As the masses continue to clamor for a point guard like D’Angelo Russell to join Devin Booker in the Suns’ backcourt, another restricted free agent option seems to fit right in with what general manager James Jones is building in Phoenix. If drafting Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome — two high-IQ upperclassmen who were regarded as the class’ top shooters — provided any clues, Malcolm Brogdon epitomizes exactly that, with some added defensive versatility as the cherry on top.
Brogdon is a Swiss Army knife for the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the rare ball-handlers who can also defend wings and shoot efficiently from all three levels. Whether it ends up being the Suns or another team, successfully stealing Brogdon from a title contender will be tricky.
From Milwaukee’s point of view, losing the 26-year-old would be debilitating due to how valuable of a cog he is within head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. The proof is in the pudding with Brogdon’s on/off numbers before tearing his plantar fascia in March and then once more in the playoffs against Toronto. Milwaukee was 5.3 points per 100 possessions worse overall with Brogdon off the floor, but, again, just take a look at how vital he was to their success in the Eastern Conference Finals:
On = OffRtg - 112.8, DefRtg - 101.9, NetRtg - 10.9
Off = OffRtg - 92.2, DefRtg - 108.9, NetRtg - minus-16.7
Yes, the dropoff for the Bucks was 27.6 points against the NBA champion Toronto Raptors when Brogdon was on the bench compared with when he was in the lineup. Losing the combo guard due to a potentially high luxury tax bill would be tough to swallow, but he’s a major addition for whoever lands him.
On the Woj/Lowe ESPN special on Tuesday evening, both Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe said Milwaukee will have a “walkaway” price placed upon Brogdon. If the number gets too high — the expectation is he will receive an offer sheet of $20 million plus annually — they will let him go. Brogdon is also the only one both couldn’t guarantee would return, with safe assurances placed on Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez instead.
During the 2018-19 campaign, Brogdon joined the 50/40/90 shooting club while also averaging 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists in only 28.6 minutes. Brogdon also shot an absurd 47.5 percent on catch-and-shoot threes on 2.8 attempts per game, so he’s definitely capable of spotting up in the corner and firing away. Speaking of the corner, Brogdon converted 50 percent (!!) of his corner threes.
For a Suns squad that needs more consistent shooting, the Bucks’ guard is definitely the way to go, as he ranked in the 98th percentile for all combo guards in effective field goal percentage, per Cleaning The Glass.
Brogdon is also an underrated passer. Playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brogdon played more as a tertiary creator. With Devin Booker, that role would be very similar. In more of a prime facilitator role, I see no reason why Brogdon couldn’t average five assists.
Brogdon can maneuver and dissect defenses out of the pick-and-roll. Brogdon-Ayton pick-and-rolls would create good offense consistently, especially if Brogdon can set up Ayton in the ways he helped Lopez around the rim with his flashy one-handed spins.
Here, Brogdon is positioned in the corner when he gets the ball and headed toward some incoming Knicks traffic, but he works it to his advantage. Brogdon fakes the inside dish to Antetokounmpo surrounded by three defenders before firing to Eric Bledsoe in the opposite corner.
This sequence here is a beautiful one. He notices Robin Lopez sinking further inside to help near the rim due to the drive threat, so he throws a rocket to Thon Maker over in the right corner. That opening wouldn’t have been there in the first place without Brogdon creating the disruption by attacking the basket and misdirecting a few Bulls.
Brogdon can manipulate defenses with his eyes and passing instincts, even if it he didn’t always get to do so in Milwaukee.
Brogdon’s profile becomes even more appealing on the other side of the court, though. It won’t show up with gaudy numbers in the box score, but the defense provided is truly impressive to watch. Outside of Patrick Beverley, no other point guard free agents can have the versatility defensively out of the guard position like Brogdon. And I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of him yet on that end, either.
Standing at 6’5” and weighing 229 pounds, Brogdon can successfully check the likes of Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard and Paul Millsap with no issue due to his sturdy frame, which we’ll further examine below:
On two separate occasions early in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Brogdon checked Siakam in transition. Both times, Siakam did nothing, mainly due to his defender’s great technique. Brogdon has surprisingly good feet speed here to stay in front of the NBA’s Most Improved Player, especially following the injury in March.
Closing out Game Three, tied up with the clock winding down, who did the Bucks have guarding Kawhi Leonard? Not Giannis or Middleton. It was Brogdon. Against Leonard, Brogdon shuts down the driving lane to his left forcing him to take a tough fadeaway. Can you think of many guards around the league who have this much versatility?
