Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks hoping 'underrated' Jrue Holiday can help unlock a deep playoff run in the Eastern Conference

#JrueHoliday
(NBA Getty Images)

Recently signing a four-year extension worth up to $160 million, Jrue Holiday is the Milwaukee Bucks point guard for the foreseeable future.

With Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the Bucks have committed over $100 million per season in the trio, hoping to bring the franchise its first NBA title since 1971.

Now in the 12th season of his NBA career, Holiday is perennially labelled as one of the most underrated players in the league, with Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer believing he deserves more credit for his play on both ends of the floor, particularly defensively where he has guarded the most dynamic players in the game from Steph Curry to Kevin Durant.

"I think ultimately to be really, really good, the two-way guys that are really special on both ends of the court, really impact the game," Budenholzer said prior to a recent game. "I think that part of our sport, the NBA game, in a lot of different situations probably isn't appreciated by others outside of the game as much as it probably should be. Defence in general doesn't generate as much conversation or appreciation and that's certainly one of his great strengths."

Missing 10 games after contracting COVID-19 in February, Milwaukee would go just 5-5 in that stretch and actually find themselves below .500 (6-7) when the guard is out of the lineup.

After revealing the symptoms of the virus took a toll on him during the stretch, it's been a remarkable return to the floor for Holiday who has been on a tear across his last 15 games.

PPG RPG APG SPG 3P% TS%
Holiday's last 15 games 21.1 4.5 6.8 1.8 50.8 59.9

"He's so poised and strong and skilled. He never seems to be in a rush," Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said prior to a recent game against Milwaukee.

"I love his pace as a basketball player. He can turn on the jets because he's got speed and explosiveness but it doesn't really appear that way because he's so smooth. he gets anywhere he wants, he's able to use either hand around the basket and he can shoot the 3-point shot either as a spot-up guy or off the dribble."

That craftiness that Kerr speaks about has served Holiday well so far this season, who in conjunction with Antetokounmpo and Middleton has the Bucks running a top-five offence entering the final weeks of the regular season. Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism for Milwaukee heading into the playoffs will be the number of big shots the 30-year-old has already made so far this season, including a game-winning jumpshot from the left baseline in Memphis.

Milwaukee's big three in clutch time

FGM FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 18 29 62.1 2 4 50
Jrue Holiday 12 24 50.0 3 7 42.9
Khris Middleton 11 32 34.4 4 16 25

In Holiday, Milwaukee have a third player to turn to in the halfcourt when they need a basket, an option they simply didn't have a season ago.

"He's a great all-around player. That's the simple answer," Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said of Holiday. "Milwaukee's acquisition of him I thought was a key one. Right now with Giannis missing a few games he becomes a more featured guy and in the games that they're winning he's an enormous factor, he's putting up enormous numbers.

"It's a big job trying to slow him down and the pattern over the years that I've seen with him is that he's a great team guy, a great guy just in terms of understanding the importance of other guys being involved but when his teams have had main players out he's always stepped it up to a significantly higher level."

The Bucks will more than likely need to navigate a series with the stacked Brooklyn Nets roster en route to the NBA Finals, with Holiday likely to spend time on all three of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. A recent dominant showing against Trae Young, giving the league a reminder of his defensive prowess.

Recently acquired Buck and known defensive stopper, P.J. Tucker drew a smile when asked about the opportunity to play alongside the veteran guard.

"I think Jrue maybe the best defender in the NBA for the last few years," Tucker said. "Nobody talks about the things he does night in and night out. He doesn't boast, he doesn't talk a lot so it goes under the radar, to be out there with him, now I get to really see it. It's unreal."

An All-Star in 2013, and a two-time All-NBA Defensive team member, you could certainly make the case that Holiday has deserved more individual accolades over the course of his career, but Budenholzer and the Bucks will be just fine with their man going under the radar if it leads to another long playoff run in the coming months.

"He's that complete player that's really good at everything and I think his teammates, coaches throughout the league just have the ultimate respect for him. That's all that really matters to most of us," Budenholzer said.

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