In two seasons as a Milwaukee Buck, Jrue Holiday has certainly made everyone forget about Eric Bledsoe, a good point guard but ultimately too flawed to start for a title contender. At times last season, he looked like the Bucks’ second-best player, but he didn’t have the All-Star buzz that his two-time All-Star teammate Khris Middleton did. Neither were selected as the Bucks’ second All-Star, though, an honor the team received during their dominant 2018–19 and 2019–20 regular seasons.
In hindsight, that still seems defensible: the Bucks weren’t mowing down the league at the time with a 22-14 record, good for third in the East. Middleton’s efficiency and scoring each took a slight step back from the previous season (one where he should have been selected to an All-NBA team) though remained very good. Holiday’s numbers before the All-Star break were solid but not outstanding: 15.3 PPG, 4/3 RPG, 5.1 APG on .491/.364/.766 shooting (he’d pick things up after the break).
Currently, the Bucks are third in the East and percentage points below Brooklyn at 25-14. By virtue of being the defending champs, though, they have a much better shot at a second All-Star this season. Khris Middleton’s production is definitely down from last year, and while it’s nothing to be too concerned about yet, it’s not really worthy of a third All-Star selection when his teammate has a much better case.
Holiday has simply been the superior player this year. He’s played 5 more games too, even after missing a few early on with some leg injuries. Though he struggled for a week or two upon his return, since around Thanksgiving he’s been on fire: 21.3 PPG, 7 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.6 SPG and just 2.4 turnovers per game on .561/.411/.719 (yes, he has struggled a bit at the line, but not on high volume) shooting in his past 21 games. Holiday has shot below 50% from the field in only three of those games and is now up to 62% in the restricted area, above his career mark (61.3%) after wallowing below 50% in his first several games back from injury.
Thanks to the Bucks’ recent hot play (19-6 since their loss in Atlanta on 11/14 dropped them to 6-8), Holiday’s case is getting national attention. On Monday’s edition of The Lowe Post podcast, ESPN’s Zach Lowe included Holiday as one of his several “locks” when selecting his Eastern Conference All-Stars as of this week, an opinion echoed by his guest Chris Herring from SI. He even said he would give consideration for a starter spot, though he ultimately chose Trae Young.
Obviously, you Bucks fans reading this know he should be selected to play in Cleveland on February 20th and now some big national voices do too. I don’t need to make much more of a case. This would be his second career All-Star berth if chosen, previously making it in 2013 as a 22 year-old on the Sixers. The question is: will he?
Let’s take stock of the East right now, first by looking at the standings. At the top are two other teams with Milwaukee: Brooklyn and Charlotte. They seem deserving of two selections as well. Miami is close behind this group of three, with surprising Cleveland and Philadelphia a couple of games further back. Generally, the top six teams in each conference have at least one worthy All-Star, especially the stronger conference. For the first time in around two decades, that’s the East: only four teams in the West are more than a game above .500.
Outside of the East’s top six, only Washington is above .500 (by just a game). Boston, Charlotte, and Toronto hover at or a game below it. These teams may have a worthy player (or two, in Boston’s case) but their team’s lack of success makes a selection far from guaranteed. Beneath them are struggling teams in New York, Atlanta, and Indiana; this group only has one guy (Trae Young) who should be considered. Further down and not a part of this discussion are tanking Detroit and Orlando.
That’s four groupings of teams right now in the new and improved East, so now let’s get to the players. There are three very obvious choices among the top three teams: Giannis Antetokounmpo (duh), Kevin Durant (duh), and DeMar DeRozan (among the top scorers in the NBA with a career year out of seemingly nowhere). They’re the best players on the best teams and DeRozan deserves to start alongside the two best players on earth.
In the next tier, Joel Embiid is having another outstanding year and should get the starting nod. We now have our three starting front court players. DeRozan is likely eligible at guard and forward, so he’ll take a guard spot. Jimmy Butler has missed more games than the aforementioned, but he’s been outstanding when healthy so he’s a lock to make the game, but probably not as a starter considering he’s likely to be listed in the frontcourt. Cleveland has a few worthy players but none more than Jarrett Allen, who I think is likelier to make it over Darius Garland (who is just as deserving).
