When LeBron James moved out West to join the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, the door that he had sternly guarded in the Eastern Conference suddenly got blown wide open. The Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics were all heavily backed to step up as the most dangerous teams in the conference, and they have obliged for the most part.
With former Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer finally putting an end the Milwaukee Bucks coaching carousal, the Bucks were another name that frequented those discussions. However, nobody quite expected them to be as deadly as they have been at the halfway point of the season. Currently, they sit second the East with a 29 wins and just 11 losses. Giannis Antetokounmpo is producing a MVP caliber season, so he rightfully deserves the bulk of the praise, but the 2017 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon has quietly become one of the most critical pieces to the Bucks puzzle.
He is as blue collared as they come, never flashy or outlandish, he just clocks in and does his work every night. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated’s Emily Caron, Brogdon explains what how he keeps himself balanced throughout the topsy-turvy world of NBA basketball.
“When you have a coaching change, when you have trades, an injury, when you have all these things happening—these are all things that are out of your control. Quickly you start to understand that really the only thing you can control is going out and playing hard every night and being ready for your opportunity.” he said.
The Greek Freak is the engine that powers Milwaukee. Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Brook Lopez all fill roles that are essential to their winning ways, but Brogdon is the sidekick that truly pushes the Bucks into title contention. While he may not have the name value of Middleton, the defensive chops of Bledsoe, or the appeal of a 3-point stroking 7-footer like Lopez, his unfathomable efficiency means everything for this team. For the season, the 26-year-old is averaging 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists, shooting a blistering 52.1 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from behind the arc, and 98.7 percent from the free throw line.
As it stands at the moment, the man dubbed ‘The President’ around the Bucks organization is the only player averaging over 10 minutes per game who is set to join the famed 50/40/90 (percentages) club. He is well on pace to hit 300 field goal, 82 3-pointer, and 125 free throw qualifiers, and would be just the eighth total player and fourth active player to pen his name into the annals of efficiency masters.
Budenholzer has completely reshaped Milwaukee’s offensive system this season. He deploys Antetokounmpo as the primary ball-handler along with Bledsoe, and spaces the floor with shooters around the Greek Freak. This allows their superstar, who struggles to shoot from long-range, to attack the rim with a ferocity without the lane being clogged by shot-blockers. In the same way that Antetokounmpo benefits from the spaced offense, Brogdon has made a living at the rim this season.
at 6-foot-5, he isn’t going to overwhelm defenders at the shooting guard position with his size. With his pudgy frame, he isn’t going to flash past them with elite athleticism, either. What Brogdon does have is a nose for the basket, and an ability to get his shoulder past defenders and quickly get a layup up and over outstretched arms. In his 37 games thus far, Brogdon is attempting 10.4 drives per game. On those double-digit rim attacks, he is converting a sizzling 56.3 percent of his field goals, which ranks him seventh overall of the 43 players who drive more than 10 times per game, per NBA stats.
The clip below perfectly encapsulates Brogdon’s game, and why he is so effective at scoring the ball. He hesitates on the catch at the top of the arc, before sneaking past Kevin Huerter and getting into the paint. The Atlanta Hawks rookie does a nice job of cutting off The President’s lane to the cup, but he can’t stop Brogdon’s countermove, a crafty whirling dervish to the opposite side of the rim for the easy duece:
If the defense hack at Brogdon close to the cup, they are pretty much guaranteeing two points anyway. He has missed just one free throw in 82 attempts for the entire season. If he can somehow manage to hold onto his unreal 98.7 percent clip from the line, he will hold the record for the best free throw shooting season ever, surpassing Jose Calderon’s 2008-09 season average of 98.1 percent.
Brogdon rarely settles for mid-range jumpers, which can be the bane of high-percentage shooting. He opts for shots at the rim and free throws, which are two of the biggest keys to efficiency, as well as 3-point tries. With Milwaukee’s aforementioned offensive scheme which heavily promotes long-range attempts (they are currently attempt the second most league-wide) Brogdon has blossomed into one of the league’s deadliest snipers. He only attempts 3.7 triples per night, another product of him taking only what the defense gives him, but he buries them at a commendable rate.
Defensively, Brogdon is as hard-working and solid as he is in every other part of his game. It’s only to be expected from a second-round pick who went on to win Rookie of the Year. He isn’t going to put anyone in jail like some of his more defensively-talented teammates, but there is a reason he can play big minutes on the third most effective defense in the league.
He locks into a low stance and works through screens with intensity, giving would-be scorers no easy buckets. Off the ball, he is alert at all times, and swoops in for thefts if passers get lazy in his vicinity:
When coach Budenholzer was asked in a pre-game media scrum about Brogdon’s efficiency and how he has managed to maintain it, the 49-year-old was eager to shower his player with praise.
“I think he had a great summer. He’s very diligent in what he does, very focused and calculated. He has taken what we’re trying to do and executes it really well” he said.”He is just a good player. I think the fit with him and the roster and everything has just been really good. His steadiness has been huge for us.”
With a historically efficient stat line, a work rate that makes it easy to love him, and a game that seems to grow every time he hits the hardwood, it’s not hard to see why his coach loves him. Perhaps it is about time the wider national media starts to cover Brogdon a bit more, this kid is really, really good.
Hats off to The President, who has governed the efficiency ranks this season.