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Malcolm in the Middle: Brogdon's fit in Boston

While Brogdon’s numbers have been steady, here’s a few ways he can help the team beyond the stats.

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Yes no, maybe, I don’t know, can you repeat the question?” Perhaps no other sitcom’s theme song captured the essence of the show quite like Malcolm in the Middle’s opening salvo. The show, at its core, is about a middle child of an ordinary family who doesn’t exactly fit. Even worse, at school he’s identified as a “gifted child” and put in a classroom with resources that contains “all the sort of good things they don’t waste on the normal kids.” The “normal” kids in school derogatorily call them “Krelboynes,” and Malcolm and his Krelboyne cronies, have a target on their back. As Malcolm puts it, “around here, being smart is exactly like being radioactive.” In other words, he doesn’t really fit in at school either.

The show brings you along as Malcolm tries to figure out his place in his family, at school, and in the world at large. It also regularly makes you think: “I can’t believe that guy became Heisenberg.

Two decades later, I’m watching another Malcolm grace my screen several times a week struggling to find his place, too. The family room and the playground have been replaced with a court, and this time, I get to see the struggle live.

It would be unfair to paint Brogdon with the Denis Schroder brush and say he’s been bad. Like Frankie Munoz’s titular character, Brogdon possesses much more natural skill and ability than most of his peers, and so far, he’s been able to keep his performance at relatively acceptable levels. With that said, aside from his two most recent outings, he’s been disappointing since the start of December.

From the start of the season until the end of November, Brogdon averaged a solid 14.4 points, 4.1 rebs, and 3.7 asts. The shooting is where it gets really spicy though: 50% from the floor and 49.3%(!!) from 3. Unsurprisingly, his net rating was a beefy 10.7 during this time period, better than Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Grant Williams.

Since the start of December, things have not been so en fuego for Mr. Brogdon. His rebound and assists have stayed fairly consistent, but the scoring dropped to 12.4 (was 11.7 before the Spurs outburst), and the important stuff, like how good the Celtics are when Brogdon is on the court, has plummeted. Since December 1, Brogdon’s net rating is -4.1, by far the worst of any of the regular rotation guys outside of Sam Hauser.

Brogdon was billed as a borderline All-Star level player when the Celtics acquired him. He looked like he was on his way to that level in the first month and a half of the season, but once his muy en fuego shooting fell back to earth, he’s provided very little positive value. Hot shooting can cover up a lot of flaws. Just ask Duncan Robinson. And it’s possible Brogdon’s was doing just that. So, like Malcolm Wilkerson’s best friend Stevie, I’m here to try and give Brogdon a little help along the path to finding out where he fits in.

Here are two things that should help get Brogdon back on track and playing his best ball (also, if he started to shoot 50% from 3 again that wouldn’t hurt). First, is limiting the minutes Brogdon shares the floor with Jaylen Brown and no Jayson Tatum. Second is making quicker, better decisions on the offensive end.

Limiting Brogdon’s minutes with Brown and no Tatum

First off, I know this isn’t something Brogdon can control. Malcolm (in the Middle) was regularly helped or hindered by his fellow Krelboynes, his parents, and, of course, his brothers. So, I’m calling on Joe Mazzulla to do his best Lois impression and put Malcolm (Brogdon) in a position to put his best foot forward.

Theoretically, you’d think that lineups featuring both Brogdon and Brown should be pretty solid on both ends, even in Tatum’s absence. Both possess good size defensively, and Brogdon should be able to take lead ballhandling duties while Brown looks to score. In other words, Brogdon could do sort of a poor man’s version of Jayson Tatum while JT gets a breather. Unfortunately, that’s simply not been the case, here are the numbers:

Pretty damning, a -2.04 net rating in a significant number of minutes. Meanwhile, lineups with Brown and White, even without Tatum, are an absurd +13.26 net rating (for what it's worth, Smart-Brown without Tatum is almost dead even). The Brown/Brogdon pairing has been averaging about 12 minutes per game together since December 1st (4 of those minutes per game with Tatum), and it’s actually gotten worse. Those two have a -6.7 net rating when they share the court since then.