That’s six players and four starters from the East’s best six teams. The other starting spot really should go to Trey Young: even though the Hawks have been quite a disappointment so far, the man is shooting the ball better than he ever has and on his highest volume, good for second in the league in scoring between KD and Giannis. Now we have seven guys who absolutely should be in Cleveland and five who should start. Starters are determined by a combination of fan, media, and player voting. With those factored in, I think at least four of Young/DeRozan/KD/Giannis/Embiid will be voted starters, if not all five.
It’s reasonable to disqualify players from the underachieving Knicks, the should-be-rebuilding Pacers, and the two tankers for these remaining five spots. There are really only one or two guys who have cases anyway from that group and they’re weak. Before we debate whether guys from the current play-in teams (the Wizards, Celtics, Hornets, and Raptors) should garner selection, we need to consider second selections from the really good teams. Here’s where Holiday comes in.
Zach LaVine is the sixth-leading scorer in the league right now behind his teammate DeRozan. While his traditional and advanced numbers are slightly below (on lower usage) what they were last year when he made his first All-Star team, they’re still outstanding and his team is much improved. With him, that’s eight guys who are most deserving.
James Harden is currently averaging his lowest scoring output since his last year in OKC, his worst percentage from the field since his rookie year, and his lowest percentage from deep ever. Still, he’s improved as the season progresses and I have a hard time believing he won’t be selected by the East’s coaches (who select reserves) as a bench player. His efficiency is comparable by true shooting (58.7% to Holiday’s 58.1%) thanks to all the free throws but his effective field goal percentage is far beneath Holiday’s (49.4% to 56.4%), who has shot the ball much better.
Even with the scoring and assist disparity, I think Holiday is just as deserving as Harden thanks to his outstanding season on both ends of the floor. While I don’t know if his conference’s coaches would agree that Holiday deserves it as much as Harden does, I think they’ll select Holiday primarily because his well-known defensive reputation and shiny 2021 championship ring back up his outstanding season.
Positions need not be factored by coaches selecting backups, but it’s worth pointing out that since perennial East backcourt selections Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons haven't played this season, Holiday’s path to a spot is even clearer. Though the former is slated to make his season debut tomorrow in Indiana, a handful of road games between now and the game on February 20th make his candidacy moot, and the Simmons situation seems unlikely to resolve anytime soon. Fans can vote for them all they want (it would be hilarious in Simmons’ case) but they won’t have the media and player votes without playing time.
I don’t think you’ll get any arguments (as of today) with an Eastern Conference All-Star team consisting of Giannis, Durant, Embiid, DeRozan, Young, and Butler. You won’t get many more if you add all three of Allen, LaVine, and Harden to those six. Holiday absolutely belongs in this group of ten players with the best résumés.
Will coaches agree, though? I doubt two Celtics will be selected given all of their issues to start the season, but both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown merit consideration. While I think one of the Boston duo should get a spot, if the biases towards large markets and/or Celtic prestige win out, it’s possible one or both of them could take Holiday’s spot thanks to their gaudier offensive stats.
Washington, Charlotte, and Toronto each have a deserving player: Bradley Beal, LaMelo Ball, and Fred VanVleet all should be in the conversation. I have a hard time believing that any of them will get a nod over Holiday, though. Aside from their teams’ underperformances relative to the Bucks’ success, each has an area or two where their production is exceeded by Holiday’s. Beal is well-regarded but on an inferior team and the other two don’t approach Holiday’s reputation around the league. No threat here.
To reiterate, the likelihood of these eight players being named to the game seems very high and five of them seem locks to be starters:
If I had to guess how the remaining four spots will be awarded by the coaches, I’d wager they go to Holiday, Tatum, Allen, and Beal. My preference would be for Ball over Beal, though. What say you, though? Who would your twelve-man roster be? Let me know in the comments.
More pertinently, do you think Holiday will be chosen for the game? Vote on whether or not you think the coach/media/player voting bloc will select Holiday in the poll below. Or if you don’t think he should be selected for the game, make your case in the comments while I shake my head.
Will (not should, because duh he should) Jrue Holiday be selected as an All-Star?
This poll is closed
He’ll make it as an injury replacement.