Malcolm Brogdon Has Been Even Better Than Advertised for Indiana Pacers

During former UVA guard Malcolm Brogdon’s three seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, he ascended from an unassuming second-round pick to a legitimate top option for a contending team. He entered the league with a handful of accolades to boast from his four seasons under accomplished coach Tony Bennett, but the four-year college prospect nonetheless slipped to No. 35 in his draft as a 23-year-old rookie.

With the odds stacked against him, Brogdon advanced past the likes of Joel Embiid, Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray for the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year trophy after making an immediate impact for the sixth-seeded Bucks. He even went on to start all six of Milwaukee’s playoff games and made 10-of-21 3-pointers before being eliminated by the Toronto Raptors thatyear.

Brogdon continuously adds facets to his skill set with each passing season, culminating in an induction to the illustrious 50/40/90 club after a tenacious 2018-19 campaign that earned him a four-year, $85 million contract. He was signed-and-traded to the Indiana Pacers, where he’s proving to be one of the sport’s most versatile combo guards by facilitating the Pacers’ offense while remaining a proficient shooter and slasher.

Although the season is young, Brogdon already set a record by becoming the first player in league history to record consecutive 20-point, 10 assist games with a new team. He’s logged a double-double in all four of his outings with Indiana despite their measly 1-3 record.

In his short time playing under veteran coach Nate McMillan, Brogdon leads the NBA in total assists (45) for an average of 11.3. While Pacers star Victor Oladipo nurses a ruptured tendon in his right knee, Brogdon has the keys to the offense and leads the team in usage at 25.8 percent. In contrast, Brogdon was fifth in usage percentage on the Bucks last year, which limited the opportunities to show off his passing chops.

After finishing in the 51st percentile of pick-and-roll ball handlers during his final season as a Buck, Brogdon’s risen to the 57th percentile thus far. As the first point of contact on the majority of his team’s plays, it’s becoming clear that his skill as a primary ballhandler was overshadowed while competing alongside reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo.

Oct 15, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon (7) takes a shot against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during the first quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Brogdon’s efforts have been aided by the presence of blossoming bigs Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, who’re developing into high-quality starters in their own rights.

Selected 25 picks ahead of Brogdon by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016, Sabonis is one of the most prominent beneficiaries of his new point guard’s arrival. Brogdon and Sabonis post an offensive rating of 109.4, exceeding the team’s average by 4.4.

This is due in large part to each of their pick-and-roll abilities. Sabonis provides a versatile partner to Brogdon because of his post prowess, improved ability to drive to the rim and crafty finishing under the basket. Furthermore, the near-7-footer can stretch the floor out and knock down jumpers from as far as the 3-point line.

Meanwhile, Brogdon has shown the ability to curl off screens and attack the rim, drawing help defenders toward him in the process. With quick wits and instinctual playmaking, Brogdon continuously finds small windows to dump passes to the roll man, resulting in open baskets for his teammates.

There’s a similar dynamic with Turner, whose size, strength and floor spacing make him a reliable scoring option. Through 111 minutes playing together, that duo posts the fifth-best offensive rating of any Pacers two-man lineup. As a 53.3 percent 3-point shooter, Turner oftentimes parks himself around the perimeter, waiting for Brogdon to kick the ball to the wing off of drives or screens.

Of the Pacers’ five best offensive lineups, four feature Brogdon while the lone outlier of this set only appeared in 2-of-4 games due to injuries to swingman Jeremy Lamb.

Although he’s already been recognized as a valuable 3-and-D guard, Brogdon is breaking out in his fourth year and could work his way into the Most Improved Player of the Year conversation like now-teammate Oladipo did in 2018. Indiana harbors a strong basketball culture and has been home to many skilled, hard-nosed players in the organization’s history.

Oct 28, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose (25) loses the dribble defended by Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon (7) in the second half at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

However, point guard play is an area where they’ve lacked in previous seasons. Serviceable veterans like Darren Collison, Jeff Teague and George Hill have manned the floor general role over the last decade, but none of these starters eclipsed an 8 APG average as Pacers. They worked within team sets to facilitate the offense and open up the floor for marquee talents like Paul George and Oladipo but didn’t take the offense into their own hands the way Brogdon has early on.

Passing hasn’t been the only category where the lead guard has improved: He’s come alive as a rebounder, with eight boards in each of the last two games and an early career-high average of 5.3 on the year.

This is an expected improvement considering his annual progression and increased playing time, but it’s still crucial for a team that must battle in order to return to the playoffs. (They’ve struggled immensely in rebounding, ranking dead-last in that category despite Brogdon’s best efforts.)

By utilizing his quick hand speed and interrupting passing lanes, Brogdon is forcing a handful of turnovers for an average of 1.5 steals per contest, yet another career-high. Even when adjusted per 36 minutes to account for his playing time, this is still a career-best mark for the 27-year-old.

Indiana has been mediocre defensively, ranking 19th in defensive rating at 108.3. This isn’t for a lack of effort, as they rank No. 8 in SPG with 8.8, but this unit is still working to balance chemistry and an unsure rotation featuring only eight of the 17 rostered players from last season.

Building a winning system with a revamped roster is no easy task, especially for a small market team like Indiana that’s reeling without its star. With that in mind, Brogdon is reliving some of the pressure in Oladipo’s absence and has a chance to earn an All-Star bid for the first time in his young career.


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