Malcolm Brogdon showed great promise as a rookie this season for the Milwaukee Bucks. How was he able to be so effective, and how can he improve going forward?
With the announcement of his status as a finalist for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, Bucks’ shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon is on the cusp of being the first Milwaukee player to win the award in almost 50 years.
The 6’5″ man out of Virginia had an immediate impact in 2016-17. Rookies seldom make winning contributions to playoff teams, but Brogdon was ready to go from day one. The Atlanta native made steady progress as the season progressed, demonstrating a tireless work ethic and a desire to get better.
"“He’s a student of the game. He works extremely hard, not just on the court but off the court, studying film and asking questions. It makes it fun to come to work when you have the opportunity to coach someone like that.”"
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The modern NBA has not embraced players like Brogdon in recent years. Four year players are no longer as coveted as they once were. Teams generally favor players with “high-upside”, an easy way to sell fans on the future (and perhaps keep the GM’s job in a few instances.) If a player actually commits to staying in college for the full duration (in Brogdon’s case five years due to missing his sophomore year with a foot injury), the question inevitably becomes: what’s wrong with him?
Some players simply aren’t ready to make the leap. If you haven’t already shown enough to guarantee you’ll get drafted, you’re better off waiting a year or two to pad your stats and add some skills. For Brogdon, it was a matter of priorities. His foot injury frightened him. Young athletes tend to view themselves as invincible, but the fragility of pursuing a career as an athlete didn’t escape the young guard.
"“Going through something like that totally changes your perspective. It’s humbling and shows you that you can be a big, D-I athlete but in the flick of a moment you can be taken down. It made me realize that basketball is just a game; there’s also other things in life that you should put your focus toward.”"
Brogdon changed majors (to UVa’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy) following his injury. To juggle the pressures of high-level athletic competition and academics at the same time, requires a level of focus and self-discipline beyond that of the average 20-year-old.
It feels almost impossible to get through an article on Brogdon without using the word “poise”. The President, as he’s been labelled by his teammates, reeks of it. It comes as no surprise to learn he is the son of a mediator and a professor of psychology. Brogdon is erudite and articulate, projecting a maturity well beyond his years.
That poise carries over to the court. Let’s have a closer look at the former 36th pick’s strengths this year, as well as the things he can still improve on.
There’s probably no bigger compliment that can be paid to a player than to call him “Spursian”. San Antonio produce and nurture a certain type of player. Gregg Poppovich loves tough and unselfish guys, those with high basketball IQs who can execute within the system. That’s exactly who Malcolm Brogdon is.
Brogdon competes hard on every possession. “Scrappy” is usually used as a euphemism for unskilled, and that certainly doesn’t apply to Brogdon. It is, however, one of his best qualities.
Brogdon fights for every loose ball, gets his hands into sloppy ball-handlers and crashes the boards with the best of them. Brogdon shows great anticipation on the defensive side of the ball, one of the more underrated qualities of great defenders.
In this next clip, watch him get his hands on the inbound pass from Harkless, then show great strength to protect the ball in transition as he takes it all the way for the deuce:
Brogdon scored the ball efficiently overall during the season, ranking above average in efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and in transition. Brogdon excelled at scoring on spot-up jumpers. 21.7 percent of his offensive possessions ended with a spot-up jumper, scoring an incredibly efficient 1.19 points-per-possession (89.9 percentile in the league.)
The young guard was equally impressive scoring from hand-offs, putting up a sizzling 1.13 points-per-possession (top five percent in the league).
Brogdon took great care of the ball, posting a very respectable 2.82 assist-to-turnover ratio. The shooting guard also graded out very well in advanced line-up data, having a generally positive effect no matter who he shared the court with.
Brogdon developed particularly good chemistry with Greg Monroe. The Bucks were plus 8.9 points-per-100 possessions in the 1007 minutes the pair played together during the season. They worked an effective two-man game, finding each other for rolls to the basket and wide-open jumpers.
Watch them work the pick-and-roll to perfection down the stretch of a close win against Atlanta:
I’m including this final clip, a nifty little pass from Monroe, purely for aesthetic reasons. What an absolute beauty:
Limitations and Ways to Improve
Still, Brogdon definitely has some limitations. The young guard lacks elite explosiveness, that quick burst a lot of the league’s premier guards call on to blow by defenders into the lane. For that reason isolation scoring will probably remain a relative weakness going forward.
Brogdon scored just 0.55 points-per-possession on isolation plays this season. Brogdon can pull-up reasonably well (37.06 percent on pull-up threes this year), but his lack of lateral bounce and quickness makes it more difficult to take his defender off-the-dribble.
Brogdon doesn’t force the issue to often, preferring to attack holes in defenses created by Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s incredible gravity when rolling or cutting to the rim.
His finishing in the restricted area improved as the season progressed (56.6 percent on 4.8 attempts over the season’s final six weeks, up from a fairly sub-par 54.3 percent on the season.) Fifty-six percent is the baseline for respectability for a guard attacking the rim.
Brogdon’s footwork going to the basket sometimes looks a little clunky and out of rhythm:
Uncle Malcolm should be able to Euro-step into that shot, particularly as Butler’s back is turned when he makes his move.
It seems absurd, given how well he shot in his rookie campaign (45.7 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from three), but there is definitely room for Brogdon to improve shooting the ball. Misses usually fall short, a product of his continued tendency (though it seemed to happen less frequently as the season progressed) to shoot a flat shot:
This seems to happen more often on contested or off-the-dribble jumpers. When he has time to set his feet and really get his legs into his jumper, it results in a much better arc on his shot:
Brogdon also needs to improve at shooting coming off screens. The Bucks generally don’t score off screens very often (just 327 possessions during the 2016-2017 season), but they’re essential to effective half-court offense, particularly in the playoffs.
Brogdon placed in the lower half of the league in this regard, scoring a meager 0.73 points per possession. Coming off screens at the speed required in the NBA is a lot more difficult than the average fan cares to admit. It requires an astute understanding of angles, as well as great balance and timing.
A player with Brogdon’s feel for the game should improve with experience. One player Brogdon should study is the Clipper’s J.J. Redick.
Redick has far more physical limitations than Brogdon, but has become a master working off the ball due to his tireless work-rate and nuanced understanding of half-court offense and spacing (and more than his fair-share of sneaky tricks).
Despite his advanced years, at least as a second year player in the NBA, there is no reason to believe Brogdon hasn’t still got more room to grow as a player.