This piece will focus on Malcolm Brogdon’s NBA success, also bringing up a couple of older prospects who have profiles similar enough to take note of, most notably Josh Hart.
As referring to last year’s draft, we need to touch on Malcolm Brogdon. A player I didn’t rank all that highly because, while I thought he had a decent chance to shoot with success from deep but not with volume, a good chance to be a slightly above average ball mover, and that he was almost a lock to be an average or slightly better defender, but not much more. Which is to say, potentially a +1 or +2 player. A solid contributor, but not an ultimate difference maker unless your team ultimately has its stars in place. Whereas I believe the draft should be used to hunt for Stars (+3 or +4 players and higher.)
Well, early returns are in, and it seems I might have been wrong. Brogdon looks good, potentially really good:
1) Brogdon is already near an average NBA defender, if not already there. Milwaukee is surrendering 105.2 points both when he’s on and off the court. Thus, it’s possible there’s some additional growth potential on D I wasn’t counting on.
(As a side note, I’m starting to believe less and less in NBA Defensive Metrics, especially when viewed in isolation. The exception is when all the information agrees, as it does for players like Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green or Marc Gasol, to pick out a few. Eye Test. DRtg. Team DRtg. DRPM. DBPM. And the WOWY numbers, which in particular are very complicated to read, since they are dependent on Team Context. That is, not just one’s teammates, but which rotations the player plays. For instance, does the player play primarily against starters or back-ups?)
This piece by Jack Maloney has some excellent gifs of Brogdon guarding near its end. And is worth reading in general. Though it’s really way to early to start identifying the best players from the class. Even were Ben Simmons not sidelined, it often takes years for players to come into their own. Take both Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler as examples. And many of the players from this class are four and five years younger than Brogdon coming into the league. But Brogdon does demonstrate, potentially, how drafting an older player makes sense when you only have a very limited window of team control, should the player not develop into the kind of star worth keeping on a 2nd contract.
2) Brogdon is shooting from deep, with success (44.4%, but not with volume, 3.7 Attempts per 36 minutes.)
It’s the Two-Point Shooting that’s holding him back as an offensive player, as Brogdon basically can’t score within the arc. And only 46.4% at the rim.
This is something we would expect to improve with time, but also a possibility that was suggested by his college numbers in which Brogdon generally struggled to score at the rim. (Brogdon’s percentages there went up as a junior and senior, to around 60%, but so did the number of assisted looks. His first two years at Virginia, when only 20% of his looks were assisted, he shot closer to 50% from the rim.)
3) The thing that makes Brogdon unique as a prospect is that his passing ability, which was always somewhat evident, has not just played in the NBA, but played up. Brogdon only had one season in college, as a Sophomore, in which he was as good a passer as he’s been this year for the Bucks. 5.4 Assists per 36 against 2.3 Turnovers. Or, for those who care about advanced percentages, 22.1% Assist Percentage against a respectable 17.9% Usage Percentage.
Let’s Talk Some More About Brogdon
Brogdon’s not there yet. He’s old so there likely isn’t that much room for growth. However, there doesn’t need to be. A little growth on defense, a little improvement at the rim and a slight increase in volume from three, and you certainly have the +1 or +2 player I thought he could be.
Quite possibly more. It’s how good Brogdon has been as a passer that makes such an outcome possible.
Three Skills makes a star. It looks like Brogdon might have three legitimate NBA skills. Scoring with Efficiency, Creating for others, and overall quality of defense. With some unexpected late career improvement, probably with the ability to take shots off movement, but perhaps with the ability to create for himself off the dribble, Brogdon could perhaps be even more.
It’s worth noting that Brogdon has been a point guard level dribbler since at least his sophomore year. Which is why on many occasions, Brogdon was Virginia’s choice for closer. Since no opponent could knock him off his dribble or force him to make a bad decision.
I’d still expect a +1 or +2 outcome, the kind that it’s not been hard for contenders to come by in the trade or free agent market. (Look at the Cavs with the J.R smith and Iman Shumpert trade. Look at the Warriors with Andre Iguodola, Shaun Livingston, and Andrew Bogut. And arguably better than +1 or +2 outcomes from at least one of those players, if not more.) Yet we must acknowledge a better outcome is not out of the question, and regardless, he’s the kind of player that should add wins for the team, if not this year, then in the near future.
