- The Bucks’ trade for Jrue Holiday was one of the most impactful moves of the NBA season.
- The Bucks gave up four draft picks, then signed him to a 4-year extension worth up to $US160 ($AU218) million.
- Holiday’s defense swung the Finals and he came up with a huge, clutch play in a decisive Game 5.
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Without Jrue Holiday, the Milwaukee Bucks may not be NBA champions.
The Bucks’ decision to trade for Holiday now looks like one of the defining moves of the NBA season.
The 31-year-old guard bolstered their back-court, giving them more ball-handling and shooting. He stepped up in the Eastern Conference Finals to close out the Atlanta Hawks when Giannis Antetokounmpo was injured. His tenacious defense ruffled the feathers of Chris Paul and Devin Booker in the Finals.
There may not have been any other trade this NBA season that helped swing the championship race like the acquisition of Holiday.
The Bucks paid a steep price for Holiday
To acquire Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Bucks practically had to mortgage their future.
They traded two unprotected first-round draft picks in 2025 and 2027 to the Pelicans, plus the rights to swap first-round picks in 2024 and 2026. The Bucks also gave up guards Eric Bledsoe and George Hill in the trade.
Holiday may not be a household name, but those who follow the NBA know the price was justified.
Holiday has only made one All-Star team (in 2012-13), but for years, he had been one of the most well-rounded, impactful, and underrated players in the NBA.
He entered the 2020-21 season with career averages of 16 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He’s been a capable three-point shooter. He’d made two All-Defensive teams and famously tortured Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2018 playoffs, resulting in a shocking four-game sweep. Lillard and Kevin Durant had mused that he was the best all-around defender in the NBA.
However, the price the Bucks paid was not just to add versatility and skill to their back-court – it was an attempt to show Giannis Antetokounmpo that they were all-in on a championship pursuit. That gamble paid off when Antetokounmpo signed a five-year, $US228 ($AU310) million extension with the Bucks in December.
In turn, the Bucks rewarded Holiday, too, giving him a four-year extension worth up to $US160 ($AU218) million.
Holiday helped swing the NBA Finals
After Chris Paul dropped 32 points and shredded the Bucks’ defense in Game 1 of the Finals, the Bucks put Holiday on Paul.
From then on, Holiday made Paul’s life as miserable as he could. In Games 2-6, Paul averaged 20 points and 8 assists per game, but he also averaged nearly 4 turnovers per game – a startling number from one of the most conservative players in the NBA.
The 6-foot (1.83m)-3, 205-lb (93kg) Holiday often picked Paul up full-court, forcing the 36-year-old Suns point guard to expend extra energy while also shaving precious seconds off the shot clock.
ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler described the toll Holiday’s defense took on “The Lowe Post” podcast.
“All [Chris Paul] is doing is getting picked up by a dude that looks like a strong safety in the NFL in Jrue Holiday, who is allowed now, because it’s the Finals [to] bump, chest him up, hit him with your forearm, slide laterally quick enough to make Chris Paul to take 7-8 seconds to get it over half-court,” Legler said. “He’s turned four times. He’s getting hit constantly. He’s 36 years old. By the time he gives it up and gets the ball back, he’s gassed. It’s obvious to me … Over the course of 48 minutes, I can’t imagine the toll that’s taking on him.”
Holiday’s toughness and quick hands made life difficult for Suns players. While Holiday’s shooting was inconsistent in the Finals, he had his breakthrough moment in a decisive Game 5, scoring 27 points, 4 rebounds, 13 assists, 3 steals, and a block.
On one play, he stole the ball from Booker, then hit a pull-up three in transition.
Late in the game, Holiday produced one of the most memorable plays in Finals history, stealing the ball from Booker with 19 seconds left to play, then throwing a lob pass to Antetokounmpo to seal the win.
The Bucks were +37 with Holiday on the court for the series – a massive margin considering the Bucks outscored the Suns by just 14 total points.
After the Bucks’ Game 6 victory to win the championship, Holiday acknowledged the physical burden of defending so hard and running the Bucks’ offense but said it was worth it.
“I’ve run around a lot this series. I’m not going to lie … At this point, it don’t matter. I came out on top, and everything that I laid out there, just all the fighting that we had to do this season, working on in the offseason, everything that you put in with your family, everything and is all worth it.”