How does Damian Lillard compare to Jrue Holiday on defense?

Damian Lillard drives against Jrue Holiday in a game last season.

Damian Lillard drives against Jrue Holiday in a game last season. (NBA/Getty Images)

When the Milwaukee Bucks traded for Damian Lillard, almost everybody immediately made them championship favorites. Think of the pick-and-roll possibilities! You can’t pack the paint and check Dame from 30 feet! Their offense will be unstoppable!, they said.

That’s all true– the Bucks are going to be a hell of a challenge to defend, once they figure out how they want to play and how it will all work.

But as usual when the media at large talks ball, one thing is almost completely disregarded: defense.

If the Bucks had been able to land Lillard without losing all-world backcourt stopper Jrue Holiday, then they’d really have something. But once the Celtics countered the Dame move by acquiring Holiday, Boston may have moved ahead of Milwaukee as favorites in the East.

The Celtics are deeper, grittier, speedier and tougher with Holiday in the backcourt. They’ve upgraded on Marcus Smart, who they shipped to Memphis this offseason in a three-team deal that netted the C’s Kristaps Porzingis. The Bucks, meanwhile, will have some work to do on the defensive end to make up for Holiday’s loss and to make sure all of their pieces are fitting in the right way.

So, how does Damian Lillard compare to Jrue Holiday on defense? Let’s take a look:

Defensive Rating- Career (points allowed per 100 possessions)

Damian Lillard: 112.7

Jrue Holiday: 108.9

Defensive Rating- 2022-23 Season

Lillard: 120.8

Holiday: 112.4

Defensive Win Share- 2022-23 Season

Holiday: 2.8 (5th in NBA)

Lillard: 0.8

Holiday’s strengths on defense are his quickness, his active hands, his long arms (he’s listed at 6-5 but with a 6-7 wingspan) and his ability to get into your face and alter shots without fouling. He’s relentless, shifty, and utilizes a lot of his energy on the defensive end of the floor, making it tough on everybody. He can switch, guard multiple positions and in today’s game where there’s so much space to defend, his commitment level and quickness is what sets him apart.

Holiday has been named to the All-Defensive team five times in his career, and there’s no doubt his effort during the 2021 playoffs was a major reason the Bucks took home the championship.

Sure, he’s not quite as polished on the offensive end as some other playmakers. One of Holiday’s weaknesses has been his decision-making and turnovers (he’s prone to them), and he’s not as smooth an offensive operator as others. He’s a good 3-point shooter, can drive and kick well, and runs an offense reasonably well. But he’s not a dynamic offensive player, a game changer like Dame who spaces the floor, can knock down 30-plus footers with regularity, is a lights-out shooter from all areas and utilizes all of those weapons to make him impossible to defend.

Dame is a major offensive upgrade, there’s no doubt about it. But things could go awry if he’s not able to step up his game on ‘D.’ The Blazers were absolute trash on that end of the floor last season, ranking 28th in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). Sure, they were tanking last season, but still– look up some of the scores of Trail Blazers games. They look like pinball numbers. It was like watching an AAU game at times.

Dame can be picked on by opposing offenses for many reasons, and one of them is simply his height. At 6-2, it’s much tougher for Lillard to defend bigger guards and wings (though this is mitigated a little bit by his 6-8 wingspan). And his energy output on offense means relying on him on every possession on the other end of the court is naturally more challenging.

One thing Dame does have going for him is that his new co-star Giannis Antetokounmpo was the best player in the NBA last season in terms of defensive efficiency. If guys get by Dame, they’re still going to have to deal with Giannis in the paint. The Bucks have been among the NBA’s best defensive teams over the last several years, and still have plenty of other tremendous defensive players– like Brook Lopez, who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season and is an absolute unit under the rim.

Dame knows the biggest thing that might be standing between him and hoisting a Larry O’B (as Kawhi likes to call it) is what happens on that end of the floor this season, and he’s ready.

“I understand where to be on the floor. I understand how to rotate. I understand how to play team defense. But I’m a competitor,” Lillard said during Bucks media day. “I’m not going to come in here and be Jrue Holiday. In my personal opinion, I think he’s the best defender on the perimeter. But it’s not going to be what people just throw out there loosely.

“The people I play against will tell you, I ain’t a pushover, you know what I’m saying?”

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