The 2016 NBA Draft class has not panned out the way many hoped and expected so far. Lottery picks Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, and Kris Dunn have played decent roles on their teams, but have not had the impact many fans, teams and experts anticipated.
With the tenth pick of the draft the Bucks selected the Sudanese-born, Australian-raised teenager that many scouts saw as a boom or bust pick, Thon Maker. While Maker’s upside remains something for Bucks fans to be excited about, the most pleasant surprise of this year’s draft belongs to the Bucks for their second round pick, Malcolm Brogdon.
Brogdon was a standout at Virginia for four seasons, earning ACC awards for Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, as well as being recognized nationally by being named a First Team All-American during his senior season. Following a tournament loss to Syracuse, Brogdon finished school and graduated with a degree in history, as well as a master’s degree in public policy. He entered the NBA draft and was selected 36th overall by the Bucks, who loved his size, leadership, and defensive ability.
From the beginning of the regular season it was clear to see that Brogdon was far more mature than the typical rookie. At 23 years old, and with four years of ACC basketball under his belt, Brogdon was not letting the big stage of the NBA frighten him into “rookie mistakes.”
Jason Kidd opted to give the rookie playing time right away, as Brogdon saw anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes of game time each night in his first month in the league. The team quickly took note of how well he played in his role off the bench as he locked down on defense, helped ball handle and run the offense, and spaced the floor with his shooting capabilities.
By December, Brogdon had cemented himself as a vital piece of the Milwaukee Bucks puzzle. The team was fighting in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, and by this point in the season it was becoming pretty clear that the rookie class for the year was not playing at as high of a level as many had expected.
Joel Embiid, the third pick of the 2014 draft, had finally made his NBA debut after missing the entirety of his first two seasons in the league, and was playing incredible basketball… but pretty much everyone else was underwhelming. Leaderboards put together by writers on NBA.com ranked Malcolm Brogdon in third place for the Rookie of the Year award as of December 7th, with only Embiid and his teammate Dario Saric ahead of him.
Brogdon continued his consistent play coming off the bench throughout the winter months, but just before the All-Star Break, tragedy struck. On February 8, during Khris Middleton’s first game of the season, Jabari Parker tore his ACL, dampening the mood on what would have been an exciting night for the Bucks and their fans. The team lost the game, but more importantly lost their second leading scorer and young star for the rest of the season.
The injury forced Jason Kidd to change up his rotation, as a major gap needed to be filled. Middleton was still nursing his hamstring injury that had kept him out for the entire season up to that point, so Kidd called on Brogdon to pick up the slack for the time being.
Brogdon saw an almost immediate rise in minutes per game and has taken his larger role in stride. Khris Middleton has come back strong from his injury and opened up the court with his sharpshooting ability for the Bucks who had struggled mightily from beyond the arc in his absence. Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued his borderline ridiculous production, leading the team in all five major statistical categories with 23.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.9 BPG and 1.7 SPG, and the Bucks have climbed the playoff ladder and currently sit in the sixth seed spot, tied with Atlanta for the fifth seed at 39-36.
Brogdon has started the last nine games for Milwaukee helping propel the team to a 7-2 record over that span. On Wednesday in a pivotal road game against a potential playoff opponent, Boston, the Bucks and Celtics were tied at 93 with a few minutes to go in the game.
After a 20 second timeout by coach Jason Kidd, Brogdon gave the Bucks the lead with a short jump shot to go ahead by two. He would continue to dominate the offensive end for the remainder of the game, scoring or assisting on the Bucks’ last ten points in the game. Brogdon drained a tough fadeaway jumper over elite defender Avery Bradley with four seconds left that would turn out to be the dagger, as the Bucks got the stop on the other end and won the game 103-100.
Brogdon has been phenomenal all year, and leads all rookies in assists, steals and win shares this season. Among rookies he is also second in three-point field goal percentage, and third in minutes, points per game, and player efficiency rating. To put the icing on the cake, Brogdon is the only rookie with a triple double this season (12/31 vs Chicago: 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds) and plays for a far better team than other top Rookie of the Year award candidates.
While winning Rookie of the Year would be a remarkable accomplishment for Malcolm Brogdon, he and the rest of the team will continue to focus on the bigger picture: solidifying their spot in the playoffs.
The Bucks (39-36) will play the Pistons (34-41) Friday night in another crucial game for playoff implications. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.