Malcolm Brogdon’s (no longer) in the middle

Malcolm Brogdon’s (no longer) in the middle

The second most expensive contract in Indiana Pacers history, for the fourth highest scoring player on a team, who suffered one major injury in college and a further two in the last two years. A player who has not yet proven his ability to lead and control a team. And yet, Malcolm Brogdon was the best player for the Pacers to attain this offseason, and the best free agency signing by the Pacers in the last eight years.

Fit in Indiana

It’s fair to say Indiana fans are excited to have Brogdon on board. The reaction to the announcement was overwhelmingly positive, but perhaps none more positive than that of Head Coach Nate McMillan. He was screaming down the phone in response to the news, with General Manager Kevin Pritchard saying he thinks it was the most excited he’d seen McMillan in 10 years.

Brogdon is exactly the type of player McMillan loves: defensively adept, and adaptable to the team’s needs with apt decision making to boot. His attitude and ability to put the team’s needs above his own are invaluable, and he views his ability to bring people together as his greatest asset – a real team guy.

He seems to understand how to play to a small market crowd as well, announcing that he sees Indiana as the original basketball state and that he enjoys living in a small city, where the people embrace you more. You can guarantee fans will eat this up for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but at the risk of enraging Pacers Twitter, this may be media patter. However, before Brogdon entered the league, he identified the Pacers as the ideal team to be drafted by, for play style and McMillan’s tutelage – three years on, the benefit of this pairing remains.

A greater focus than Brogdon’s general fit with the team, is the backcourt he will eventually create with Victor Oladipo. Two players with impressive scoring abilities, but in very different styles, and able to present a range of offensive options depending on what is most appropriate. Their collective offensive weapons, must have fans salivating at the difficulty they will cause opposing defences.

A lot of the talk after the recent Free Agency has been about how teams are going to score against Patrick Beverly, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the LA Clippers, but trying to score against Brogdon and Oladipo will be no mean feat either. Alongside this, Brogdon’s selflessness will be tremendously beneficial. He understands what the lightning quick combo guard means to the team and the fans, and he has said already admitted that Indiana is Oladipo’s team, and that he wants his new teammate to be an All-Star every year. He also said that Oladipo can have the ball in his hands as much as he wants, but that he will be there to step up offensively when needed (something that Darren Collison often struggled to do last year).

Is Brogdon too breakable?

Brogdon has had three injuries, each of which led to fairly significant time out (in college and the NBA), so how has this not led to devaluation? The most likely reason is that none of the injuries are repeated, nor are they the type that are hugely likely to re-occur. Back in 2012, as a freshman, he broke a bone in his left foot; then in 2018 he suffered a partial tear of his left quadricep tendon; and last season experiencing a plantar fascia tear in his right foot. Seems more fragile than ideal.

However, his performances show that he has recovered well from the first two injuries and the long-term prognosis of a plantar fascia tear is better than plantar fasciitus (which is less likely to reoccur). Wrapping him in cotton wool is unnecessary, but keeping a close eye on his health with effective recovery periods is likely what the doctors order.

Coming of age

Brogdon was excellent on the Bucks the past three seasons. However, as his role was largely the third ball handler, his credentials as the leader of a team are less than substantial. On the other hand, when looking at his stats and visible on-court impact, there’s a tangible case to be made for his ability to grab the bull by the horns and lead this team while Oladipo is out.

In 2018-19, Brogdon had the only the fourth highest usage on his team (20.7). While this sat him at the fourth highest points per game (15.6), he was only 0.3 points per game behind Bledsoe, who had higher usage (23.6) and more minutes per game. With Oladipo likely out until December, Brogdon’s production seems likely to bloom in most areas. He has improved year on year in the NBA, which in many ways is unsurprising. Although he is 26, next year will only be his fourth year in the league, so he will be learning and exponentially growing with every game. Watch any handful of Milwaukee’s games last season and if you could take your eyes off of Giannis, the basketball IQ of Brogdon and the shrewdness of his on-ball and off-ball movement was clear to see. A large part of his exponential growth is the efficiency with which he plays, evident since entering the league and culminating in his historic 50-40-90 season (in 2018-19).

50-40-90

Assessing a player’s projected impact off their stats alone is foolish, but when you have a season like Brogdon did, it seems a fair barometer. Becoming the eighth player in NBA history to join the elite 50-40-90 club is no mean feat, and when the players you are joining include Larry Bird, Steve Nash and Steph Curry, your trajectory is most definitely a positive one. While many fan websites like to claim their player produced 50-40-90 percentages, they often don’t reach the total number of shots required from each spot to earn the title. Meanwhile, Brogdon’s ability to do so in high volume suggests a sustainable display of talent. Each of these impressive percentages are uniquely useful to the Pacers going forward.

Hitting half your shots is obviously useful, whatever team, whatever system a player is playing in. It suggests Brogdon has the consistent ability to put up points and to make the most efficient shot selection, a huge focus of McMillan’s plays. Too many times last year, games were lost on moments where players would pick up the ball, use a bootless crossover move and chuck up a heavily contested last-gasp shot (cough, cough, Tyreke Evans).

The addition of Brogdon, with the ball in his hands, or not, should effectively reduce both of those outcomes. Then moving onto his 42.6 percent shooting from three-point range in 2018-19, the value of this to the Pacers is multifold. Clearly on a basic level, the landscape of the NBA has been shifted to heavily value high percentage three-ball shooters and it never hurts to have one. In the Pacers’ case, they have just lost their best long-range shooter in Bojan Bogdanovic, and while other players were brought in to bring the Pacers up to speed this just hasn’t happened, with the Pacers sitting at 29th from distance last season. Some criticism may denounce his performance as a product of playing in a wonderfully designed Mike Budenholzer system, which consistently created wide open threes. However, upon further investigation, Brogdon’s three-point percentage averages at 39.45 percent over his two years under Jason Kidd’s less creative system. This rather suggests that his effective shooting from behind the arc is not a flash in the pan, and is here to stay.

Free throw percentage is often overlooked when determining the value of a player – hell, Andre Drummond is earning 27 million dollars this season and he has hit less than half of his free throws in his career. Now admittedly that is not what the Pistons are paying him for, but in this case it cannot be undervalued how important a 90 percent free throw shooter will be to the Pacers. This is illustrated by the Pacers’ team free throw percentage sitting at 75.2 percent last season (22nd in the league). This is compounded by the fact that the Pacers lost their best free throw shooter in the off-season. The bottom line is, in 2018-19, when the clock got short, the fouls got smart, and the Pacers got beaten. Now, the Pacers have a player in Brogdon who can make the right play, drive to basket and make the crucial foul shots or complete the and-one. Going forward, Indiana should be able to play tactically and efficiently in the clutch, rather than relying on an Oladipo three lobbed up a few yards behind the arc.

Final thoughts

So, while Brogdon may not have the superstar status, or team-leading credentials, most signs seem to suggest that these are to come. With Oladipo out, he has a real chance to develop and lead a capable team in Indiana, and prove to the rest of the league just how great his full potential is. Alongside this, his humble and team-oriented nature will allow the Pacers to take the next step when Oladipo does return and as a complete unit can perform to their full potential when the latter half of the season (and post-season) rolls around.


Feature photo – Kent Smith / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington