How Malcolm Brogdon can fix Boston’s offensive issues: Celtics film breakdown

As the Celtics figured out their offense and began to rise to the top of the East, it seemed like they were fine as a point guard. The crisp offense worked, their stars were in rhythm and their defense kept them running with the ball throughout the game.

Then they made the playoffs. The game became bogged down in physicality, and they didn’t have enough playmaking talent to consistently pull them out of tight situations. As the NBA Finals progressed, it was obvious they needed another point guard, or pretty much anyone who could pick and roll, involve defense, and make a good read. Someone who could get the ball to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with momentum and space.

More importantly, a player who could provide the Celtics with a cohesive transition offense. Boston ranked 27th in the league for transition point efficiency last season, while Malcolm Brogdon ranked just behind Chris Paul in 10th for transition assist-to-turnover ratio, according to Synergy. said Brogdon the athlete after moving to Boston that he wants to come in and bring a sense of calm when the team gets out of control and sloppy or stuck in stagnation.

He averaged just under six assists per game last season, although of the five players he passed to the most, only Myles Turner shot more than 33 percent from deep on those passes, according to NBA stats. That was on a team trying to run a distributed offense somewhat similar to Boston’s, but he’s kicking the ball to much more capable shooters on this Celtics team.

He has the grip and size to control the driving angle and get defenders to reach out for him, forcing defenders to reach over him and smack his arms for a foul when he goes to layup. He’ll help bridge the gap Boston has between all-out fast breaks off steals and walking in half-court steps. They were at their best when going straight from rebounds into early transition actions or even making baskets, and that’s what Brogdon does well on the move.

Of the 75 players who executed at least 400 pick and rolls last season, Brogdon ranked 11th in points per possession generated, per synergy. Boston had five players on that list, with only Marcus Smart and Dennis Schröder ranking as high as the 20s. Brogdon’s advantage is that he rarely turns the ball (seventh percentage turnover in this group between Chris Paul and Devin Booker) and is good at making smart shots and getting to the line.

For the second straight season, he averaged just under 20 points per game, despite hitting a surprising career low of 31.2 percent. Brogdon’s touch has been everywhere in recent years, as he was a 40-percent shooter in his first three years in Milwaukee and then paced his three years with the Pacers. Much of that may be down to injuries as he dealt with proper hamstring pain throughout last season and rested in the final month of the year as the team attempted to improve their draft position.

What still makes him effective even when working through nagging injuries is his gait and footwork. He knows how to get defenders to do what he wants, and he can attack them when they’re out of position. When pushed up by a defender on the edge, he stays upright to get past them without turning them over. He’s able to tuck his dribbling behind his body as he moves forward to avoid many of the pickpocketing that burned Boston in the playoffs. He hits the brakes so well that he often loses a defender simply by using his momentum against them.

Brogdon isn’t a great athlete, but he brings a mix of everything that makes a combo guard successful in the NBA these days.

Here’s an example of Brogdon running a high-stagger screenplay that the Celtics ran a lot prior to last season but couldn’t go that often because Ime Udoka didn’t have a three-tier point guard to make it work. Watch as he puts the Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley on a switch, changes his stance and looks back at his teammate on the left to freeze Mobley, then comes past him for the layup. Against Jaylen Brown? same thing. Its shifts are subtle, but they’re quick and effective.

This is the combination of subtle cunning and actual processing that Boston often misses in its second units. Derrick White can attack the space, get his euro step and set up a crooked floater that has a moderate success rate. Smart has a decent drop swimmer and can punch defense around a corner to fly to the rim. But none of them score as consistently in attack flow as Brogdon.

One thing he does well that will be new to the Celtics’ rotation is his ability to keep his dribbling going when he hits a wall in the paint. Smart will try to bounce back and re-direct, White will just drive sideways and get rid of the ball, and Payton Pritchard would pick up his dribbling too often and start turning for helps. These were the moments when Boston’s distance got confused at times and pieces came crashing down, and it was Iso time.

But if Brogdon sees a trap, he can keep his chest to the basket and walk over, work his way across the color to get to the other side of the rim or make a play (thanks to Rob Williams for getting a fingertip on the basket has first layup in clip below). Or he can hold a great defender like Smart on his hip, fake the trap, and then continue to finish by contact.

The biggest question mark for him is his shooting as he was cold on almost every measure last season after shooting 44.4 percent from deep on catch-and-shoots and 34.5 percent on pull-ups two years ago, according to NBA statistics. Those numbers plummeted last season to 33.0 and 29.8 percent, respectively. He was healthy in 2020-21 and injured in 2021-22, so it could be as simple as a healthy ankle making him a more reliable shooter.

The Pacers have struggled to run a consistent offense with him as their main creator, but that’s not his role in Boston. He instantly becomes the Celtics’ best pick-and-roll playmaker in a team full of solid but not top-notch choreographers. But with most of the offense going through Tatum and Brown coming through defense to get the ball moving, Brogdon brings just the balance they need.

White’s defense often sagged when he shot poorly, but Brogdon gets more respect from defense as a spot-up shooter. You know he has capable midrange play to get out of the catch and he’s a much more creative and powerful one-handed finisher. Even if he doesn’t find his shot back to the level he showed earlier in his career before injuries became a more persistent problem, he can still be a productive part of a balanced offense.

The risk Boston is taking — and why it took only a late first-round pick and a struggling prospect in Aaron Nesmith to get an often-on-the-side All-Star — is availability over the duration of a sizable one contract. But on a team that already has two All-Stars entering their prime, Brogdon can fit into a flexible supplemental role that only asks him to create for himself when the team needs him most.

(Photo: Erik Williams / USA Today)

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