Malcolm Brogdon has been everything the Celtics hoped for so far


Brogdon bolstered the Celtics’ depth and made life easier for the Jays.

Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon in the first half of an NBA basketball game. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When the Celtics acquired Malcolm Brogdon, games like Saturday were part of the calculation.

Certainly, the Celtics have bigger aspirations than a late January game against a mediocre Western Conference opponent, even when that mediocre opponent is a rival like LeBron James and the Lakers. Brogdon provides a big punch they’ll rely on heavily when the playoffs roll around and, ideally, a solid, steady presence when playoff nerves threaten to make the ball particularly slippery.

But the games at the end of January also count. Saturday’s victory happened with Marcus Smart and Robert Williams on the bench. In the last 10 games, the Celtics have been without Smart for five, Jaylen Brown for four, Williams for three and Jayson Tatum for one. During that streak, the Celtics are 7-3 and Brogdon hasn’t played in two of the losses. His minutes have gone from 25.0 for the season to 34.3 over the past five games. The surging 76ers and Bucks have clawed back some ground, but not much – they are both still 2.5 games behind.

When Celtics stars need a rest, Brogdon’s presence gives them a break. When everyone is healthy, he complements them as well as Brad Stevens hoped when he dealt Aaron Nesmith, Daniel Theis and a first-round pick to the Pacers.

“I think he just did a great job giving us another ball handler and another guy who can dribble,” Joe Mazzulla told reporters, when asked why he started Brogdon in the second half. against the Lakers. “And so with Al at five, we were able to space Davis out a bit better in the second half because of that formation, and that gave us some driving angles.”

The Lakers were the last team to contend with Brogdon, who scored 26 points on 8-for-15 shooting in the Celtics’ 125-121 win. Brogdon’s shooting this season has been excellent, which was probably to be expected – the Celtics formation provides plenty of open 3-pointers. Brogdon is shooting 49.4% in his last 10 games and 44.7% for the season – his career high by a wide margin. He provides Tatum (or the roll man) with an outlet when opposing teams overtake him or take him out of the pick-and-roll. He gives the Celtics a late shot clock option aside from Brown or Tatum if the offense goes down – Brogdon shoots 44.4% from 3 points 4-7 on the shot clock and 41.9 overall from 0 to 4 seconds. Tatum, for comparison, is shooting 25.9 percent from the field with 0-4 seconds on the shot clock.

Brogdon’s shots are generally easier than Tatum’s. That’s of course the whole point – the concept behind its acquisition. Symbiosis benefits everyone. Royce O’Neal is keeping Tatum? No problem, that leaves Kyrie Irving on Brogdon. Alex Caruso is on Brogdon? Fine. Here’s Robert Williams to put up a screen and force Nikola Vucevic to make a tough decision between Brogdon’s 14-foot float and Williams at the rim (a decision that has plagued teams all year – Williams’ two-man lineup and Brogdon has a net rating of +12.9). The Lakers play a small, fast team? Fairly easy – Dennis Schröder and Patrick Beverley are too small to face Brogdon.

Meanwhile, Brogdon – who initially seemed to struggle with the Celtics’ defensive patterns of change – is getting into good shape for that purpose. Against the Lakers, he often found himself facing Anthony Davis before the Celtics could bring in a brace, and the Lakers star finished 6 for 15 overall (and 1 for 8 in the second half). The Celtics value versatility, and Brogdon’s muscular 6-foot-5 frame offers plenty of that.

“Even in some of our losses, I came away very encouraged because of what he was able to provide when we were really struggling,” Brad Stevens said last month when asked about the addition. of Brogdon. “And that just adds another dimension to us, I think.”

A reporter asked Brogdon on Saturday what he brings to programming with Smart out in particular.

“Marcus is an elite defender and a great facilitator. And for me, I’m more of a scoring guard, I think I give us that advantage,” Brogdon said. “But for me, I defend well with size, I defend the big guys well. So I think that’s going to be my strength with this team, with this starting group. So I just tried to do that to the best of my abilities.

The Celtics are built for the playoffs, and presumably Brogdon was recruited primarily with the playoffs in mind – Payton Pritchard showed a lot of guts, but one would imagine Brad Stevens saw his performance as a rotation player in the final and quickly recognized the need for another running back. Brogdon will play a vital role in the Celtics’ run this year, no matter how deep.

But a team’s path to the playoffs is paved during the regular season slump — something the Celtics admit to encountering over the past week.

“Being a great team is really, really hard,” Mazzulla said after the Celtics’ overtime loss to the Knicks. “You just have to work at it every day, and you just have to do the boring little things all the time.”

Brogdon is perfectly equipped to provide these little things. He won’t regularly outperform Tatum or Brown, and his highlights won’t get much engagement on social media.

But on a 10-game streak that threatened to hurt the Celtics’ standing in the Eastern Conference, Brogdon averaged 18.9 points per game and shot nearly 50 percent from behind the arc.

“A person who can make plays as a guard on the ball, a guy who plays off the ball, a good shooter and a person who understands how to win, and is a perfect match for how our guards can play defensively. and keep with his size and strength,” Stevens said when he introduced Brogdon in July.

So far, so good.


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