Just how underrated is Jrue Holiday?

Jrue Holiday Is Cooking!

The date is Oct. 31, 2022. The Milwaukee Bucks are 5-0 and facing a test from the Detroit Pistons. The game is tied with under a minute remaining before Jrue Holiday puts on his Superman costume for Halloween and slams the phone booth door on the upstarts. He drills a stepback triple, then on the ensuing defensive possession he funnels the ball towards Brook Lopez for a miss. The game is one of the Bucks’ closest-run contests in their race to 9-0 to start the season.

Holiday Clutch

NBA All-Star reserve announcements wouldn’t be complete without fans and even major media members claiming one player should have made it instead of another. And because of the incredible talent level in the league, there are always stars with the numbers and impact of All Stars who don’t make the teams. Sometimes, the claims that one non-All Star has had a better season than a named All Star are true. But not if those claims involve criticizing Jrue.

Holiday is in the midst of his best season as a Buck. This is his third year in Milwaukee, and he’s only gotten better as time has passed. His scoring average jumped from his first year as a Buck to his second, and it’s jumped again this year.

Holiday has always blended into his surroundings to empower his team rather than himself; that’s how he set the NBA record for longest time in between All-Star selections. And he has fit into Milwaukee’s system with great success, weaving his talents into the core approaches of the team on both ends. Everything that I’ve previously written about here has involved Holiday as the secret sauce of success. Brook Lopez remains the crux of Milwaukee’s defense, the wall against which invading forces crash without success. But Holiday is the shepherd, the defensive player who chases the ball into Lopez. He fights over ball screens, using his enormous strength and mobility to contest shots from behind or force players ever closer to their looming demise; he is the hammer and Lopez the anvil.

Holiday-Lopez Pick and Roll Defense

On the offensive end, Giannis Antetokunpmo is the world-beater and MVP candidate, but Holiday is the catalyst that ensures the dynamism of the reaction. When Antetokounmpo is on the floor without Holiday, Milwaukee’s offensive rating dips to 111.1, which would be a bottom-six mark in the league when compared to full-team numbers. When Holiday is on his own without Antetokounmpo, the Bucks record a top-10 offensive rating. When both play together, the team’s offensive rating would lead the league.

Holiday is a phenomenal triggerman of Milwaukee’s whirring hand-off actions that have injected pace into the offense. He is often who Milwaukee wants to receive the ball in a hand-off, making the decisions to score himself or use the movement of the defense to create layups and triples for teammates.

Holiday Hand Offs

If Lopez and Antetokounmpo are the respective towers upon which the defense and offense are built, Holiday is the shadow cast by each. He makes everything else work around him. But he’s not just an enabler; he’s also a dominant force by himself when the Bucks need him to be.

When Lopez and Antetokounmpo aren’t on the floor to ensure the structural integrity of Milwaukee’s approach, Holiday becomes the determining factor. On the defensive end, Holiday averages a higher rate of steals without Lopez. When his defensive pick-and-roll partner is someone other than Lopez, Holiday has a higher rate of switching on pick and rolls and is more than comfortable wrestling with bigs and forcing misses in other ways. He’s strong enough to hold his own against practically anyone while mucking up opponents’ gathers whenever they bring the ball low.

Holiday Switches

On the offensive end when Antetokounmpo sits, Holiday becomes a tier-one superstar. He’s shooting 36.7 percent on 4.3 pull-up triples a game, which is the seventh-best accuracy in the league at that rate of attempts or higher; that accuracy tops 40 percent when Antetokounmpo is on the bench. The Bucks are more efficient when Holiday runs pick and roll with Bobby Portis or Lopez than with Antetokounmpo, meaning the Bucks have a consistent offensive engine even with an MVP candidate on the bench. And Holiday’s scoring per 100 possessions skyrockets, while his efficiency doesn’t drop at all. (His scoring rate without Antetokounmpo would be a top-25 mark in the league.) Purely in a statistical sense, he jumps from 2019-20 Chris Paul (27.1 points and 10.4 assists per 100 possessions) overall on the season to 2019-20 LeBron James (34.9 points and 14.0 assists per 100 possessions) when Antetokounmpo sits. (Both James and Paul were All Stars that season.)

