Superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is known throughout the basketball world for his jaw-dropping combination of athleticism and power — so much so that it earned him the “Greek Freak” moniker. So, if Antetokounmpo is saying now that he is awed almost nightly by the stellar play of teammate Jrue Holiday, you have to know that the Milwaukee Bucks point guard is doing a lot of things right.
“I knew he was good because I played him before, but I really saw how good he was in those first couple of practices (in Milwaukee),” Antetokounmpo said in a Thursday news conference after Milwaukee’s fifth straight win.
“As days go by, as games go by and months go by, you start to realize just how good he is,” Antetokounmpo continued. “When Jrue came (to Milwaukee), he was good, but I feel he is way better now. He is the perfect point guard, and you cannot ask for somebody better than him.”
Finally on a championship contending team, Jrue Holiday is playing some of the best basketball of his 13-year NBA career
In his 13th NBA season, Holiday is arguably playing the best basketball of his career. He’s had seasons where he scored more than the 18 he’s averaging thus far, and he’s had individual years where he’s grabbed more rebounds and handed out more assists than the 4.5 boards and 6.6 assists he’s racking up now.
But, never has the 6-foot-3, 205-pound guard done more for a championship-worthy team than he is doing now. He almost single-handedly helped the Bucks battle through a championship hangover, of sorts, and stay afloat despite a myriad of early-season injuries.
Take, for example, what Holiday did to Orlando on Thursday. Holiday throttled the Magic for 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds, three steals, and two blocked shots. In addition to a spectacular steal in which he deflected a pass and tipped the ball back to himself, he steadied the Bucks when Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were resting.
In a seven-game span from Dec. 15-30 — six of them being Bucks’ wins — Holiday has averaged all-star-like numbers: 24.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 8.0 APG, 2.3 SPG. Incredibly, he’s done all of that while shooting 58.5 percent.
While the quiet and humble Holiday often lets his play do his talking for him, others continue to rave about his all-around effectiveness
Because he is so soft-spoken, unselfish, and painstakingly humble, the 31-year-old Holiday often lets his play do his talking for him. However, when others are asked about Holiday’s worth, they usually can’t stop gushing about him.
“Jrue has been one of my favorite players since I got into the NBA,” Wesley Matthews said in Thursday’s postgame news conference. “He’s such an underrated player because he does so many things well.”
Bucks’ coach Mike Budenholzer is in his 25th NBA season, and he said it wasn’t until last year, not long after Milwaukee traded for Holiday, that he earned a full appreciation for the point guard. Now, he knows why Bucks’ GM Jon Horst was so adamant that Milwaukee did whatever it took to add such a dynamic leader on the floor and in the locker room.
“He’s been in the West, and this is my ninth year in the East; it was a lesson to me that even though you are in the same league, there are guys who you don’t know everything about in the NBA. I did not know just how good Jrue was,” said Budenholzer, referring to Holiday playing for the Pelicans from 2013-20. “We were excited to get him, and Jon Horst and our front office went to the wall to get him.
“He’s exceeded our expectations,” Budenholzer added. “Defensively, he can change the game, and offensively, he’s got a good way about him and knows when to put himself into (scoring mode). He’s been phenomenal, and the person off the court is even better.”
Holiday helped Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks to a title in 2021, and he just might do it again this season with his gritty defense
For years, whispers persisted in Milwaukee that Antetokounmpo would never win a title until he got better help around him. Those whispers were quieted in November 2020 when Milwaukee deftly dealt for Holiday.
Though analysts didn’t heavily scrutinize the transaction at the time, the Bucks took a significant step toward getting Antetokounmpo more help when they swapped Eric Bledsoe and other assets for Holiday.
After putting up solid numbers in his first season in Milwaukee, Holiday raised his game in his first extended playoff run.
He averaged 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 1.7 steals in 23 postseason games. And, he saved his best performances when it mattered most against elite competition. In Milwaukee’s Game 6 win that punched its ticket to the NBA Finals, Holiday outplayed Trae Young by posting 27 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, and four steals. And in the Bucks’ tense Game 6 defeat of the Suns in the NBA Finals, all Holiday did was hand future Hall of Famer Chris Paul this stat line: 27 points, 13 assists, four rebounds, and three steals.
Holiday was so impressive that the Bucks rewarded him with a four-year, contract extension worth $160 million in April. They know full well if they are going to repeat as champions, they will likely need Holiday’s sticky defense against the likes of Steph Curry (Golden State), Lonzo Ball (Chicago), James Harden and Irving (Brooklyn), Young (Atlanta) and Paul (Phoenix).
“Jrue just keeps making it tough on anybody he guards,” said Antetokounmpo, offering up more praise for his point guard. “He’s everywhere, he gets deflections, he goes through pick-and-rolls, he rebounds, and he’s in the passing lanes. He’s helped us so much defensively.”
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com