How does Malcolm Brogdon fit into the Boston Celtics?

Brogdon doesn’t openly pass players, but he has the necessary view of the pitch to read assist defenses and sense where his shooters are. Brogdon has racked up upper-tier assist ratings every season as a pacer without sacrificing too many turnovers, and would continue to do so in a smaller role.

I’ve read and listened to some end-of-season Brogdon reviews by Caitlin Cooper and Mark Schindler. One notable criticism they alluded to was its tendency to lean into the drive, especially when mismatched.

Cooper noted one game against the Detroit Pistons where Brogdon attacked a changing Isaiah Stewart with no threat of a pass or pull-up. It’s notable, because one of the biggest criticisms of the Celtics throughout the season has been their late-game tendency to isolate and interfere with ball movement. This overlap makes me think.

Schindler explained on an April episode of the Indy Cornrows podcast that Brogdon showed a worrying reluctance to shoot in search of drives. He shot just 31.2% from beyond the arc last season, the worst percentage of his career and a far cry from his 38.8% clip in 2020-21. It further strained the synergy between Brogdon and Tyrese Haliburton, who, as Caitlin and Mark both pointed out, weren’t particularly well matched in a tiny sample of eight games.

Fitting Brogdon into Boston’s guard rotations should be smoother.

First, it’s reasonable to expect an improvement in shooting. Brogdon was in a scrambled Pacers lineup last season, playing just 36 games again. He made just 33% of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers last season after hitting 44% of those shots the previous year. Brogdon isn’t the 50-40-90 player he was in 2017-18, but he’s also just simply a better knockdown shooter than his 2021-22 numbers suggest.

He won’t play the same minutes with the same responsibilities, and a change of scene can always act as a confidence reset. Tatum, Brown, Smart, and White can all orchestrate offense with a base level of comfort, meaning Brogdon gets more time as a spot-up perimeter threat.

Boston desperately needed another player who could bring down the defense in the finals, especially as Brown and Tatum were tiring from the high stakes. Boston shot 52 times per game in the Finals. Tatum, Brown, Smart, and White together account for 91% of these drives. Tatum and White fought immensely against Golden State’s defense, shooting 31.0% and 27.8% from the field, respectively.

Brogdon should enjoy replays as an initiator off the bench or as an off-ball threat to shoot or drive alongside Boston’s other main creators. His presence should particularly help White – who is used to playing as a “1B” attacker from his San Antonio days – to rush to the basket with more freedom as Brogdon pulls away some defensive eyeballs.

Payton Pritchard is another beneficiary, although I wonder what the trades mean for his playing time. He’s the Celtics’ best shot, but one of the least threatening drivers in the league. Now he doesn’t have to worry about pressuring a defense and in theory he can turn into a ground spacer while Brogdon and White lift the ball with heavy weights.

On defense, Boston simply needs its cast to hit a threshold of individual switchability and team communication. Brogdon won’t make an all-defensive team next season, but at 6ft 5 and nearly 230 pounds, he’s an above-average defender who should hold his own against most guards and leaner wings. Brogdon will rarely need to exhaust energy as a point-of-attack defender while Smart and White are healthy, and he seems able to adapt to the high-pressure world of Celtics scrams and switches.

All of these visualizations depend on two additional question marks. First, Brogdon has to get into his role. Multiple reports from Boston-area outlets have reiterated that, barring some amazing changes, it is being used by the bank. This shouldn’t be a serious concern; Brogdon could remain healthier with a lighter workload and he has indicated he knows what he has to sacrifice.

“I want to win a championship, that’s actually it,” Brogdon told The Athletic’s Jared Weiss. “In the past I’ve worried about stats and numbers and all that. I’m going to Boston and I’m not worried about it.”

Health is a completely different topic.

Brogdon has not played more than 65 regular season games in a single season since his rookie year. He’s never had a serious long-term injury like a cruciate ligament or Achilles tendon tear, but has battled numerous ailments throughout his career (here’s a list). I’m not going to speculate on what to expect for availability and the Celtics doctors know far more than we do. It’s still worth monitoring a guard who turns 30 this winter.

But as long as Brogdon is healthy, he’s another pillar of support for Boston’s offense, which is trying to create the consistency worthy of an NBA championship.

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