Jrue Holiday can do so much more when the Bucks need him to
Jrue Holiday's scoring and assists per 100 possessions on the season, and when Giannis Antetokounmpo is sitting

Scoring per 100 possessionsAssists per 100 possessions
Full season27.810.3
Without Antetokounmpo34.512.6
All stat from PBP Stats

Because Holiday is so flexible, toggling successfully between supporting actor and leading man, his on/offs actually lead the Bucks. He has a 93rd-percentile on/off differential per 100 possessions leaguewide, ahead of most other All Stars.

Furthermore, it’s not like Holiday is facing little defense as a result of his teammates’ abilities. Holiday draws the 20th-most double teams per game of anyone in the league, and a Bucks possession that sees Holiday double-teamed is more efficient than one for anyone else in the top 20. 

Stars with comparable numbers to Holiday almost always play in the All-Star game. His per-game averages right now of 19.1 points, 7.1 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.3 steals -- in combination with an effective field goal percentage of 53 -- have been equaled or surpassed 14 times in NBA history. Of those 14 seasons, 13 resulted in All-Star berths while one did not. (The player who reached those thresholds and wasn’t named an All Star was Magic Johnson in 1980-81, and that was only because he missed 100 days to start the season because of a knee injury.)

Besides, the box-score numbers are almost extraneous when it comes to Holiday. His case is based to a huge extent on his team winning. 

Holiday deserves to be an All Star based on his individual numbers, of course; but so too do the Bucks deserve a second All Star based on the team's success. Historically, teams like the Bucks overwhelmingly nominate at least two All Stars. Over the past five seasons, 17 teams on the final day of games before the All-Star break have had a winning percentage equal or superior to Milwaukee’s current 67.9. Those 17 teams have combined to send 33 players (averaging 1.94 All Stars per team) to the All-Star game.

Teams with records like the Milwaukee Bucks usually have two or more All Stars
NBA teams over the last five season with 67.9 percent winning marks, by number of All Stars

SeasonTeamRecordNumber of All StarsAll Stars
2021-22Phoenix Suns48-102Chris Paul, Devin Booker
Golden State Warriors42-172Andrew Wiggins, Steph Curry
Memphis Grizzlies41-191Ja Morant
2020-21Utah Jazz27-93Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert
Phoenix Suns24-111Chris Paul
2019-20Milwaukee Bucks46-82Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton
Toronto Raptors40-152Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam
Boston Celtics38-162Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker
Los Angeles Lakers41-122Anthony Davis, LeBron James
Denver Nuggets38-171Nikola Jokić
2018-19Golden State Warriors41-163Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry
Denver Nuggets39-181Nikola Jokić
Milwaukee Bucks43-142Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton
Toronto Raptors43-162Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry
2017-18Houston Rockets44-131James Harden
Golden State Warriors44-144Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry
Toronto Raptors41-162DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry
All Stats from Basketball Reference

Holiday is playing like an All Star, and as a result his team is winning to the extent that it deserves two All Stars. Antetokounmpo is a no-brainer. But so too is Holiday. 

In 54 games, the Bucks have outscored opponents by 147 points, but that mark can be neatly divided into two situations; they’ve won Holiday’s 1412 minutes by 226 points, while losing his 1200 minutes on the bench by 79. Holiday empowers Milwaukee to play its foundational system on both ends when the other key players are in the game, and he can take over by himself when they’re resting. He’s the perfect fit: malleable, as dominant on the offensive end as the defensive, and able to thrive in any situation. 

There aren’t enough roster spots on All-Star teams to fit all the league’s stars, so there will always be disagreement about who should play in one of the league’ premier events. But there shouldn’t be when it comes to Jrue Holiday.

Jrue Holiday headshot
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