Milwaukee Bucks: 4 burning questions following Malcolm Brogdon’s injury

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 1: (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 1: (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 09: (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 09: (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

How will the Bucks adjust their lineups?

Brogdon’s injury arguably exposes the Bucks at the position where they’re comparatively at their weakest, but the advantage of the team’s much lauded depth is that it still leaves Milwaukee with plenty of reasonable options.

The decision Budenholzer makes with the starting lineup will dictate the wider shape of the Bucks’ rotation over the next couple of months, as different combinations could lead to more minutes for a variety of different players further down the bench.

Budenholzer could opt to start Tony Snell at shooting guard and, in many ways, that might be the safest choice available to him. Snell has stepped up into the starting lineup to cover for injuries eight times this season, and has almost 150 starts as a Buck to his name.

As a result, Snell’s chemistry alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, in particular, is already rock solid. Having said that, Snell can’t create for himself and teammates at a rate anywhere close to Brogdon. Perhaps even more concerning, Snell has played 45 minutes alongside the other four starters this season and that lineup produced a net rating of -2.1.

If not Snell, could Pat Connaughton‘s recent uptick in form vault him into a starter’s role? Connaughton is likely better suited to providing a similar template to Brogdon’s play, as he will weigh in with meaningful rebounds and assists in a fashion similar to the former Rookie of the Year. The drop-off from Brogdon’s sharp-shooting to Connaughton’s 30.6 percent from deep is undeniably cavernous, though.

Unlike Snell, Connaughton does have a stellar track record alongside the starters working in his favor. In 51 minutes together, Connaughton and that group have posted a 13.8 net rating, which is in fact more than double the net rating when Brogdon plays with the other four starters. Without Brogdon’s shooting, ability to get to the rim, and secondary playmaking, that group’s offense is significantly inferior, but a defensive rating of 91.7 does offer another route to being effective.

Arguably the most likely change, though, is one that would see the Bucks’ style of play alter slightly while also leading to other notable changes down the rotation. That is, for Nikola Mirotic to take his place in a much larger Bucks starting lineup where Khris Middleton slides down to shooting guard.

This was the strategy Mike Budenholzer opted for to start the second half following Brogdon’s injury against the Heat, and the results on that occasion were undoubtedly positive. It is a small sample size, as all of the combinations without Brogdon are, but in 28 minutes together across eight games, Mirotic playing with the rest of the starters has produced a phenomenal net rating of 49.5. That can largely be attributed to the fact they only allow 60.9 points per 100 possessions.

The Bucks have already worked with larger lineups that have indicated the potential for outstanding defense in turning to that kind of combination, and swapping Mirotic for Brogdon would likely also come closest to replicating Brogdon’s impact on the opposite end of the floor.

Without Brogdon, Antetokounmpo and Middleton will undoubtedly have to take up more responsibility when it comes to secondary playmaking, but at least in Mirotic they’d have a shooter similarly deadly to Brogdon.

A potentially welcome byproduct of Mirotic moving up the rotation and essentially taking guard minutes would be some relief for the minutes logjam in the frontcourt. Such a move should open up chances for Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson all to play regular minutes, and with Wilson’s impact this season, that may be a further positive on the whole.

The Bucks do have capable alternatives in the backcourt and wings that could take up Brogdon’s minutes, but doing so would continue to squeeze the minutes in the area of the rotation where they suffer from a genuine embarrassment of riches.

Without Brogdon, Budenholzer should trust in Mirotic, and pivot to a larger rotation more generally.