An Aside About the Passing Skill
In about a week or two, I’m going to begin a series that explores the NBA synergy stats as regards passing. Both individual and team.
1) One thing I think we’ll see is not just that certain players are better passers, but that certain players assist opportunities (sometimes guys with low totals) are just worth more than the assist opportunities created by other players.
2) That there’s a link between passing and defense. And by passing, I mean not just the creation of Assist Opportunities, but successful ball movement. (Passing the ball aimlessly for 18-24 seconds as the Utah Jazz have tended to do in recent years doesn’t necessarily qualify.) And not just because there’s a link between offensive success and defense. Which works roughly by this equation: More assist opportunities means more high efficiency opportunities means more baskets means less transition opportunities for your opponent means better odds at successful defensive possessions.
If you want a hint at what we’re going to get at. Andre Iguodola’s career is a good one to look at. Still so underrated. And that’s by people who think he’s really, really good. The things he does well affect everything. Just look at his respective teams’ lineup data on 82games.com.
3) The third thing I think we might see is the reason why it’s so difficult to build around players like Paul George, Jimmy Butler or Demarcus Cousins. Not that they aren’t exceptional players, but that running offense through players like this, who create opportunities for their teammates, but not on nearly the levels of a Lebron James, a Russell Westbrook, a Chris Paul, a Steph Curry, a Draymond Green makes it much more difficult to run offense with maximal efficiency.
Now What Does This Mean For Malcolm Brogdon?
If passing and ball movement positively affect defensive success, isn’t it possible that Malcolm Brogdon could become better than even or +1 defender I thought he might be, not because of his innate defensive ability but because his offensive skill set not only puts him in more advantageous situations, but with teammates who are having more fun playing together and thus more likely to cooperate on both sides of the ball?
We’ll investigate this more in the coming weeks and months. As the answers will have potential consequences for how we view many prospects going forward. Josh Jackson in particular. Not the player most likely to come in at the top of my draft board come June, but by far my favorite player in this draft class, at least as of now. His statistical profile right now brings to mind Grant Hill, Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodola, Ron Artest.
Three Points As Regards Malcolm Brogdon
1) Brogdan’s an older prospect. They aren’t all bad, and indeed many of the best off-ball players have been older prospects. Danny Green, Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll among them. This year, we have at least a few such candidates from the senior and junior classes: Josh Hart, Nigel-Williams Goss, Jeremy Morgan, Sindarious Thornwell, Jemerrio Jones, Nigel Hayes, Reggie Upshaw, Gary Clark, Kris Jenkins, Ish Wainwright, Jamelle Artis, Sterling Brown, to name a few.
Of these players, Josh Hart, Nigel Williams-Goss, and perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent Sterling Brown, best fit the Malcolm Brogdon archetype. Which is to say, can dribble, pass, shoot and defend at the college level, while not being an A or A+ athlete. Also, while there are deficits in their games, it’s hard to find huge holes with regard to what they should be asked to do at the NBA level, given a team smart enough to give them a chance and put them in a spot to succeed.
2) That brings up the second point. Brogdon was a prospect with few weaknesses in his game. Not a guy to ideally carry the load, but he could dribble, pass, make decisions, had a profile that suggested shooting from distance, he played hard and he defended well at a college level. That’s a good archetype for an off-ball player. If an off-ball player is going to add big value, it’s going to be because they add value to their team across the board.
3) Brogdon found himself on a team that really believes in his strengths. This is important as any other factor. The Bucks were willing to invest in their rookies development. We can see this by his heavy minute burden as rookie. But I would also not be surprised if they had Brogdon rated as mid 1st round prospect. If that’s true, they were probably overjoyed to find Brogdon still on the board.
Now let’s look at little bit deeper at these points.
Another Check Mark In the Box Of Older Prospects
This is hardly the first time an older prospect has been successful in recent years. I mentioned four of them above. Danny Green, Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll. Robert Covington is another. Brogdon, however, might be one of the few to eventually find his greatest success for his original team. We’re still a long way away from that point.
