittedly, I didn’t see him cause many turnovers by way of picking a player’s pocket or jumping passing lanes, but he was quite the nuisance when crowding the ball-handling and keeping his hands active.

What to Make of Jrue Holiday

Last season, in a 5-way tie, Holiday ranked 52nd in BPM with 1.8 (the same as Bledsoe) and 79th in Backpicks BPM (about 25 spots lower than Bledsoe). During the season, he missed 11 games, and during the previous season, he missed 15 games. The following chart shows how the Pelicans faired in relative offensive and defensive rating in the two years along with the two years combined.

rORtg in LineuprORtg out of LineupORtg SwingGames Missed
2019-200.114.25-4.1411
2018-192.6-4.36.915
2018-201.460.640.8226
rDRtg in LineuprDRtg out of LineupDRtg SwingGames Missed
2019-201.226.45-5.2311
2018-191.95.8-3.915
2018-201.626.12-4.526

Just by looking at the numbers, it’s clear that Holiday has immense defensive impact. In a truncated statistical study, I found that this puts him in the same ballpark as some of the best defenders of the last 30 years. However, his offensive impact is a bit of a mystery. Last year, the Pelicans were actually worse offensively when he played, but the year before, they were significantly better when he was in the lineup.

My Final Evaluation

Between the statistics and what I saw in film, I’d say that the defensive numbers overrate his impact while the offensive numbers slightly underrate it. His portability on both ends make him an exceedingly valuable asset especially on defense. I’m worried that his shooting numbers are a bit overstated, but they’re definitely better than Bledsoe’s while his finishing and passing are both on par with his or slightly better. Adding someone like Bogdanovic to the Bucks would’ve made his skillset even more valuable, but alas, that ship has sailed.

Recently, I have been pretty public about my desire for the Bucks to just stay the course. Nevertheless, with a team that was already on a 70-win pace, improving the point guard position, even marginally (which I believe is the case), can only improve their chances of winning it all. Unfortunately, I fear that Holiday’s price was higher than Milwaukee is ready to reckon with.

Cody Houdek is a writer for Premium Hoops. He also assists with videos for the Thinking Basketball YouTube channel. You can find all of his work (articlesvideos, and podcastshere.

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