Grading Jrue Holiday, George Hill and the point guards: Bucks season recap


After winning their first NBA championship since 1971, the Milwaukee Bucks came up short this past season and lost to the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. They will be one of 29 teams that end their season short of the ultimate goal of an NBA championship.

Last summer, there was only one week between the jubilation of the Bucks’ championship parade down Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee (July 22, 2021) and the NBA Draft in Brooklyn (July 29, 2021), which marked the beginning of the 2021 offseason and the unofficial start of the 2021-22 NBA season. This time around, the Bucks dropped Game 7 on May 15 and the next thing currently on their schedule is a preseason doubleheader against the Atlanta Hawks in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, on Oct. 6 and Oct. 8, 2022. With training camp starting sometime before the trip, Milwaukee will have a full four months between the end of its 2021-22 campaign and the start to the 2022-23 season.

That means there is plenty of time for reflection on the 2021-22 season and consideration for how things need to improve in the 2022-23 season and thus, there is time to begin on a project that we needed to skip last year at The Athletic. Over the next three weeks, in preparation for the NBA Draft, we are going to go position-by-position through the roster and look at how the Bucks performed at that spot last season and the draft prospects that might be around in the NBA Draft for Milwaukee with the No. 24 pick on June 23.

  • Week of June 6: Point guards
  • Week of June 13: Wings
  • Week of June 20: Bigs

It is, of course, the week of June 6, which means we are kicking off this project with a look back at the performance of this year’s point guards.

Ranks

A quick explainer on grades from the last time we did them in 2020:

  • The grades are based on expectations for each player. Thus, a hypothetical “A” for Jevon Carter (he received a … well, read on) would be based on what was expected of him and not what was expected of Khris Middleton. The aim is for grades that are equitable, not equal.
  • Roles are considered. Carter does not score a ton of points but that’s not what was asked of him. The goal is to judge how he did in his role, not how he compared to other point guards leaguewide.
  • Opportunity was considered. Some players were not given a serious chance to contribute, while others were given considerable opportunities.

Let’s get into it.

Jrue Holiday

Regular season: 18.3 pts., 4.5 reb., 6.8 ast. in 32.9 min. per game (67 games)
Shooting: 50.1 percent FG / 41.1 percent 3-pt / 76.1 percent FT
Playoffs: 19.1 pts., 5.6 reb., 6.5 ast. in 38.6 min. per game (12 games)
Shooting: 37.9 percent FG / 31.6 percent 3-pt / 83.9 percent FT

Holiday’s first season in Milwaukee set quite a standard. He served as the starting point guard for the Bucks as they won their first championship in 50 seasons and put up career-best shooting percentages, while also earning an NBA First Team All-Defensive honor. And while the Bucks’ second-round exit kept Holiday from topping that first campaign in his second go-round with the Bucks, he might have been even more impressive in the regular season.

GPP RPG APG FG% 3pt% FT %

2020-21

17.7

4.5

6.1

50.3

39.2

78.7

2021-22

18.3

4.5

6.8

50.1

41.1

76.1

After the league put up one of the most efficient offensive seasons in NBA history playing the 2020-21 season in largely empty arenas, offensive numbers around the league came back down to Earth, but not Holiday’s. In his second season with the Bucks, Holiday put up even more impressive offensive numbers as he became an even larger part of the Bucks’ offensive attack and, if he was a better free-throw shooter, he would have put up a 50-40 -90 season, the paragon of offensive efficiency for an individual player.

On top of that, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer asked Holiday to create more offense for himself and others. The percentage of made shots that were assisted for Holiday dropped from 38 percent in his first season to only 26 percent in his second season with the team. Holiday had the ball in his hands more this season — only 26 percent of his shots were assisted in the 2021-22 season after 38 percent were assisted in the 2020-21 season — and rewarded Budenholzer’s trust by averaging more assists as well.

While the Bucks struggled throughout the season to find their elite-level defense as a team, Holiday was still one of the NBA’s best individual defenders. He regularly hounded the league’s best players and also made one of the greatest clutch defensive plays of all time to steal Game 5 in Boston.

Being unable to find the same offensive efficiency he exhibited in the regular season against the Celtics without Middleton dragged his grade down slightly, but overall, it was another spectacular season from Holiday. He has been exactly what the Bucks need from the third member of their big three next to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Middleton. Grade: A minus

george hill

Regular season: 6.2 pts., 2.2 reb., 2.9 ast. in 23.2 min. per game (54 games)
Shooting: 42.9 percent fg / 30.6 percent 3-pt / 91.9 percent FT
Playoffs: 1.0 pts., 2.2 rebs., 0.6 ast. in 15.2 min. per game (5 games)
Shooting: 20.0 percent fg / 50.0 percent 3-pt / 100 percent FT

Hill struggled this past season. There may be extenuating circumstances that contributed to those struggles, but there is no way to avoid that simple truth.

The Bucks’ backup point guard averaged just 6.2 points per game, his lowest scoring average since his rookie season in 2009. He made 30.6 percent from behind the 3-point line, the lowest 3-point percentage of his 14-season NBA career. He averaged just 2.2 assists per game, the lowest per-game average since his rookie year. While Holiday saw his playmaking and usage role grow with the starters, Hill recorded a 12.5 percent usage rate, the lowest of his career. During his first stint with the Bucks in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, his usage rate was near 17 percent. Budenholzer stripped away much of Hill’s playmaking responsibility and instead asked him to play off-ball to a much greater extent and it didn’t go all that well for Hill.