I think the likely reason for this underperformance is that the current version of Brogdon, a score first, high usage ballhandler that’s flakey off ball defensively, is just too similar to Brown. Their specific playstyles compound each other’s weaknesses instead of masking them. Here are a few examples.

Offensively, Brogdon and Brown seem to revert to the worst of the Tatum/Brown era. Remember the start of last season when the Jays seemingly took turns isolating against set defenses as the Celtics’ primary way to attack? Well, it’s back, with Brogdon playing the part of Jayson Tatum. Case in point:

Scramble situation after the Cs get an offensive rebound. Brogdon just sort of stands there waiting for Al to kick back to him (Al is clearly looking for a more dangerous pass given the high likelihood of a good shot after an offensive rebound). Jaylen is late recognizing the space in the center that he could cut into. The result is Brown and Brogdon playing patty cake and wasting precious clock while they decide whether to get Brogdon the iso against Zach Collins. The problem is that by the time he’s got his dribble and sizing Collins up, there’s a few seconds on the shot clock. He makes the step back, but it’s ugly isolation basketball.

Let’s take a look at another one. It represents my least favorite type of offense, a possession in which the only pass is made by the inbounder.

Brogdon crosses the timeline and goes straight at Aaron Wiggins. The positive is that he mostly gets by Wiggins and gets to the rim. The negative is that he went so quick, Luke has no idea what he’s doing (you can see him start to head up to set a screen and then just kind of roll to the rim) and brings his defender into the paint. Brogdon is denied, OKC ball.

I’ll add that that’s not a particularly effective use of Jaylen Brown, and these types of plays are too common for Brogdon. Brown is a wonderful player, but he needs others to set him up. It’s why he performs so well with White, Smart, and Tatum, three guys that will find Jaylen in his spots and keep him involved in the offense, because we know Jaylen can struggle when he has to bear the burden of being the primary playmaker. Both Brown and Brogdon share this limitation -- they can get themselves decent shots, but it often comes at the expense of others. That’s not a recipe for success when they are the two primary creators on the floor.

These concerns are even more legitimate on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s take this pick and roll the Pacers ran with Brogdon and Rob in the action.

It looks like Rob is in drop, which means his job is to cut off the ballhandler’s drive and allow the guard (Brogdon here) time to get back to his man. Rob does his job masterfully, as usual. The problem is Brogdon clearly has no clue what he’s supposed to do and ends up just standing at the free throw line and leaving Tyrese Haliburton wide open for a three. Spoiler alert: he makes it. You might be wondering what this has to do with Jaylen Brown, I’ll get there.

One more defensive play to look at.

This play actually comes off the heels of a similar possession to that Brogdon drive above. Jaylen takes a no pass mid-range jumper that he misses. It’s not a bad shot, but he’s also doing nothing to get his teammates, especially Brogdon, into the game. Your turn, my turn. On the other end, both Jaylen and Brogdon miss their defensive help assignments. Haliburton gets Rob on him and wants to isolate. Buddy Hield tosses it back to Haliburton can attack from the triple threat. Jaylen is guarding Hield on the left wing, but he’s way too connected to Hield. Rob bites on the pump fake and drives down that left lane, which is wide open because instead of being at the nail like Grant Williams is on the other side, Jaylen’s basically holding Buddy’s shorts.

Adding to the issues is Brogdon’s “help” defense from the weakside corner. I put that in quotes because he doesn’t help, he doesn’t even move. Usually in a scramble situation when someone is beat off the bounce, the help comes hard from the weakside, and then Grant Williams would rotate down to the corner shooter. Now it’s possible Brogdon was instructed not to, or he thinks Rob can recover and block Haliburton (very possible), but my guess is that, like Jaylen, he just didn’t read the play very well and it led to a straight-line drive layup.

