Malcolm Brogdon got paid this offseason. His 4-year, $85 million contract is a steep increase from his rookie deal of $3.8 million over 3 years. With a bump in salary comes a new team, an increased role, and yes, higher expectations.
While analytics and other advanced statistics play a major role in the NBA today, the truest platform of evaluation for a player’s progression comes from their points, assists, and rebounding stats, along with their shooting clips. Last season Brogdon averaged 15.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game. Those are quality numbers for a starting shooting guard, and they represent an increase in averages from his second and first years in the NBA. His rookie year, Malcolm went for 10.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.8 rebounds on a nightly basis as a backup and eventual starting point guard. He bumped his stats to 13.0 points per game in his second year to go with 3.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds as he split the season as a point guard and, later on, a shooting guard in a backcourt with then newly acquired Eric Bledsoe. These steady increases depict how he’s grown during his time in the league, and display how he has worked diligently to improve his game as he’s gone. Brogdon’s shooting from last year was notably historic as he became a member of the 50-40-90 club (Fg%, 3pt%, Ft%) and hit career highs in shooting in each of those three categories.
Needless to say, many will be expecting similar statistical increases to come along this season, and of course Brogdon has made massive improvements and has reliably produced on a nightly basis throughout his career, but it’s important to identify the context of the situation. Especially for this season, he’ll be stepping up into a bigger role in the offense, as the starting point guard of the Pacers, and he’ll no longer have the presence of a superstar, at least until Victor Oladipo returns from injury sometime in December or January, to take some of the pressure off. With that in mind, those gaudy shooting percentages are likely to decrease since the volume and difficulty of his shots increases as he takes on a larger role. This isn’t to be viewed as negative progression; on the contrary, if and when those percentages go down in relationship to the rise of his number and difficulty of shots, we’ll know that he has taken the next step in his progression as he starts to become the initiator of an offense.
When it comes to scoring, his nightly averages will be interesting to follow as he gains a bigger role, but does lose the comfort of feeding of a superstar like Giannis Antetokounmpo. On top of that, this Pacers team is no slouch offensively and even without Oladipo they boast a plethora of scorers. TJ Warren (18 PPG), Jeremy Lamb (15.3 PPG), Domantas Sabonis (14.1 PPG), and Myles Turner (13.3 PPG) will all be starting along side Brogdon, and all averaged significant scoring numbers, albeit Lamb and Warren on lesser teams, last season. That all being said, perhaps where we’ll see the most significant shift in statistical averages and general style of play is as Malcolm takes on the role of the primary initiator of an offense. As he puts it “This is really for me a mindset change. I’m versatile. I have the skill set, for me, sort of shifting from a scoring-dominant mentality to a passing mentality to finding my teammates but also attacking and being aggressive”. His career average of 3.6 assists may appear to suggest he lacks that ability, but that number is largely due to the role he played in Milwaukee, originally as a backup combo guard, followed by playing as their starting point guard for roughly half a season (when his assist numbers where higher) and then as a shooting guard, primarily off ball, when Eric Bledsoe arrived. Brogdon’s general ability to be the lead guard has shown through whenever he’s been given the opportunity. In his first preseason game with the Pacers he dished out 14 assists, to go with only 2 turnovers. With those guys, Warren, Lamb, Sabonis, and Turner surrounding him, Brogdon will have no difficulty finding scorers to distribute the ball to. The high level of talent on the Pacers will require someone to orchestrate the system and Malcolm should be the man for the job. Regarding points, he’ll likely score at around the same rate he did last year. His new role as a distributor should diminish some of his scoring opportunities as defenses key in on Brogdon more than previously so, but he’ll also have more opportunities to put the ball in the hoop. Those factors should logically cancel one another out, and Malcolm should average roughly the same number of points per game while taking more important shots. His rebounding numbers may decrease, but that’s to be expected in such a big lineup, and considering he’ll be guarding more point guards this year rather than some of the shooting guards he guarded last season.
Defensively, we all know Malcolm, and UVA players in general, to be less oriented to the gaudy defensive stats guys like Myles Turner and Kawhi Leonard put up, and more about solid positioning and smart play. This season, Brogdon will be relied upon to guard players from Steph Curry to even Lebron James, given his defensive and athletic versatility. With Turner and Sabonis guarding the 4 and 5 and TJ Warren’s defense appearing to be a liability, Malcolm will likely face the #1 guard or wing on the opposing team while leaving Warren to play off ball. Lamb is quick enough to guard point guards if need be. When Oladipo returns, the Pacers love to leave him off ball to act as a disruptor, once again implying that Brogdon will be tasked with guarding top-notch wings along with point guards. Needless to say, he’ll face significant challenges on both sides of the ball this year, and while nobody expects Brogdon to shut down Lebron James, if he can stick with those guys, force difficult shots, and stay out of foul trouble the Pacer’s apparent weakness on the defensive end will be significantly mitigated.
Now I would be remised to describe all of these expectations for Brogdon’s fourth season without mentioning the most important one. Injuries. Over his first three years in the league Brogdon has unfortunately sustained a few injuries that have kept him out for a bit of time. Through three years, Malcolm has played 76% of his team’s regular season games (187/246). He certainly shouldn’t be labeled as injury prone, but the time he’s missed will start to raise questions if he sustains another significant injury.
All in all though, this should be a great season for Malcolm Brogdon. He won’t have to worry about looming free agency, and will be set to embrace a new role on a young, high potential team. Look for him to expand his game to become more of a distributor, while also putting up more shots. Revel in the defensive challenges he’ll be facing, as he does. Most of all though, enjoy a phenomenal season of watching UVA talent compete at the next level, it should be a fun one.