Finally, I wanted to close on this sequence versus Millsap because the smaller Brogdon stifles a more physical presence again with no problems. Brogdon sure knows how to utilize verticality along with his 6’11” wingspan, going right up with Millsap’s shot contesting it without fouling.
The amount of potential and improvement Brogdon would provide on defense for Phoenix is indescribable. He’s a key cog in a high-octane Bucks system, but could be further tapped into with more switching. As you can tell, Brogdon can guard up to three or four positions. Pairing that piece between Booker and Deandre Ayton sounds very appealing, doesn’t it?
Another feather in the cap of Brogdon is his usage rate. Last year, it slightly went up to a career-high 20.7 percent. Compared to someone like Russell, who carried a 31.9 percent usage, Brogdon wouldn’t be taking the ball out of Booker or Ayton’s hands too often in scoring opportunities. That’s the best way to go about it as well, in my opinion. Brogdon can spot-up or drive when a mismatch is presented, which plays well alongside the Suns’ two primary scorers and also another high volume scorer like Kelly Oubre Jr.
So, how will the Suns or other teams take advantage and get creative enough to snatch a three-tool player away from an elite Eastern Conference title contender? This is right in the wheelhouse where Suns assistant GM and resident capologist Trevor Bukstein thrives.
Right now, Phoenix doesn’t have the required space to throw Brogdon an offer sheet that would make Milwaukee think twice. The two most realistic routes to create such room is either trading Josh Jackson and Elie Okobo/De’Anthony Melton or renouncing Oubre’s restricted rights. With Oubre reportedly remaining a top priority, the latter option is the most realistic route.
Without Jackson and one of Okobo or Melton on their books, the Suns would walk into free agency with $20.8 million in cap space. That’s right at the line where Wojnarowski and Lowe suggested Brogdon’s initial price tag would be. In this scenario, Phoenix could offer Brogdon up to $86.5 million over four years ($21.625 million annually). Is it enough to make Milwaukee blink? I believe so, and Phoenix wouldn’t be the only team aggressively chasing the 26-year-old combo guard.
Expect teams such as Indiana, Dallas and Boston to also have an eye on Brogdon. This could quickly turn into a bidding war.
Nicknamed “The President,” Brogdon is going to certainly cash in this summer whether the Bucks match an offer or not. Early expectations place his price range around $20-23 million per year, but that’s worth it for someone of his caliber and the qualities he would bring aboard. Pairing Booker with a smart, versatile chess piece like Brogdon is a smart way for the Suns to fully optimize their 22-year-old foundational building block.
If the Suns make an aggressive play for Brogdon and succeed, they have the capabilities of rolling out a much-improved roster across the starters and second unit. Swapping out Jackson and Okobo/Melton for Brogdon and a cheap veteran forward on the room exception sends this team’s ceiling up another level or two immediately.
Starters: Brogdon, Booker, Oubre, Saric, Ayton
Second Unit: Ty Jerome, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Room Exception (Taj Gibson? Jared Dudley? Jonas Jerebko?), Aron Baynes
Compared to year’s past, the Suns’ nine-man rotation would be filled to the brim with legitimate NBA talent who specialize in areas that benefit their stars. Brogdon and Saric between Booker, Oubre and Ayton provides two savvy players who can spread the floor and consistently make smart reads. Meanwhile, the bench mob would be retooled around Bridges as their sixth man featuring plenty of shooters and a solid inside presence in Baynes.
Who knows if that collection of talent is enough to break through right away, but it’s a massive step in the right direction. If it weren’t for Jones going all-in with ready-made prospects who fit the same criteria Brogdon excels in, I wouldn’t believe this was a real possibility. Bringing the Bucks’ underrated guard to the Valley is possible, but it would require one more move to free up the additional space needed.
Brogdon would be playing in Phoenix during his physical peak years age 27-30. That’s a smart investment for the Suns to take, and Brogdon is an above-average starting guard if placed in a similar situation as Milwaukee. If not pushing their chips in for star grabs like Russell, prioritizing Brogdon makes all the sense in the world.
Not including future draft pick salaries past this season, Phoenix could still add plenty of depth to a core featuring Booker, Ayton, Bridges, Oubre and Brogdon. Cleaning The Glass estimates the Suns to have around $27 million in space if they went into the 2020-21 season with the aforementioned five plus their two newest first-round selections.
The Suns certainly have a type, as evidenced by their surprising draft haul. If they want to push that button and commit to this identity completely, it’s time to back up the Brinks truck for Brogdon.