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The Derrick White success train vs. the mixed bag of Malcolm Brogdon

White’s prowess shined through all year, while Brogdon’s season ended in uncertainty.

Brooklyn Nets (96) Vs. Boston Celtics (139) At TD Garden Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Boston Celtics had a single starting-caliber point guard on the roster, Marcus Smart, and it was set to be his first full-time season. Dennis Schroder and Payton Pritchard rounded out the position on the bench, but it was clear Boston needed more help. Over the next year, they added two more high-level point guards to the mix, creating a three-headed monster of Smart, Derrick White, and Malcolm Brogdon.

In the Celtics’ full season with White and Brogdon in tow, they fell short of their ultimate goal, losing to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. But how did White and Brogdon perform?

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Derrick White

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, White was tremendous for the Celtics in every sense of the word. Newly-minted head coach Joe Mazzulla decided to roll with him as a starter over Robert Williams, and while the prioritized offensive identity rubbed some people the wrong way, the results spoke for themselves.

White was far better as a starter than coming off the bench. He appeared in all 82 games for the Celtics, notched a career-high three-point percentage at 38.1% (outside of his low-volume rookie season), and was named to the All-Defensive Second Team, leading all NBA guards in blocks.

His regular season showed why Brad Stevens invested so many assets into trading for him, but the playoffs elevated his Bostonian status to the next level.

There was a case to be made that White was Boston’s third-best player in the regular season, and in the first round of the playoffs, he confirmed that thought. From the jump, White was phenomenal. He earned MVP chants at TD Garden against the Atlanta Hawks. He had a few down games mixed in, but he was one of Boston’s most consistent players in the postseason.

And while it will likely be erased from history due to Boston’s Game 7 loss to the Heat, White’s game-winner in Game 6 took the world by storm for 48 hours.

White established himself as the best guard on the roster this past season, and while Smart’s place in the starting lineup likely won’t change, there’s a real case for White to be a full-time starter. Smart is a better playmaker and overall defender and Brogdon is a better shooter, but White proved to be the most complete guard. Running double-big lineups may be the best way to maximize Boston’s potential as a defensive unit, but taking White out of the starting group should not be the way to do that.

As the Celtics explore potential trade options this summer, the guard rotation will be looked at through a magnifying glass. Having White, Smart, and Brogdon together on the roster could be redundant, especially considering the team’s lack of wing depth. And with the season White just put forth, he should be the last to be considered in trade talks.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Four Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Malcolm Brogdon

Last summer, Boston’s trade for Malcolm Brogdon seemed like the perfect move. They had just lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals and desperately needed another guy who could set up the offense and create for himself.

Brogdon brought that to the table.

For the first time in his career, Brogdon was asked to come off the bench, which worked to perfection. The lessened load allowed Brogdon to stay healthy, which led to him playing in the second-most games of his career (67) and the most since his rookie season.

He churned out efficient performance after efficient performance, ending the season as the league’s fourth-best three-point shooter (44.4%). By year’s end, he was named the Sixth Man of the Year.

Everything seemed to work perfectly until it didn’t.

Boston brought Brogdon on board in part for his shot creation, but arguably the biggest reason was because of his playmaking. Smart was the only true playmaker they had on the roster the season prior, and Brogdon was coming off two-straight seasons of averaging nearly six assists per game.

And while he put up 3.7 assists per game in his bench role, that number dipped to 2.9 in the playoffs, as Brogdon turned into another score-first option on a team full of them. Rather than being the playmaking point guard Boston desperately needed alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Brogdon consistently called his own number, acting as the Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving-type score-first guy that failed to help the Celtics get over the hump.

His lack of awareness for the lob pass was brutal, consistently missing Robert Williams and others rolling to the rim. He was also a terrible finisher at the rim, something that carried over from his otherwise rock-solid regular season run. Brogdon shot 50.0% within five feet of the basket in the playoffs; only five players shot worse than him from that distance, and four were eliminated in the first round. (And the other was James Harden.)

That’s not to say Brogdon didn’t have value. His three-point shooting was crucial against the Philadelphia 76ers. But Mazzulla often wrongly used the logic of “good three-point shooting equals more minutes.” Brogdon’s shooting was important, but as the only guard on the floor or the primary ball-handler, he left much to be desired in the playmaking department.

Brogdon tore a tendon in his arm and had been playing through it against the Heat. Unfortunately, his shooting stroke was gone. He eventually earned fewer and fewer minutes until he was completely unplayable, which was far from his own fault.

His struggles all culminated at the worst time. He played just 7:05 in Game 7 against the Heat but was a -15 — the third-worst plus/minus on the team.

Reflecting on the Brogdon trade nearly a year later, it’s hard to say it was a loss. They gave up zero every-night players, and while having their first-round pick in this year’s draft would have been nice, Brogdon holds more value than that.

At the same time, Brogdon didn’t provide the Celtics with what they should have wanted. His three-point success and shot creation was helpful. Throughout the regular season and postseason, he was a consistent source of offense. But it was a one-man offense. Too often did Brogdon call his own number instead of throwing an easy lob to Williams or kicking the ball to Tatum or Brown. Rather than acting as the pass-first point guard many were expecting and hoping he’d be, Brogdon turned into a better-shooting, upgraded version of Schroder, a player who clearly did not fit the Celtics needs. Obviously, Brogdon fit the Celtics much better than Schroder did, but at the end of the day, his score-first mentality won’t help elevate the Celtics into the championship team they can be at their peak.

Now, heading into a summer of potential changes, Brogdon seems like the obvious choice of the three guards to be traded. Smart’s defense and playmaking are more valuable at the guard spot than Brogdon’s shooting, especially since the Celtics could trade him for shooting at a more convenient position. Meanwhile, White’s all-around game has him in place to be Boston’s best guard next year.

Brogdon’s first season with the Celtics wasn’t a failure, but it wasn’t what the team necessarily needed. Trading him for an upgrade on the wing or an extra backup big could be the team’s next move, and with how much Brogdon makes combined with Boston’s need to re-sign Grant Williams, it makes all the more sense.

The Celtics are in a much better spot at the point guard position now than they were two seasons ago. Going from Walker, Smart, and Brad Wanamaker to Smart, White, and Brogdon is a massive improvement. But it’s gotten to the point where their guard play could be too overwhelming.

In Game 1 against the Heat, Mazzulla rolled out an eight-man rotation with White, Brogdon, and Payton Pritchard off the bench. Three guards.

Trading one of the three guards for added wing depth should be an avenue the Celtics seriously consider this summer, and Brogdon could be the clear choice to be thrown in said deal.

Both White and Brogdon had solid seasons. White was Boston’s third-best player by the end of the season. But the flaws of the Sixth Man of the Year, injury or not, overshadowed his successes.

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