The Milwaukee Bucks and Jrue Holiday have come to terms on a contract extension that will pay the all-defensive calibre guard to $160 million over the next four years. The contract means much more than the figures quoted: it ensures the Bucks maximise their chances of capturing their first NBA championship in 50 years.
Jrue Holiday contract extension: Impact on Bucks
Jrue Holiday has fitted in perfectly in the Bucks system. He continues to show that the Bucks were right to pull the trigger on his trade from the New Orleans Pelicans.
NBA discourse was agape when the Bucks gave up two future first round picks, two pick swaps, plus Eric Bledsoe.
Holiday was due to be a free agent the following summer (player option). The Bucks identified Jrue as the player they believe will get them over the hump. Having finished as the number one seed in each of the last two seasons, the Bucks did not advance to the NBA Finals on both occasions. The addition of Holiday and tying him down long term serves as a reminder to reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the organisation wants to win.
Fitting in with the Bucks
Holiday is in the perfect situation in Milwaukee. His usage rate this season is 21.4%. That’s the lowest logged since his sophomore year in the NBA. He’s also attempting three fewer shots (13.3 FGA) per game compared to last year, and consequently his scoring (17ppg) has taken a dip from his Pelican days (19.1ppg last season). This is not a concern whatsoever for the Bucks organisation. You could argue Jrue Holiday was miscast as being the second-best player while on the Pelicans. In Milwaukee, however, fitting in behind Giannis and Khris Middleton has accentuated his strengths.
The former one-time All-Star is averaging a career high in steals per game (1.8), field goal percentage (50.9%), and a joint career high in three-point percentage (39%).
Holiday’s effectiveness lies deeper than face value statistics. His PER (player efficiency rating) of 20.2 is a career high, as is true shooting percentage (60%), turnover percentage (12.2%) and box plus/minus (3.8). Away from the court, fewer NBA players have a higher approval rating that Jrue Holiday. A true professional in every sense of the word. He brings a veteran voice and playoff experience that will not go missing when lights are brightest – something Bledsoe failed to do.
Time for Coach Bud to stand and deliver
Jrue Holiday’s contract extension has implications on the pressure Mike Budenholzer is faced with.
The Bucks front office have done their bit in retooling the roster to ensure it rivals Eastern Conference powerhouses Philly and Brooklyn. Whether Coach Bud can schematically set the Bucks up to defeat the aforementioned teams in the East is another question.
Budenholzer is an excellent regular season coach. He is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year. First in 2015 with the Atlanta Hawks in their 60-win season and again with Milwaukee in 2019 winning 60 games.
His shortcomings, however, have come in the playoffs. The 2019 playoff defeat to the Toronto Raptors cuts deep into the heart of the Bucks organisation and Coach Bud.
Losing four straight games after being up 2-0 was a major disappointment.
Last year’s playoff defeat to the fifth seed Miami Heat was a different kind of failure. One that can be attributed to the NBA bubble and the Heat being a team that had the Bucks’ number all year. This year there will be no excuses for Bud. Failure to make the NBA Finals may have repercussions on his future with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bucks’ stealth improvement
Milwaukee’s form this year has gone under the radar. Sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference, this has not been the gangbuster regular season we have become accustomed to. The organisation will be quietly content with how things have developed thus far.
Before the NBA shut down last year due to coronavirus, the Bucks were winning at a 70-win clip and were the overwhelming favourites to represent the East in the finals. This season they have tinkered with things slightly. Budenholzer has increased Giannis’ minutes this season (34mpg compared to 30mpg last season), Donte DiVincenzo has been inserted into the starting line-up, and the D.J. Augustin experiment was a failed endeavour until he was shipped out to Houston.
In the month of March, the Bucks had the sixth best record in the league (joint with the Hawks). Only the Sixers and the Nets had a better record last month among teams in the East. They did lead the Eastern Conference in net rating and held their opponents plus/minus to -6.4 – a conference best. As yet it remains to be seen whether the Bucks will go on a winning streak that puts the NBA on notice, but many in Milwaukee would prefer the approach taken this season of stealth contenders.
Keeping pace with the Sixers and Nets
Milwaukee have played the Sixers and the Nets once each this season. Their 125-123 loss to the Nets on 19th January was a close affair only losing by two. With a chance to win, Middleton’s missed effort decided the game.
Despite the defeat, there was little separating the two. Same can be said in the Bucks’ 109-105 overtime win over the Sixers on 17th March.
These tightly contested games emphasise the importance of grabbing the number one seed.
With the Bucks in third and only 1.5 games back of Philly and Brooklyn, they are in position to face one of the two teams in the second round of the playoffs. At the minimum, Milwaukee will harbour aspirations of making the Eastern Conference Finals, anything short of this and the same questions will be asked, but with expectations of different conclusions.