While he struggled on offense, Hill still possessed many of the same skills that have allowed him to make a positive impact defensively throughout his career. Hill’s length and quickness allow him to remain strong at the point of attack and his intelligence and experience contribute to him being one of the Bucks’ strongest communicators on defense. With Hill on the floor, the Bucks held teams to just 100.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, the lowest defensive rating from any player on the team.

Even with Hill’s individual struggles on offense, the Bucks still scored 112.5 points per 100 possessions on offense and, ultimately, Milwaukee posted a net rating of plus-11.7 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. That was the highest net rating of any player on the team this past season, but that did not hold in his five postseason games against the Celtics. With Hill on the floor for 76 minutes in the second round, the Bucks posted a minus-19.5 net rating, giving up 113.2 points per 100 possessions and scoring just 93.8 points per 100 possessions.

Hill’s postseason struggles might make it easy for some to say his regular-season performance was just a mirage, but that would ignore a neck injury that kept Hill out for 16 games in February and March, and an abdominal injury that forced him to miss the Bucks’ entire first-round series against the Chicago Bulls and the first two games of the second round. In April, Hill told reporters that he had a partial tear in the disc between the T6 and T7 vertebrae in his spine. In the postseason, it looked like the toil from that injury, as well as the abdominal strain, kept Hill from moving quite as freely on the court.

The veteran point guard played a part in successful regular-season units, but his offensive struggles, injuries and postseason struggles made for a below-average season. Grade: C minus

Jevon Carter

Regular season: 5.6 pts., 2.2 reb., 2.5 ast. in 17.7 min. per game (20 games)
Shooting: 50.6 percent fg / 55.8 percent 3-pt / 100 percent FT
Playoffs: 2.1 pts., 1.5 rebs., 0.9 ast. in 11.5 min. per game (11 games)
Shooting: 47.4 percent fg / 42.9 percent 3-pt / 100 percent FT

After getting waived by the Brooklyn Nets in the middle of the season, Bucks general manager Jon Horst scooped up Carter and, while it might be hyperbolic for a player in a supporting role, he was a revelation in Milwaukee.

Defensively, he picked up opposing point guards and scorers 94 feet for 15-20 minutes each night and made their lives hellish when he was on the floor. Carter fully displayed the tenacity that has defined his basketball life since he was fully unleashed as a defender at West Virginia University under coach Bob Huggins and did everything Budenholzer asked from him defensively. On the other end of the floor, Carter shot the ball insanely well, hitting 24 of the 43 3-pointers he took during the regular season, and did just enough with extra passes and playmaking to be a positive on offense as well. While it was a small sample size, Carter did more than enough offensively to stay on the floor and actually ended up helping out the offense.

Carter did much of the same against the Bulls in the first round and also played well in the first two games against the Celtics, but Budenholzer opted to replace him with Hill in the rotation for the final five games of the series. While it looks like Budenholzer made a mistake with that decision (as discussed in the first part of our offseason mailbag), the Bucks were smart to grab Carter and he ended up being a valuable piece for the final two months of the season. Grade: A

Lindell Wigginton

Regular season: 4.2 pts., 1.3 reb., 1.2 ast. in 10.5 min. per game (19 games)
Shooting: 42.6 percent fg / 34.6 percent 3-pt / 54.3 percent FT
Playoffs: N/A

On Jan. 13, 2021, the Bucks signed Wigginton to a two-way contract after waiving another two-way guard, Javonte Smart. Wigginton started the season with the Wisconsin Herd before becoming part of the main roster on his two-way contract. While he did not see a ton of game action, Wigginton had a week-long stint around the trade deadline in February as injuries and trades depleted the team’s depth chart for a short period of time. He held up fine in those moments but did not end up making such a strong impression that he took a rotation role for the rest of the season.

For a two-way player on a contending team with little to no actual opportunity, Wigginton did a perfectly acceptable job with his playing time. Grade: C-plus

Luca Vildoza

Regular season: N/A
Playoffs: 2.1 pts., 1.5 rebs., 0.9 ast. in 11.5 min. per game (11 games)
Shooting: 47.4 percent fg / 42.9 percent 3-pt / 100 percent FT

The Bucks signed Vildoza, the 26-year-old guard from Argentina, on April 6, just four days before the end of the regular season. Vildoza did not play in the regular season and made his NBA debut in Game 3 of the Bucks’ first-round series against the Bulls. In those eight minutes, Vildoza scored three points and dished out three assists, including this behind-the-back beauty to set up a one-handed slam from Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

Vildoza appeared at the end of six other playoff games, but never played a real role, so there is not much to grade for him this season. Grade: Incomplete

Players No Longer with Team

With COVID-19 still taking players off the floor throughout the season, a number of other players played point guard for the Bucks this season but are no longer with the team and will not be graded. Former players not graded: Justin Robinson (17 games), Javonte Smart (13 games), Georgios Kalaitzakis (nine games), Langston Galloway (three games) and Jeff Dowtin (one game).

(Photo of Jrue Holiday and George Hill: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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