Malcolm Brogdon is the type of player you notice most when he’s not there. He isn’t known as a handles guy who courts highlights, nor does he have the reputation of a 3-point specialist. He’s not thought of as a lockdown defender, either. But Brogdon is actually all of those things—a knockdown shooter, a ballhandling playmaker, and a good defender—in an understated, yet extremely important package. Brogdon is no Giannis, but he’s an essential part of the Bucks’ success this season. That’s why Saturday’s news felt like a particularly painful blow to Milwaukee’s title hopes: Brogdon is set to miss six to eight weeks with a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot.
According to an ESPN report, there is optimism that Brogdon could return around the six-week mark, and according to Brogdon himself, who was seen on crutches before Sunday’s 130-125 loss to the Sixers, the injury is “minor.” Six weeks takes the Bucks through the end of the regular season and past, at the very least, the first round of the playoffs. Eight weeks puts them deep into their second-round matchup or in the conference finals, should they make it that far.
The Bucks are not wholly unprepared for this—they traded for George Hill earlier this season (though he is on limited minutes), added Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline (Mirotic started in place of Brogdon on Sunday), and have a few other players who could take Brogdon’s minutes—Pat Connaughton is chief among them, as well as Tony Snell and D.J. Wilson. Sterling Brown and rookie Donte DiVincenzo have been nursing a wrist injury and a heel injury, respectively, but both could theoretically take some of those minutes, too.
And yet, it will be hard, even via committee, to replicate Brogdon’s impact (Milwaukee’s net rating was 10.5 with Brogdon on the floor and 6.3 without him). Before his injury, Brogdon was quietly putting together a 50-40-90 season averaging 50.5 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from deep on 3.8 attempts, and 92 percent from the free throw line. Those 3.8 3s per game are a small, but important uptick from his 3.4 last season.
“This is a fast-paced offense where you’re encouraged to shoot a lot of 3s. I’ve never been in an offense like that. I’ve always been in a slow-paced offense where you run the shot clock down and try to get a layup,” Brogdon told me earlier this month when the Bucks were in L.A. to face the Lakers. Milwaukee’s offense is structured around Giannis, and having plenty of shooters is key. Brogdon anticipated a bigger opportunity to knock down shots, so he prepared this summer by practicing different jumpers and working on his balance and his mechanics with former NBA player Kerry Kittles. His percentage from deep jumped by 4 percent and is now the highest mark on the team by any player taking more than three attempts per game. “I definitely worked on [3s] more because Bud was coming in,” he said. “I’m playing with more confidence, and shooting the ball with more confidence.”
Brogdon talked a lot during that interview about consistency during the stretch run and the importance of maintaining the same energy through the end of the season and the playoffs. Ironically, the Bucks may not be able to stay hot for the last few weeks of the regular season with Brogdon out. The beginning of the season was about fitting personnel into a new system, but now the system will have to withstand a change in personnel.
Milwaukee should be fine. The Bucks hold the 1-seed by three games over the Raptors, and have six games left against teams with a record below .500. In the past 20 games, they have played Giannis an average of only 32.6 minutes per game, a number that is right in line with his season average of 33 minutes a game. Should the 1-seed be in doubt, you can bet the Bucks will ease that minutes restriction—like they did on Sunday against the Sixers, when Giannis played 36 minutes. But even though he finished with a career-high 52 points, Milwaukee still fell short against a team that it will likely see in the playoffs. The loss wasn’t all due to Brogdon’s absence, of course, but with Mirotic going 0-for-6 from 3, Connaughton, Snell, and Hill combining for a measly eight points, and no other Bucks starter reaching 20 points, it was a snapshot of how important Brogdon is to Milwaukee’s operation.