Brogdon and Jaylen possess similar defensive profiles. They both are solid on ball (edge to Jaylen here though) and vacillate between flakey and lost off-ball. The Celtics have proved that you can build an elite defense with one defender fitting this profile and are now proving you probably can’t with two. It would behoove Mazzulla to minimize the amount of time Brogdon and Brown play without Tatum, and instead have Brown play with White and Tatum with Brogdon (who are great together!). Seems like a fairly simple and manageable lineup adjustment that could bear serious positives.

Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Make quicker (and better) decisions

On first blush, Brogdon’s traditional stats look good for his present sixth man role and offensive hub off the bench. His offensive efficiency stats look great, over 61 TS% and 56.7 EFG%, which are borderline elite. Even his so-called playmaking stats are ok. With an assist percentage of 25.4%, he’s around guys in similar roles like Bones Hyland, Cole Anthony, and Malik Monk. His assist to turnover ratio is similarly solid but unspectacular at 2.36, placing him around the Will Bartons, Seth Currys, and D’Angelo Russells of the scoring guard world. So why then, have the Celtics been horrible with him on the court for over a month now? Just to reiterate, his net rating since December 1st is -4.1.

Simply put, the Celtics fast paced offense comes to a halt when Brogdon is out there. He’s second on the team in seconds per touch (behind Pritchard weirdly) at 4.37 seconds per. After him is Smart at 4.03. For all the griping about Tatum holding the ball too long earlier in his career, he’s down to 3.6 seconds per touch. Brogdon easily leads the team in dribbles per touch at 4.3 and takes a full dribble more per touch than fellow “guy who brings the ball up” Marcus Smart (Tatum is at 2.61 and Brown 2.66 for reference).

Here’s two pick and rolls he ran against Oklahoma City.

Zero passes. Lots of dribbles. Two bad below average shots. No points. There are available options too. Maybe a pass wouldn’t lead directly to a bucket, but just moving the ball, getting your teammates involved, and keeping the offensive pace are good things. Brogdon, right now, just hasn’t been making the right play quickly often enough.

On the missed jumper play, the Celtics were setting up a double pick with Tatum screening the second defender, but Brogdon doesn’t give the play anytime to develop. He fires up the first ok shot that presents itself. Maybe that would have been the best shot available, but there was ample time on the clock to let that one play out. Tatum is in good position, at the high post where he’s been deadly recently. I’d take my chances with him making a play from there than a fall away mid-range jumper over a defender.

On the missed layup, before he commits to the drive, Grant is open on the wing for an easy pass. He also goes too quick and doesn’t allow Kornet to set an actual screen to help create space. The result is Brogdon driving into a congested paint where he misses a layup. Again, maybe Grant shoots it for a brick, or misses a layup, but at least the ball is moving, and the role players are staying involved. The Celtics are getting pummeled in his minutes, it’s time he adjusts his offensive approach.

Brogdon has also regularly committed the cardinal sin of failing to find Rob Williams when he’s open for a lob. In the words of Lois, “Hey, hey, what’s wrong with you!?” (I’m mostly joking about this one because he ends up making a good pass to Grant who drives and gets fouled, but the lob was there!)

I’m not trying to eviscerate Brogdon here or anything. He’s obviously incredibly talented and playing a role he’s not been asked to play since his first few years in the league. Ultimately, I just don’t think he looks comfortable yet. I mean, look at this goofy stuff.

That’s not a talent issue, that’s just a guy that isn’t completely familiar with the team and role he’s playing. It’s not like he’s incapable of making a good, quick decision.

That’s ok though, comfort comes with playing and reps. Familiarity and chemistry are eminently learnable, especially when you are doing that learning in the right eco system that’s constructed for your success. Unchaining Brogdon from Brown should be the best for both their games and will take some of the creation burden from Brogdon so he can make more of those good off-ball decisions like in the clip above. I’m confident Brogdon will figure it out in time for the playoffs. Being put in the right position to succeed is why Malcolm (in the Middle) was put into the Krelboyne classroom, so he could reach his potential, even if it came with its own set of growing pains. That Malcolm eventually got into Harvard, but hey, UVA is a pretty solid school, too.

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