“Man, I feel like I'm the Defensive Player of the Year every year,” Holiday told Yahoo Sports in an exclusive phone interview. “I'm not joking about that. And I know this is my opinion, and other people have different opinions and they'll probably think I'm crazy. But I think what I bring defensively on the court, a lot of people don't really do, to be completely honest.
“I feel like I should be in the conversation every year. I’m being serious. This isn't the first year I've been playing defense this way.”
Holiday, who is well regarded as arguably the toughest defender among his peers for at least the last six seasons, has only been voted to the All-Defensive First Team once (2018) and All-Defensive Second Team once (2019).
As of May 5, the 30-year-old guard in his first season with the Bucks has been assigned to 584 defensive matchups against the top 10 scorers in the league, the most of any player. He’s first in loose balls recovered per game (1.3), third in steals (1.7), sixth in deflections (3.3) and one of only five players with 90 or more steals and 30 or more blocks (Nikola Jokic, Robert Covington, Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green).
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (-1600 favorite at BetMGM) and Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (+750) are largely viewed as the frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Holiday, who doesn't have DPOY odds listed at BetMGM, isn’t quite sure of why his name isn’t circulating more for the award, considering he’s now playing for a championship contender.
“I don't know, but maybe because I'm not flashy,” Holiday said to Yahoo Sports. “I'm super low-key, and I don't need much attention, I don't want much attention. I don't talk trash, and I'm not really that loud. Maybe it's just more like a business transaction. I go out there and do my job. And then once my job is done, I go home and chill with my family. But I'm not popular, and I'm OK with that. I don't want to be popular. If I'm not on TV a lot, and you don't see me playing defense, you don't see me doing what I do. The Lakers are on TV, Boston's on TV, but when I was in New Orleans, we weren't on TV as much as we wanted to be. So maybe that's a part of the reason why I’m overlooked.
“Does it make me mad? No. I'm OK with kind of being under the radar. I'm not a flashy person, so these are things that I can't control. I know a lot of guys that hoop respect my game just like I respect theirs. I feel like that means more to me. Unfortunately, the players don’t have a vote.”
Future Hall of Famer Andre Iguodala of the Miami Heat called Holiday the “best defender in the league.” Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said, “To me, [Jrue’s] the best defender in the league. Like, out of the guards, I think he’s the best.” Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant praised Holiday for his versatility.
“You put Jrue in any system, any coach is going to ask him to guard the best player. We played them in 2018, second round, and he guarded me the whole series. He was picking me up full court, he was guarding me in the post. Actually, it was tough to dribble on Jrue Holiday. He slides his feet so well. He’s got good hands. He’s strong. He’s got good instincts. I gained a lot of respect for him in that series because he went from guarding me to Klay [Thompson] to Steph [Curry] to guarding Draymond [Green], neutralizing picks and rolls. He’s special. He’s special on that side of the ball,” Durant said.
Holiday said common stats don’t provide a clear picture of how dominant someone is defensively.
“I think stats can help and hurt,” Holiday explained to Yahoo Sports. “I do think stats serve a purpose. There are guys out there that get a lot of steals but don't necessarily play defense. And you know that they get a lot of steals, but you wouldn't consider them to be a good defender. With that being said, there is an eye test.
“I would say to maybe get more opinions of the players. Maybe talk to the players about who they think is a great defender. But outside of that, maybe it'd have to be just a little bit more work and researching this aspect of the game. It might take going to more games if they can, or watching more or studying more. But if you're not really in the trenches, and if you don't really know basketball like that, then what else are you supposed to go off of?”
Offenses are more sophisticated with the 3-point arc being the most lethal weapon and scoring-first point guards migrating throughout the league creating unorthodox small-ball lineups that have lessened the value of true big men.
Small lineups are a nightmare for conventional bigs, leaving coaches with no choice but to match with a similar small lineup. In years prior, the Defensive Player of the Year award went to the player who dominated his position.
Nowadays, a great defender in the minds of players is one who is never a defensive liability and one who can defend multiple positions. With the same way offenses have shifted, Holiday thinks how defense is evaluated should also shift.
“If you're the best defender on the floor, why would you ever be taken out?” Holiday told Yahoo Sports. “It would make no sense to me if your best defender is on the bench. So take somebody like Draymond [Green], when is he ever out of the game? The only time he's out is if he’s in foul trouble. I’m just going to say this: If a coach had to pick five defensive-minded guys to combat a strong small-ball lineup or even a big-ball lineup, in my opinion, I’m going to be out there.
“Look, I don't know the last time there was a guard or somebody 6-4 or smaller to win the award. And all respect to those who won it recently, but I think to be able to guard some of these guards night in and night out, every single night, and be able to move laterally, moving your feet, fighting over screens, fighting under screens, guarding them one-on-one 30 feet away from the basket. And there were a couple of years where I was blocking a lot of shots for a guard. So I even protected the rim myself. And then at that, I'm guarding positions one through four, and sometimes five. Defensively, I’ve pretty much done it all. That’s why I think I should be in the conversation every year.”
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