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What Malcolm Brogdon brings to the Celtics

The former Pacers point guard fills multiple holes on this Celtics roster.

Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics still own their $17.2 million TPE, and their entire core is still intact. Yet, somehow, the Celtics have improved their roster with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon via trade, and now, everybody is wondering how the team’s latest guard addition will impact their fortunes.

Sure, Brogdon comes with his fair share of injury concerns, but if we’re being honest, that’s why the Celtics snagged him at a discounted price — so for the sake of this article, we’re going to overlook his health issues. Instead, we’re going to explore the areas of Brogdon’s game that could help improve the Celtics heading into next season.

Usually, when I do these breakdowns, I like to separate them into play types and look at each individual aspect of the player's game. However, Brogdon is far too versatile for that to be a realistic exploit. As such, we’re going to look at three specific areas: offensive skill, playmaking ability, and defense.

Offensive ability

Let’s start with a trait that will fit in perfectly with how Ime Udoka likes his team to play basketball: finishing through — and embracing — contact. The 6’5’’ combo-guard is incredibly adept at using contact to generate shooting space for himself, often seeking out slight bumps to generate momentum on step-backs and side-steps.

Brogdon wasn’t phased by the tight defense from Scottie Barnes, but instead, used the momentum of his defender to his advantage, leaning into his man before stepping back to create a pocket of scoring space. Of course, Brogdon doesn’t need to bump you, but his willingness to embrace contact will certainly endear him to both the coaching staff and fanbase.

Here’s a slightly different example of Brogdon’s willingness to absorb contact. First, let me explain what a “veer step” is: not too dissimilar to a “Euro step”, a veer step is when a player gathers the ball, takes a big step forwards, and then takes a big stride across his man, essentially locking them on their backside or dominant hip. If the defender tries to contest a shot from this angle, it’s either an over-the-back foul or simply a contact foul and is an easy way to generate a three-point play.

In the above clip, we can see Brogdon veer step in front of his defender, but due to Andrew Wiggins’ length and explosiveness, Boston’s latest addition initializes contact as he goes up to the rim, dropping his shoulder into Wiggins’ chest. That slight shoulder bump limits Wiggins’ ability to contest the shot and allows Brogdon to get an easy finish around the rim.

This leads us to Brogdon’s ability to create space for himself, often referred to as self-creation. The 6’5’’ guard is extremely shifty and utilizes hesitation dribbles, side-steps, step-backs, and changes of pace to get where he wants on the floor. It’s this plethora of self-creation skills that led us to abandon the play-type breakdown, as Brogdon leans on his ability to generate his own offense throughout a game, and doesn't need to be operating as a pick-and-roll ball-handler for him to be effective.

Whenever you watch Brogdon play, you’ll see him lulling his defender into a false sense of security, as he looks to get them to plant their feet. You see, it’s much harder to change direction when you’re flat-footed, so by slowing the pace down, you can manipulate your defender, and then, you explode with a quick change of pace and create some separation.

You can see in the above clip, that there’s a moment where Brogdon’s defender goes flat-footed, and that’s when he explodes into the lane, and once you’re on his hip, it’s going to be a difficult task of getting back in front of his burly frame.

The two videos above are both examples of Brogdon creating space for himself: the first one is from a pull-back dribble, and the second one is from a side-step pull-up. Both plays have the desired effect of getting Brogdon into space for him to enter his shooting motion with minimal obstruction, and both result in a bucket.

So, when you think about these concepts in terms of how they fit onto the Celtics, things begin to get a little exciting. Boston’s second unit consistently struggled to generate offense throughout last season, especially if Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown were off the floor. Now, by adding a player who can generate offense in a plethora of ways, will embrace contact on their way to the rack, and can finish in traffic, the Celtics' second unit projects to be a far more dynamic puzzle to solve. It’s going to be a difficult task for a defense, deciding if cutting off Brogdon’s drive is worth leaving a Grant Williams or Danilo Gallinari open in the corners or on the wings, or dealing with Derrick White’s cutting and rip-through offense off the catch.

Frankly, Brogdon’s ability to create for himself will ensure he can create for others, and that’s often an under-discussed aspect of playmaking that regularly gets thrown under the same umbrella as scoring gravity.

Still, we can certainly expect Udoka to implement some play calls to get Brogdon consistent looks around the rim, and one way Rick Carlisle liked to do that last season, was by having the strong-side corner man become the screener in pick-and-roll possessions, thus creating an empty-side ball-screen, removing the strong side low man, and opening driving lanes up for Brogdon to exploit.

Finally, we need to look at Brogdon’s ability at shooting off the catch, or off the pull-up.

Brogdon might not have spent much time in an off-ball role during his three-year tenure with the Pacers, but during his first three NBA seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, the veteran guard was primarily an off-ball threat. Brogdon’s ability to drive off the catch and get to his spots was always one of his strongest assets, as is his ability to shoot straight off the catch.

Sure, we’re unlikely to see Brogdon be used as an off-ball threat quite as much as in his Milwaukee days in the coming season, but he won’t have the ball in his hands as much as he did in Indiana either. As such, Udoka will look to strike the perfect balance between asking Brogdon to be a floor spacer, and offensive initiator - both roles he has proven capable of playing throughout his career.

Take this above play for example. It shows Brogdon operating as the ball-handler in a ‘get’ action, the play itself isn’t important in this context, but the pull-up jumper along the free-throw line extended is precisely the type of scoring the Celtics could ask of their latest addition when he’s not operating as the primary ball-handler or initiator.

Brogdon’s ability to get to his spots quickly and effortlessly, and get the ball out of his hands before the defense has time to rotate over, is going to be a huge addition to the Celtics' offense, especially their second unit’s.

