It’s an overused pop culture reference to a silly TV show, but Malcolm Brogdon is now truly in the Middle; in the middle of a difficult trade that sent fan favorite Marcus Smart to Memphis; in the middle of a 4-8 recovery after a elbow tendon tear derailed his Sixth Man of the Year season and playoffs; in the middle of an offseason of uncertainty as the Celtics front office looks to make more changes to their roster with a new punitive collective bargaining agreement in place.
Let’s take a second and recognize just how good Brogdon was in the regular season and how steady of a contributor he was in the playoffs. He averaged nearly 15 points per game on 45% shooting from behind the arc and in the playoffs, he was instrumental against the 76ers, averaging 16 points and hitting a whopping 52% of his threes in that seven-game thriller.
His per-36 minutes numbers in 2022-2023 rival some of his best seasons in Indiana and Milwaukee, but — and here may be the rub, at least part of it — he didn’t have to play 36 minutes a night for the Celtics. Brogdon sat out a handful of back-to-backs and the medical staff was careful with any nicks and dings he picked up along the way. Subsequently, he wrapped up his first season in Boston playing in 67 games, the most since his rookie season in Milwaukee.
Despite that rock solid production, all many can remember is Brodgon flaming out against the Heat after tearing a tendon on his shooting arm. If we weren’t prisoners of that moment, we’d love to have that production back on the bench in Boston next season. After a Finals run that was starving for second unit points, it was important to add a veteran to it.
A Celtics Talk Podcast Exclusive— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) June 23, 2023
Brad Stevens sits down with @ChrisForsberg_ to discuss trading Marcus Smart, adding Kristaps Porzingis & moving forward with Malcolm Brogdon
Of course, there are doubts.
There’s a concern that that’s the best version we’ll ever see again from the soon-to-be 31-year-old because, well, he’s injury prone. That’s fair considering his past, but Brad Stevens seemed to refute some of the reporting around Brogdon’s rumored trade to the Clippers and more importantly, the severity of his injury, saying, “Malcolm is really important. That was tough and he certainly doesn’t deserve that and I feel for him. We’ve talked obviously since then. There are a lot of narratives out there because of that that certainly are inaccurate.
The bottom line is, he’s going through a period of 4-to-8 weeks where he’s resting and rehabbing, as suggested by our docs, as suggested by a third-party doctor that he went to see. He feels good and he’s expected back at the start of the season and have the great year that he’s had every year he’s been in the league.”
If Stevens was going to break up the logjam between Brogdon, Smart, and Derrick White, there was always going to be more pressure on the remaining two, but this isn’t about replacing Smart or even Brogdon replacing Smart. Specific to Brogdon, what makes the addition of Porzingis so enticing is his work as a pick-and-roll partner. The Celtics actually ranked sixth in pick-and-roll, ball handler success rate last season, but 20th in frequency. That number should rise in 2023-2024 with Brogdon a likely recipient of those touches. In his final season in Indiana, Brogdon ranked in the 87.2 %tile as a pick-and-roll ball handler and averaged 1.02 points per possession; that was a higher efficiency than Trae Young, Luke Doncic, Damian Lillard, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That could be a source of reliable scoring that doesn’t directly include the Jays.
Porzingis recalculates the entire geometry of the parquet. That may take some time to figure out, but he’ll eventually have a chance to justify Stevens’ decision to trade Smart for him. Brogdon’s redemption path is a little rockier. If it weren’t for some cold feet in Los Angeles, Brogdon would be a Clipper and Smart would still be in green entering his tenth season and helping Porzingis with his transition.
However, the sense I got from Brogdon last season was that he wanted to do more. He embraced his sixth man role and became the best sixth man in the league, but he was always measured with how he described his fit. He’ll still likely come off the bench, but don’t be surprised if the former Rookie of the Year isn’t more front and center next season. Maybe that isn't an increase in production. Maybe he'll take more ownership of the destiny of this team. He was so deferential as the new guy. Maybe he'll be motivated by almost being traded. Maybe he'll be motivated wit hmore responsibility and variety in his opportunities. Maybe, just maybe, more time in Boston endears him to the fans as not just a hired gun, but a beloved member of a championship roster.