It would seem preposterous for a player who this season was a 1st Team All-American, ACC Player of the Year, ACC and NABC Defensive Player of the Year, and who led Virginia to the Elite Eight in the 2016 NCAA Tournament to find himself flying under the radar leading up to the NBA Draft. However, that is exactly where Malcolm Brogdon has spent these past weeks leading up to June 23, as most mock drafts have the shooting guard going in the 2nd round. Even being recently named to the USA Select Team as one of only five college players (joining Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, and Brice Johnson) did not appear to move the needle on his stock.
Just what exactly is up with Brogdon, and why can he not seem to gain any traction with talent evaluators? Deadpoolio investigates.
Unquestionably, Brogdon's greatest strength is his defense. At 6'6 with a 6'10.5 wingspan and physically mature body (223lbs.), he ably guarded positions 1 through 3 last season for Virginia and even spent the odd possession on opposing fours. His defensive numbers weren't gaudy (1.1 steals and 0.3 blocks per 40 minutes), but his defensive style doesn't lend itself to stats. Brogdon does not gamble on defense, preferring rather to stay put, move his feet, and force his opponent into a difficult shot over his outstretched arms. He fights through screens with tenacity, is a cerebral defender who reads situations and knows angles, and while not an excellent athlete, Brogdon moves his feet well enough to keep his man in front of him. As a defender, he profiles very closely to Bruce Bowen.
Scouts tend to worry that since Brogdon possesses average athleticism, his defense may not translate to the NBA, where a bevy of terrific athletes await. The problem with that thinking is that many of the NBA's best perimeter defenders have not been great athletes. Tony Allen, the player Kobe Bryant himself said was the toughest player for him to go against, did not rate much better than Brodgon as an athlete. Allen, who stood 6'4 with a 6'9 wingspan in pre-draft measurements in 2004, had a 31.5-inch standing vertical, a 36.5-inch max vertical, and a 3.19-second sprint time. Compare that with Brogdon's combine numbers of 30.5 inches (standing vertical), 35.5 inches (max vertical), and 3.31 seconds (sprint time). And as for moving his feet, Brogdon's lane agility time at the combine (10.77 seconds) was on par with that of Allen (10.70).
But there is a danger in judging players solely by their athletic measurements. Andre Iguodala, for example, tested poorly before he was drafted in 2004, yet he has proven that to be an unjustified concern.
The ability to play effective defense at the NBA level cannot be boiled down to a combination of athletic measurements. It's about thinking the game, recognizing situations, reading angles, denying the ball, getting a hand up, making the opponent uncomfortable. It's about having a burning desire to defend, and no player in this draft class has that more than Brogdon.
Another question about Brogdon's game — and one that holds more credence — is how he will score in the NBA. Brogdon struggles to beat defenders in iso situations because he doesn't explode with his first step, has trouble at times creating space to get his shot off, and even though he can finish above the rim, his lack of pop leaves him playing a more ground-based game. On top of that, he shoots a flat shot that doesn't leave much room for error.
Despite these issues, he still managed to score 18.2 points per game as the' primary scoring option this past season because he is just as heady an offensive player as he is a defensive one.
Brogdon was forced to step outside himself at times with Virginia, but when playing to his strengths, he was very good offensively. He proved himself to be a capable catch-and-shoot player even with less-than-ideal form on his shot, converting 43 percent of his attempts on the season. He also shot 46 percent on shot attempts off screens according to DraftExpress.com, which was one of the highest percentages in the nation. Overall, he shot 45.7 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from 3. Most encouraging for his development as a consistent shooter, though, was his free throw shooting, which ranked 7th in the nation at 89.7 percent.
As well, Brodgon keeps his composure on the court. He doesn't try to force things, instead settling for the sure play as his 1.8 turnovers per 40 minutes attests. He is a smart and willing passer who has a knack for finding the right player at the right time, but since he lacks the ability to break down a defense on his own, most of his passes are of the move-the-basketball variety.
Brogdon's role at the next level will not be as a primary scoring threat, but that is not the same as saying he will be an ineffective offensive player. As a standstill guy shooting corner 3s, he has shown promise and steady improvement, and his talent for moving without the ball and utilizing screens brings to mind Reggie Miller and Richard Hamilton. Those two skills combined with his strength that allows him to absorb contact and keep defenders on his hip once he gets them there will ensure he will be far from helpless offensively in the NBA.
One of the biggest knocks on him is his age. Brodgon, a senior, is 23 years old and will turn 24 in December. That makes him a basketball Methuselah by Draft standards, where 18- and 19-year-olds rule the stage. Because he is farther along in his development curve than most in his draft class, he is suffering as a known quantity. Whereas raw players like Ingram, Ben Simmons, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Thon Maker among dozens of others could turn out to be anything, Brogdon is who he is.
Considering what Brogdon is, however, that's not half bad. He is a smart, fundamentally sound basketball player who has a penchant for making winning plays. On top of that, he possesses maturity, intelligence, leadership, and work ethic. Mike Curtis, the strength and conditioning coach at Virginia who spent six seasons doing the same job with the Memphis Grizzlies, compares Brogdon to Shane Battier as a person in an NBA.com article.
His potential for growth isn't on the same level as many guys in this year's Draft, but whatever team drafts him can rest assured they won't be acquiring a headache.
NBA executives sometimes lose sight of the fact that the Draft is about acquiring talent and are blinded by the lure of possibly unearthing the next Manu Ginobili, Michael Redd, DeAndre Jordan, or Draymond Green. But if offered a choice between $20 on the spot or a lottery ticket for a jackpot drawing of $1 million, which is the better choice? Sure the ticket offers a huge potential reward, but most people will walk away with nothing but a worthless scrap of paper. Suddenly, the sure $20 doesn't look so bad by comparison.
That is Brodgon. He may not be the player of anyone's dreams — the kind of transcendent talent that changes an entire franchise's fortunes overnight — but he is a solid role player with limited drawback. In a draft full of question marks, he is basically found money.