Still, it is interesting at least that Danny Green found himself cut from the Cavs, in Europe, then with the Spurs, then cut and sent to the NBADL, and then back with the Spurs before finding success. Matthews had to migrate from Utah, where he was putting up a rookie season in many ways similar to Brogdon’s, before finding a more stable home in Utah. Korver went from Philadelphia to Utah to Chicago to Atlanta. DeMarre Carroll from Memphis to Houston to Denver to Utah and then to Atlanta. Covington, from Houston to Philadelphia.
It’s interesting the journeys many of these players make because their initial team does not decide to properly invest in them. That perhaps wasn’t the case with Carroll or Korver, who were well off of their rookie contracts by the time they became really good. But Green, Matthews and Covington all could have helped their original teams.
You could make a pretty persuasive argument that Covington (combo forward, plus defender, and until this year could knock down threes at acceptable rates) is piece to the puzzle the Rockets have been missing and unable to find. Especially after losing out on Chris Bosh. Though Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon have been playing well enough this year to make any team with this version of Harden potentially dangerous come playoff time.
No Major Weaknesses
We underrate prospects without weaknesses in their games. Most of us are guilty of it with Brogdon, no matter how much we respected his game. Being without weakness is not the same as providing on-court value. Yet, if a prospect doesn’t take anything off the table, it allows all their strengths to play as Pluses. To legitimately add value. That’s probably what we’re going to see from Brogdon in the near future, if we’re not seeing it already.
To see Brogdon’s game through the lens of statistics, his per 36 numbers by way of Basketball-Reference:
Brogdon might not be great at making two-point shots or rebounding, but those are relatively small weakpoints when a player shoots nearly 45% from three, averages over five assists per 36 minutes and actually plays solid defense, which we’ve seen above (if you followed the link) in both gif examples, in which Brogdon is capable of carrying his man over screens and into help, and also as evidenced by his WOWY numbers.
His -0.7 DBPM and 108 DRtg aren’t as positive, but I think its possible these statistics are unable to properly consider the context of his achievement. Since they regress defensive value through the lenses of defensive events like rebounding, steals and blocks. And Brogdon doesn’t put up numbers in two of those categories. But Brogdon is a perimeter player and there are a number of other players on the books, not least of all Giannis, who can finish possessions by rebounding.
A Brief Interlude Before Discussing Team Context
I want to take a break before discussing Team Context to feature the stat lines of some current college Upper Classmen with variations on this profile. They may have weaknesses, but it’s also possibly their games will fit into the NBA in a way that minimizes their negative value. (The caveat that finding shooting percentages that will hold up in the NBA, let alone over a college season, if often unpredictable. And that even good shooters often take time.)
I will say that I am loathe to rank players this early in the season. As I believe it closes one’s mind to the possibilities of certain players and the weaknesses of others. Though if it works for you, it works for you. What matters most is not where we are now, but where we are at the end of June. And we should be open to any process that allows us to come to better answers to the question of who will be the best player.
So ranking these players is not why I’ve included these players, nor is it because they are the only seniors (Nigel Williams-Goss was originally part of this class before transferring and redshirting) worth noting. But I do think their statistical profiles compare in certain ways to the college profile of Malcolm Brogdon:
We see the same type of passing success across the board. (Of course this is slightly different than ability, but the two often correspond.) We see that these players often played for good defenses. We see that all these players rebounded better than Brogdon, since many of them are either more athletic relative to position, or have a better frame.
Though one place where Brogdon has them all is Free-Throw percentage, where he was near 90% for his college career. (Williams-Goss is near 90% this year.) And another place where he has everyone’s number but Hart is with turnovers. Brogdon could create shots for himself and others without turning the ball over, which is something that might separate him from most of these players.
What Separates Josh Hart From Malcolm Brogdon
Brogdon is a better dribbler.
I mean this is some lazy defense, especially by Kyrie, but you can also see the semblance of Brogdon’s handle. Tight dribble. Good change of direction. Decisive move. And when Brogdon has the corner he knows it, and he attacks the basket. Same deal vs. Lebron, except Brogdon basically pee dribbles the whole shot clock away and then lucks out when Tristan Thompson screens Lebron and allows Brogdon to get the corner. But when Brogdon get the corner, it’s over.
We saw some possibility of this type of ball handling at Virginia. (And let’s be clear, the great thing about that previous clip shows the good and the bad, the indecisiveness when Brogdon has Lebron on him vs. how easily he takes Kyrie.)
