Having struggled as an NBA defender relative to his college reputation, will the Milwaukee Bucks’ coaching change help Malcolm Brogdon?
When the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Malcolm Brogdon with the 36th overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, one of the most notable and oft-discussed positives of his game was his reputation as a stellar defender.
Brogdon had the hardware and credentials to back up his defensive reputation at that point too, with consecutive ACC Defensive Player of the Year awards to his name, and the honor of being named the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Defensive Player of the Year.
In his time since with the Bucks, Brogdon’s defensive smarts have been evident, although as time has gone on the evidence of him channeling that into positive defensive contributions has arguably decreased.
Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year campaign included many instances of stellar defense, but it really gathered momentum behind strong offensive play and standout performances in clutch situations down the stretch of the Bucks’ regular season playoff push.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in a season that was ultimately interrupted by a torn quadriceps tendon, Brogdon’s defensive play tailed off notably during 2017-18.
In the larger scheme of things, that could just be a blip on the radar for an intelligent, savvy defender who has the size and attributes to make him comfortable with guarding multiple positions, or it could also be an indication of a more pressing concern in that department which may show no signs of abating in the future.
The focus of any discussion of Brogdon’s defense should really focus on position, and what his role means for him as a player.
To revert to the kind of conversation that is an ever-present prior to the draft but discussed much less frequently upon a player landing in the NBA, Brogdon is a tweener. He’s more than comfortable playing at both point guard and shooting guard, but he isn’t exactly a natural at either spot.
Brogdon’s high IQ play style and feel for the game provide good reason for trusting him with the ball in his hands in more extended bursts as a point guard, while his timing with cuts and his three-point shooting also give him a strong case for playing off-the-ball as a shooting guard.
Standing 6’5″ tall and boasting a 6’11” wingspan, Brogdon’s size can be channeled most effectively at point guard where he has constant mismatches, but those mismatches work both ways.
Against quicker, craftier point guards, Brogdon’s lateral quickness is frequently exposed, while when picking up such opponents out toward halfcourt, the 25-year-old has a tendency to get a little flat-footed from time-to-time, resulting in a blow-by that leaves his teammates scrambling.
Such instances would be problematic for any team, but for a defensive scheme held together with twine and frequently bordering on chaos, as has been the case for Milwaukee in all of Brogdon’s time with the team, it could often act as the initial breakdown that would lead to even more costly bad decisions or miscommunications.
Playing as more of a wing defender should certainly negate some of those concerns, yet even that didn’t play out quite as well as the Bucks would have hoped last season.
Eric Bledsoe‘s own standing as one of the league’s better defensive point guards should make him a perfect defensive fit alongside Brogdon. In 608 minutes together last season, that two-man lineup produced a defensive rating of 106.5, which was 1.1 better than Brogdon’s overall individual mark for the season, and 0.6 better than the Bucks’ overall mark too.
Still, those returns remained underwhelming, though, and being better doesn’t necessarily equate to being good.
On that front, the Bucks’ new coaching staff led by Mike Budenholzer, should be able to help Brogdon and in turn boost Milwaukee’s defense on the whole.
Among the myriad other ways that Jason Kidd‘s overly-aggressive, trapping scheme set the Bucks up for failure, it asked a player like Brogdon to scramble around and make up ground that he wasn’t necessarily equipped to cover.
Depending on position, a man-to-man system might fail to help Brogdon recapture his defensive best, although a variation on that, such as the Pack-Line scheme he thrived in at Virginia, could certainly work. Perhaps the most obvious solution for getting the most out of Brogdon on the defensive end, and the majority of his teammates too, would be for the Bucks to switch everything.
A stout and smart defender, Brogdon has the tools to match up well against bigger opponents, and a more switch-heavy scheme should in theory leave the Bucks with less moments of panic as the players willingly embrace picking up opponents, regardless of their position.
It might be the best way for Milwaukee to utilize the natural advantages their length and athleticism provide, and for the most part it should play in to improved defensive contributions on an individual level too.
With more time to recover from injury over the course of the offseason, and a new, more coherent defensive system expected to be installed, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about what Brogdon can offer the Bucks on the defensive end in 2018-19.
Put simply, if the Bucks want to live up to some of their loftier ambitions, they’ll need Brogdon to be much better than he was last season too.