Playmaking

We’ve already seen Brogdon’s ability to create his own offense, and it’s quite easy to envision how that could lead to high-quality shots for his teammates. But, as playmaking was such an area of need for the Celtics bench unit last season, it’s worth taking a deeper look at what the Georgia native brings to the table.

When watching the film, it quickly became clear that Brogdon is a fan of the ‘probe dribble’ which is also known as ‘Nashing’ due to Steve Nash’s affinity for probing the defense before looking to pass or shoot. In essence, a probe dribble is simply when the ball-handler dribbles underneath or behind the basket, going from strong side to weak side — probing the defense.

Brogdon likes to probe dribble a lot, as it’s a good way of keeping the dribble alive, and manipulating the defense, as they scramble to switch the off-ball actions and keep a man on the ball. You will often find that corner shooters or players situated atop of the perimeter find themselves with some additional room to operate, as the defense hones in on protecting the rim at all costs, especially as Brogdon is a reliable finisher within 4 feet of the basket.

Of course, we would be remiss to ignore the drive-and-kick style of playmaking that Udoka is such a fan of, especially when it comes courtesy of a quick decision after catching the ball because it fits within Boston’s burgeoning 0.5 philosophy.

Being able to beat your man off the dribble and make the right pass as the defense closes in on you, is an essential part of how Udoka wants his guards to play. We saw the benefit of White’s ability to penetrate and kick the rock throughout the second half of last season, and now, Boston has three or four guards that can all do this at a high level.

Creating scoring opportunities off the dribble doesn’t always have to be a kick-out to a shooter either. Sometimes, a dump-off or pocket pass to the big man will suffice, and when it comes to guard play, rewarding your bigs with well-timed passes usually leads to some solid offensive possessions. Sure, in the above clip, we should laud Brogdon’s quick decision to drive the close-out, but in Boston, he won’t need to pass the ball to his big-man’s chest, because the Celtics boast Robert Williams, so throwing the rock anywhere in the sky will suffice.

All this is to say that Brogdon’s on-ball creation projects fit perfectly with the Celtics' style of play. He’s capable of generating space for himself, penetrating off the dribble, relocating off-ball as a ‘shaker’ on the weak-side, and attacking close-outs before locating the right pass. The fact that the veteran guard has a 24.1 assist percentage should tell you everything you need to know about how Brogdon’s presence on the floor affects a team's ability to move the rock.

Defense

Ime Udoka expects his players to be stern defenders, both on and off the ball. Now, that isn’t to say that all of Boston’s primary rotation are legitimate point-of-attack stoppers, but they’re all capable of switching up or down multiple positions and holding their own against mismatches — even Payton Pritchard fights tooth and nail to remain viable on that side of the floor.

Brogdon is no different, as his height, length, and sizeable frame make him a tough opponent for players to get the better of, regardless of how quick and shifty they project to be.

Opponent field goals by location when guarded by Brogdon in the 2021-22 NBA season.
Opponent field goals by location when guarded by Brogdon in the 2021-22 NBA season.
Instat Basketball

While Brogdon is a talented on-ball defender in one-on-one situations, his screen navigation does require some improvements, especially when guarding the ball-handler on the perimeter. Throughout last season with the Pacers, the veteran guard often found himself being taken out of a play for multiple seconds courtesy of a well-placed screen, and those few seconds can be the difference-maker when it comes to an opponent making or missing their shot attempt.

A common theme throughout last season was to run Brogdon into multiple ball screens, thus limiting his ability to recover and pressure the ball-handler in lock-and-trail coverages. Take the above play from the Oklahoma City Thunder as an example, where they set a weakside pin-down on Brogdon before flowing into an on-ball screen. The result sees the Pacers guard effectively nullified on the perimeter, and allows for the ball-handler to penetrate with very little resistance, thus creating an advantage for the offense.

However, it is worth noting that Brogdon is very capable of recovering off single screens, and can often get back into the play quickly and effectively. But, when guarding pick-and-roll actions, the former second-round pick is at his best when the ball-handler rejects the screen, thus removing the risk of being taken out of the play. Brogdon’s ability to flip his hips and change directions at speed allow for him to consistently stay in front of his man and use his lengthy frame to contest pull-ups or deter drives.

It’s those same physical attributes that allow Brogdon to be an effective defender in transition, or when closing out to shooters, as his size ensures the offensive player feels his presence on the close-out, thus altering the shot release. It’s also worth noting that Brogdon is regularly one of the first players back on defense in transition, something which should improve an area of weakness for the Celtics after teams consistently looked to punish them on the break last year.

However, there is one final area of concern for the veteran, and that’s his ability to guard the rip-through, as he is susceptible to planting his feet when guarding shifty slashers, allowing them to get him on their hips early and create separation — which is funny really because that’s exactly what he likes to do to defenders when he’s on offense.

Conclusion

Instead of looking at Brogdon’s overall game, we’ve peeked at specific areas of his skill set that project to improve the Celtics or fit within their system. After watching all of his possessions from last season, it’s clear the Celtics are getting a multi-talented guard, that if it wasn’t for his injury concerns, would have been way out of their price range.

Still, Brad Stevens managed to get the deal done, and now Boston has one of the deepest guard rotations in the NBA. Sure, Brogdon is a legitimate defender but given his susceptibility to injury, and the fact both Marcus Smart and White are better defensive guards, we’re unlikely to see him throwing himself into drives looking to draw charges. Instead, Brogdon will be a team defender, and a focal point on the offensive side of the floor, assuming he comes off the bench.

Overall, Brogdon is an excellent addition to the Celtics' rotation, and the amount he improves their rotation and raises their ceiling is worth the risk that’s attached to his injury history.

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