I don’t know if we’ve seen the same thing from Josh Hart. Though Hart is likely capable enough to attack a closeout. And strong enough with the ball in his hands that he doesn’t turn it over. So a check mark for Brogdon there, at least right now.
Where Hart is better than Brogdon is at shooting off of movement, which could lead to more attempts from three. Plus, despite what we saw from Brogdon in that previous clip, he’s also much better than Brogdon at the basket. Scoring 75% there as a junior and over 82% so far this year (with less help from others.) While also getting to the rim enough on his own (around 50-60 times a year, including transition) for it to be a significant part of his game.
One notable feature of Hart’s game, perhaps sometimes overlooked, is that he has excellent body control once he goes up to score, which allows Hart to not only find angles for the ball to get to the basket, but also to absorb contact and stay strong. I haven’t seen enough of Brogdon this year to say anything for certain, but the kinds of plays that Hart has been making in traffic around the rim weren’t necessarily a strength for Brogdon when I saw him. Which is why his current Field Goal Percentage at the rim (below 50%) is not a big surprise, even if we would not expect it to remain so low.
This ability around the rim is one area of the game that not only potentially separates Josh Hart from a player like Malcolm Brogdon but also Jeremy Morgan, who probably has more defensive potential moving forward.
Morgan, like Danny Green before him, is just very unlikely to be any kind of threat off the dribble at the next level. Thus his passing, though he has similarly impressive numbers, is much more likely to be limited to good ball movement. Whereas Josh Hart has a decent chance to be a secondary creator attacking closeouts.
But what about Hart’s chance to initiate? I think it’s very, very small. I also think stranger things have happened. But there’s no need to take my word for it.
Let’s Call in the Experts
DraftExpress’ Jon Glessbrecht concerns in this video below are still valid.
The handle, which also ties into the two player’s wiggle, their suddenness with the ball in their hands, their shiftiness from side to side, is what really separates a player like Brandon Roy from a player like Josh Hart. To somewhat irresponsibly name two players in the same relative ballpark in terms of athleticism.
Brandon Roy had a killer crossover. Better shiftiness with the ball in his hands than one might otherwise expect. He used to just destroy guys. And I haven’t seen that kind of skill from Hart, or that kind of ability to move his body. Here’s a highlight tape of Hart vs. Notre Dame, the game where he scored 37 and did pretty much everything to lead Villanova to a come from behind victory. Score inside, score outside, generate offense, get to the foul line, create steals, find guys off the pass.
Yes, it’s only highlights. Still we see a lot. We see a much improved dribbler from the DraftExpress Lowlights video, now able to make moves semi-reminiscent of a Eurostep, to use a jump stop to create space, to control his dribble enough that we don’t see him getting stuck in no-man’s land, we don’t see that Brandon Roy change of direction ability that Hart would probably have to have to continue to grow as a creator at the next level. Indeed, it’s something I’ve never seen from Hart. (If anyone has evidence otherwise, please share a link in the comments section. I’d love to see it.)
I’m not going to completely rule out unexpected career growth from a player like Hart. Firstly, because stranger things have happened. For instance, the way Kyle Korver improved his defensive quickness in about every way possible. Also his strength, to the point where he’s had several seasons in which he was a very solid team defender.
Seeing Korver play his first three years for the Sixers, constantly being overmatched by opponents with superior athleticism and strength, I never would have bet on this outcome. Sometimes you have to bet on the player’s will to improve. That’s a quality I believe Josh Hart has demonstrated. It’s possible it might take him farther than we might otherwise reasonably expect. Or more likely, he continues to progress along the path of least resistance, as a quality off-ball option who can not only finish from outside and inside, but otherwise makes quick, positive decisions that continue to progress the offense.
At the very least, he’s intrigued me enough to turn a piece about Malcolm Brogdon into a back door piece about Josh Hart. With the popularity of Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine last year, as well as the success of Brogdon, it’s at least a little confusing as to why Hart remains one of the more unheralded players in the 2016-2017 draft. Especially in light of the fact that many teams choose to draft not based on ultimate upside, especially later in the draft, but on the likelihood of a positive outcome. Even a slightly positive outcome. As of now, Hart seems as good a bet as almost anyone to have such an outcome.
*Stats from Sports-Reference and Hoop-Math. Embedded videos from everywhere. Thank you especially to DraftExpress.