With the start of the NBA season rapidly approaching, teams are getting a firsthand look at how their offseason additions will blend on their new squads. For teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, this is an optimistic yet crucial time. Following consecutive premature playoff exits, the Bucks entered the offseason eager to improve their roster, with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s impending 2021 free agency looming large. Entering the season with a championship-or-bust mentality, the Bucks swung for the fences in their trade to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans.
Originally only supposed to be a two-team swap, Milwaukee and New Orleans expanded the Jrue Holiday deal to include the Denver Nuggets and perpetually active Oklahoma City Thunder, creating a blockbuster four-team trade. When the dust settled, the team’s returns were as followed:
MIL: Jrue Holiday, No. 60 pick Sam Merrill
NOLA: Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, ‘25/'27 1sts, ‘24/'26 swaps via MIL
OKC: George Hill, Josh Gray, Kenrich Williams, Zylan Cheatham, Darius Miller, ‘23 protected 1st via Denver, two 2nd round picks
DEN: RJ Hampton
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 22, 2020
Here is a look at our grades for each team involved in the trade.
Milwaukee Bucks: B
A consummate professional and dynamic defender, the Bucks are relying on Holiday to be the piece to help exorcise their playoff demons. Four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant confirmed Holiday’s value when he anointed Holiday as the best defensive guard in the league during an appearance on JJ Redick’s podcast, "The Old Man and the Three."
"Jrue Holiday is solidified as probably the best defender in the league at the guard position."
Kevin Durant sung the praises of the Pelicans guard on JJ Redick's podcast a couple of months ago. pic.twitter.com/X0k7KWrGRw
— Jac Manuell (@TheJManJBT) November 5, 2020
While Holiday’s defensive prowess and playmaking skills will be welcome additions, there is no overlooking the bounty of picks Milwaukee surrendered to acquire him. If the Antetokounmpo/Holiday pairing works out as intended, and the reigning two-time MVP re-signs with the Bucks, the value of the picks will decrease significantly. Antetokounmpo’s presence alone all but ensures those picks being outside of the lottery. However, if Giannis does leave next summer Milwaukee will face an incredibly daunting rebuild.
New Orleans Pelicans: B
As NBA teams engage in an arms race to stockpile future first-round draft picks, the New Orleans Pelicans received a substantial return for a player in the final year of his contract. While the two future first-round picks and two future pick swaps from Milwaukee were motivation enough to make the deal, the Pelicans also received Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe.
Acquiring Adams was necessary for New Orleans after losing Derrick Favors in free agency. Although New Orleans will likely continue to experiment with small-ball lineups featuring Zion Williamson at center, the 6-foot-6 athletic marvel is not ready to man the middle without a traditional big.
A little something to keep in mind with Derrick Favors leaving the Pelicans for the Jazz:
NOP when Zion and Favors played together: +11.5 net rating
NOP when Zion played without Favors: -5.0 net rating
— Rob Mahoney (@RobMahoney) November 21, 2020
For all the other positives that Adams brings to the Pelicans, his locker room presence may be the most substantial. Renowned as one of the best teammates in the NBA, Adams will help New Orleans’ predominantly young roster develop a winning culture. While Adams’ fit with the Pelicans is clear, Eric Bledsoe’s role is more complicated.
Like Adams, Bledsoe represents another veteran voice in the locker room. However, unlike Adams, Bledsoe’s role is unclear. Bledsoe’s potential has been tantalizing for years. Despite being one of the most menacing defensive guards in the NBA with the speed to blow by seemingly any defender, Bledsoe remains a postseason liability due to his inability to shoot with any consistency. The energy Bledsoe plays with is infectious, but New Orleans must be cautious that his presence does not hinder the development of the team’s incumbent starter, Lonzo Ball.
Denver Nuggets: B+
While the Bucks and Pelicans garnered much of the headlines from the trade, the Denver Nuggets were able to sneak into the mix, acquiring an intriguing guard in RJ Hampton. Once thought of as a potential top prospect, the Nuggets were able to steal Hampton with the 24th pick in the draft. Even on a team with playoff aspirations, Hampton could fill meaningful back-up guard minutes for Denver.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder seized yet another opportunity to acquire a future first-round pick, adding to their already-historic collection. They also added another tradable salary in George Hill, whose time in Oklahoma City may not be long, as his services will be coveted by many playoff teams attempting to bolster their guard rotation. Stocked with more future picks than there are roster spots, the Thunder are embarking on possibly the most optimistic rebuild of all time.
What to watch for:
While adding Holiday undoubtedly makes the Bucks better defensively, the biggest hole in Milwaukee’s roster remains shot creation. Holiday is a versatile player, capable of running the show for stretches while still maintaining his effectiveness off the ball to accommodate superstar talent. After the potential trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through, the Bucks desperately needed a reliable playmaker to help unlock the paint for Antetokounmpo’s assaults to the basket come playoff time. The success of this trade will ultimately be determined by Holiday’s offensive effectiveness.
Holiday has shown the ability to hit from deep in the past, but his consistency has wavered. Last season Holiday shot 35.3% from long range, marking only the second time in the last five years he’s eclipsed the 35 % mark from deep after doing so in each of his first 6 seasons. Antetokounmpo needs space to attack the basket more than anything else, and that space starts with the shooters around him.
The other component of Holiday’s shooting that looms large is how his attempts came. 58% of Holiday’s made threes from a season ago were assisted, ranking him in the bottom 10th percentile for percent of unassisted threes made. Although this bodes well for a player playing alongside Antetokounmpo in the regular season, the Bucks will need Holiday to orchestrate more looks for himself.