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Malcolm Brogdon Showed How He Can Help The Celtics In His Debut

The Boston Celtics finished 22nd in rim attempt frequency during the 2021-22 NBA season, per Cleaning the Glass. Even with the best offense in the league once the calendar shifted to 2022, Boston still only ranked slightly below average at 18th.

In spite of their run to the NBA Finals, a constant talking point was how the Celtics’ lack of a “true point guard” played a major role in the offense’s struggles against Golden State. The halfcourt turned into a contested shot-making slugfest. Transition opportunities were often left on the table. Part of this was due to how darn well that Warrior defense played, but when it comes to the sort of things they can control (coaching, personnel, etc.), the Celtics lacked easy buckets and the ability to put pressure on the rim.

Enter Malcolm Brogdon, for whom the team traded during the offseason.

Brogdon took 40 percent of his shots at the rim last season with the Indiana Pacers, according to Cleaning the Glass. Among non-bigs who are still on the roster, the highest rate from a Celtic was Jaylen Brown at a 32 percent clip. Brown created for himself at quite the rate, too — 47.1 percent of his two’s were unassisted, compared to 24.9 percent for Brogdon. While Brogdon was certainly overextended at points — he had to shoulder a heavy burden to carry Indiana’s offense — he provides downhill gravitas that the Celtics didn’t possess last season.

He had De’Anthony Melton seeing stars as his primary defender against the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA’s first game of the new season.

Operating off secondary drives and attacking off the catch, Brogdon can dice up defenses, punish defenders who are too small, and continue possessions as well as finishing them. He provides an off-ball continuity and connectivity that should add oomph to Boston’s halfcourt attack, and already did in game one.

Brogdon is lethal attacking from the slots or with the ability to step into the catch. His low center of gravity, broad shoulders, tight handle, and powerful strides make him a battering ram that can expand dents created by the star creators of the Celtics when he’s off the ball. He moves pretty well with the flow of the offense and can be utilized as a screener, which we saw.

While he can pummel the paint, there’s room to point out that he’s not fully a point guard but stills brings point guard-esque qualities to the table. He’s a combo, but I’d call him a 1.5 guard. He can create without screens. He has pretty good floor vision and the ability to spray the ball through pick-and-roll reads. How Brogdon and the Celtics handle switches will be worth noting — he shot 32.2 percent on pull-up threes in his time with the Pacers on roughly three attempts per game. He routinely saw switch defenses that took away his ability to penetrate the paint without being quite effective enough as a shooter off the bounce to counter.

That’s part of what makes the fit with the Celtics so enticing. There will undoubtedly be hiccups, but we saw the flashes of a team that knew how to get the most of their newest rotation player.

He’s not a dominant transition player, but he’s a steady one.

It’s worth noting that Philly’s transition defense was abysmal, but it takes the Celtics’ taking advantage of that to really drive home the point. Brogdon is heady in pinpointing ways to advance the ball and attack early, even if he’s not the player doing it himself. For a team that ranked 27th in points per 100 possessions scored in transition last season (21st in overall frequency of transition), this is a gigantic boon.

One area to monitor in Brogdon’s continued acclimation to the Celtics’ will be their defense. Throwing out multiple looks with switching, drop, and more aggressive ball pressure made sense to start the season, but drop with Brogdon was a slight area of concern.

He has his strengths as a defender against wings, on some switches in the post, and with astute digs and stunts as an off-ball player. We already saw him function fairly well as the helper onto post players and making rotations out of that. With drop, his major weakness as a defender is exploited: his screen navigation.

He had some good moments in getting back in front, but particularly in the stretches when Boston was going to drop, James Harden directly targeted Brogdon and whomever was at the 5. It’s not an overwhelming concern, but it’s definitely worth tracking as the year goes on.

It’s hard to complain or nitpick Brogdon considering the gaps he fills and bolsters. As Boston looks to make another deep run in the playoffs, his addition and integration looms large.