After progressing through one of the best six-month spans in recent NBA history, the Boston Celtics are certain that they have a championship core. Still, there is work to be done to get over the hump and bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy once again. Most of that work comes in two areas: internally through the development and improvement of their best players, and small tweaks around the core that add different weapons into the mix.
Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens worked to address the latter with a few moves around the margins that give the Celtics added depth and new pieces to play with. Just two years ago, Malcolm Brogdon was averaging 21 points, 6 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38.8% from 3-point range and was one of the NBA’s most efficient pick-and-roll creators. At only 29, it’s highly unlikely that the oft-injured Brogdon is past his prime.
In a smaller, more scalable role, Brogdon is an incredible addition to this Celtics team. The hope is that his body can hold up for longer parts of the season when asked to do less, and it’s highly unlikely that Brogdon will play more than 33 minutes per game, as he has been the last two years with the Indiana Pacers.
From a logical standpoint, adding Brogdon reinforces the way the Celtics want to play: big at every position with high-IQ ball movers and shooters, as well as guys who can defend multiple positions. The three-man backcourt combo of Brogdon, Marcus Smart and Derrick White check all those boxes while plugging up the majority of the minutes available at the guard spots.
While Brogdon has good size at 6’5” with a really strong frame, he is unlikely to use it in the same way that Smart does (in the post). What Brogdon does well is physically get to his spots at a deliberate pace, rarely getting bumped off by contact on his drives. His body helps him lean into defenders on hostage dribbles, get through multiple defenders on screens, and see over the top of the defense as a passer.
So what does Brogdon bring to the table that the Celtics don’t already have? A really smart, capable pick-and-roll creation aspect that the C’s can easily benefit from.
Brogdon’s value to the second unit (or simply times when one of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown are resting) is to stabilize offensive creation, both in early clock and late clock situations. Last year, Brogdon was one of the better finishing point guards in the league, converting on 63.2% of his attempts within three feet according to Basketball Reference. He’s over 59% at the hoop for his career, proof of his combination of size, skill and touch.
What we appreciate most is that Brogdon has great touch with his left hand. He handles contact well on his drives due to his strong frame, gets to his spots at the basket, and has the ability to float off-hand layups up there accurately.
As a bigger body, Brogdon doesn’t create a ton of separation, even in straight lines, from his man one-on-one. On ball screen switches or attacking downhill against drop coverage, he’s not likely to get a naked attempt at the rim very often. In order to be successful playing that way, Brogdon needs to have plenty of tricks up his sleeve to score in the lane.
We’ll highlight two of our favorites here. First is his propensity to dive into contact of big men and get himself to the free throw line. Brogdon drives at an outside hip of a center that is dropping back towards the rim. He initiates contact with the hip, then flails outward, getting rewarded with two free throws:
The other move is his counter to get both contact and a clean look at the rim. Brogdon uses a tremendous pump fake and step-thru move that gets big men in the air almost every time:
The trickster that Brogdon has turned into is only effective because of how hard and physically he drives. His strength allows him to handle contact and get to spots, but the urgency with which he tries to pressure the rim is what forces defenders to act quickly. He isn’t the most athletic but there’s an overall sense that he drives really hard.
Because of that reputation, deceleration traits become really important for Brogdon and they’re something he does really well. When he feels that he can’t get the separation to the rim, he won’t try to bully guys over and pick up a ton of offensive fouls. Instead, he’ll stop on a dime and hit some tough mid-range pull-up jumpers.
Last year, Brogdon shot 42.9% on mid-range jumpers in the halfcourt, according to Synergy Sports Tech, and was an impressive 46.9% in 2020-21. Those numbers mean that the shot isn’t just a good one for Brogdon, it’s a good one for the Celtics: if he can deliver upwards of 0.9 points per shot (shoot above 45% in the mid-range), it’s considered an analytically-positive possession.
Now that we’ve established Brogdon is really good at the rim and in the mid-range, there’s one more level that scorers can reach in the half-court: shooting off the dribble from 3-point range. Brogdon is consistent at hurting teams that go under picks, meaning opponents cannot simply hide in the lane and dare him to shoot.
I’ve long believed that impactful pull-up shooting goes hand-in-hand with effective pick-and-roll passing. Guards that shoot it off the bounce force defenders to go over the top of screens. When they dribble off a pick, the defender is momentarily behind them, giving a 5-on-4 type of advantage that crafty guards can exploit. Hostage dribble, snaking the screen, taking open space and other methods have become commonplace in the NBA to exploit those momentary advantages.
There’s no substitute for a quick decision-maker and accurate passer in those moments, though. All those tricks are important, but when relied upon they become easier to stop. Brogdon is a timely passer, both in quick reads and in remaining patient to see what develops on a play. He follows the rule of thumb to look for the roll first, then can make kickouts to shooters around him:
Last year under Rick Carlisle, the Indiana Pacers had a great deal of shooters (especially after the trade deadline). Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton and Chris Duarte were all really impactful shooting specialists, and big men Myles Turner and Jalen Smith could stretch the floor. Brogdon’s ability to juggle different actions (like guard-to-guard screens on the wing that Carlisle dialed up a ton) and still make the right read will fit in well with the Celtics. They can run guard-to-guard actions with Tatum and Brown to force switches or get open jump shots, and utilize the floor spacing of shooting bigs like Al Horford and Danilo Gallinari in the corners, all of which are familiar from his time in Indiana.
Most second unit point guards are on the second unit because they have some sort of limitation on their game. Brogdon is a good defender, a big body, a steady and consistent 3-point shooter, an effective finisher, proactive passer, finisher with both hands... the list goes on and on. Stevens pulled off a heist by getting the league’s highest-quality backup guard for a fairly low price. Regardless of the injury history, this is a huge win for the C’s.