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In defense of Malcolm Brogdon

The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is key to Boston’s success next season.

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics
Malcolm Brogdon shoots with five Miami Heat players watching
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

After the Celtics lost in the Finals to the Golden State Warriors in 2022, it was clear they were missing something. Their scoring and playmaking off the bench was limited, and the offense often grew stagnant late in games. Malcolm Brogdon was the front office’s offseason answer to those problems, and it should have been a home-run trade.

Brogdon was coming off a season in which he averaged 19.1 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.1 rebounds for the Pacers. Without giving up any key rotation pieces, Boston added a veteran guard with a track record of scoring and moving the ball at a high level. It was an exciting move for a team that was so close to winning a title.

And during the regular season, he lived up to the hype. His per-game stats took a hit as he moved to the bench, but he scored with impressive efficiency, especially from the three-point line (44%!). Also – despite a history of injury – he totaled more games played this past season than he had in any other since his rookie (and Rookie of the Year) year.

Nonetheless, Malcolm Brogdon has had a tough offseason. After receiving Six Man of the Year honors in April, Brogdon suffered an elbow injury that hampered his playoff performance. Brogdon was then included in an almost-completed trade for Kristaps Porzingis. That deal fell through and Boston had to instead pivot and package Marcus Smart to Memphis, the beating heart of the Celtics organization. The Athletic put Brogdon in the same tier as Dillon Brooks and now, he’s the most logical trade piece to whatever trade could be put together to coax Damian Lillard to Boston.

So, what’s next?

Brogdon remains on the roster as a constant reminder of what could have been. He could have stayed healthy. He could have been the answer to Boston’s playoff woes and taken the Celtics back to the Finals. And, finally, he could have been the sacrificial lamb in a trade that kept Smart in green and added a 20 points per game scorer at a position of need.

Instead, Brogdon and his injury troubles remain on the Celtics, and Smart is a Grizzly.

Now’s not the time to give up on Brogdon, though. In fact, there is reason to believe that opportunity, role, and personnel changes could make this season even better than the last for the 6MOY.

Besides, we need him now more than ever.

Without Smart on the team, Boston’s guard depth – once ample – is now fairly slim, though one could argue it’s perfect so long as no one gets injured. Derrick White will start at point guard, Jaylen Brown is the stalwart at the two, Brogdon will be a power sixth man, and Payton Pritchard will be there in case of emergency.

Brogdon might even see a light minutes increase as a result. Those minutes are likely to come at the end of games, when last year it was impossible to play three guards – Smart, White and Brogdon – who all deserved to close. Most of Smart’s minutes will be absorbed by White stepping in as a full-time starter, and by Porzingis playing star-level minutes. But when Boston goes small next year, they will have to turn to Brogdon. And, either way, Brogdon will be playing more, and in more consequential parts of the game.

That’s a good thing. Remember: the job Brogdon came to do was steady the offense when it grew stagnant. He can realize that potential if he plays when Boston needs him the most – down the stretch.

Taking Smart out of the equation also means that Brogdon gets to play most of his time at the point guard position. Last season he spent most of his minutes sharing the court with either Smart or White. That’s big for Brogdon, who is significantly better when he plays the one versus the two, per Cleaning the Glass. Lineups with Brogdon running point outscored opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions, while those with him at shooting guard were essentially a wash, with a differential of -0.1 points.

A review of all the rotation players Brogdon played with last season shows that one of his worst statistical pairings was with Marcus Smart. The two-man lineup played almost 600 minutes together and held a net rating of 3.1, according to NBA Stats. No Smart means more time with the ball in Brogdon’s hands, and more minutes with Tatum and Brown.

His best statistical partner? Robert Williams. And with a net rating of 11.1, it wasn’t particularly close. If both of these guys stay healthy, they will continue to be a very nice pick-and-roll tandem. Not to mention: Kristaps Porzingis will also be available to roll with Brogdon. His size and presence as a pop threat will make that combo lethal.

It has never been more important for Boston to have a solid backup point guard. He is all that and more. If you want to be upset for Smart’s departure, blame the front office. But both Brogdon and the team should be better next season after the moves Brad Stevens made this summer.

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