Former NBA player Gilbert Arenas had a notorious “hit list,” a reminder seared into his brain of every team who let him slide into the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft. Finally snagged with the 32nd pick by the Golden State Warriors, Arenas then methodically set about extracting payback against those teams throughout his career.
Malcolm Brogdon isn’t as outspoken as Arenas, nor as blatant in resenting the slights he felt on June 23 as team after team passed on him at the 2016 NBA Draft in Brooklyn. But he was paying attention then, and he’s paying attention now in what so far has been an overachieving first season as a Milwaukee Bucks point guard.
“My whole career, I’ve been an underdog, I’ve been underestimated,” Brogdon said after Milwaukee’s game against New York on Friday. “Therefore I’ve had a chip on my shoulder my entire career.
“Being drafted in the second round when you think you’re supposed to be in the first round, a lottery pick, the chip grows bigger. And you have more to prove.”
Brogdon’s use of “entire” in describing his career has more than a little to do with the latest helping of disrespect he had to swallow last summer. He wasn’t a one-and-done prospect in college, instead spending four seasons at Virginia and sticking around for five scholastic years (redshirted in 2012-13 after foot surgery).
Even when he enrolled at the Charlottesville, Va., school, Brogdon only caught the eye of coach Tony Bennett at the Peach Jam AAU tournament in the spring of 2010. Bennett liked what he saw of Brogdon’s game – he was sturdy and big for a point guard then, a full 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds now – and assumed the big dogs of the NCAA, North Carolina and Duke, stalking him.
Nope. Only Clemson.
Bennett phoned Brogdon later, sealing the deal from his side immediately. "Within like a minute, you could tell he was different, just by the way he spoke,” the Cavaliers coach said.
Brogdon’s maturity impressed folks along the way – he averaged 18.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a senior – and one Bucks insider who met him at a pre-draft camp last spring came away thinking, “We need this guy. Whether he ever plays for us or not.” But the meat market that is the draft favors talent, timed and measured skills and the sort of raw potential more typical of 19-year-olds, not 23-going-on-24-year-olds such as Brogdon.
“I pride myself on what I do every night, I pride myself on my work ethic and how I carry myself.”
Of course, then GMs and their coaches grumble about running day care facilities for athletes who are still stuck in Basketball 101. Brogdon was the opposite of that when the Bucks picked him at No. 36 overall, in between Boston’s selection of Rade Zagorac and Houston’s of Chinanu Onuaku. Those two, combined, have logged 862 fewer minutes, scored 314 fewer points and appeared in 35 fewer games (which is to say, Onuaku, 20, had one eight-minute appearance with six points while Zagorac, 21, still is over in Serbia).
“[Staying in college] worked against me for a lot of teams,” Brogdon said. “Saw me as older, saw me as ‘ceiling’s done, peaking in college.’ That’s just the nature of business in the NBA. A lot of scouts and people are enamored with athleticism and youth. So they take that any day over mature, high-quality basketball players.
“Then there are teams like the Bucks who said, ‘This guy was one of the better players in college and got better and better. Why can’t he continue to do that?’”
Brogdon isn’t apologizing for how late he was drafted, any more than he’s gloating over the success he’s had so far. In his draft class, he ranks second to the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram in minutes, trails only New Orleans Buddy Hield and Ingram in points, and leads assists by a wide margin.
Heading into Milwaukee’s game at San Antonio Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass), Brogdon had started six consecutive games, moving up in the rotation when Matthew Dellavedova battled a hamstring and staying there.
He had a triple-double at Chicago on Dec. 31 and scored a season-best 22 points against Washington Sunday. All the while steering the Bucks attack, when Giannis Anteteokounmpo isn’t in charge, with a steady hand.
So what if the rookie is older than the Greek Freak, Jabari Parker and even Rashad Vaughn, Milwaukee’s first-round pick in 2015?
“Just his poise, his composure,” teammate Greg Monroe said, citing Brogdon’s attributes. “He’s a rookie, but he’s about 30 in real life. So he’s really a composed, mature player. He picked up things really fast. That’s the main thing in this league – once you pick it up, things slow down and become a little easier.
“We’ve got guys in this league who were drafted last and are All-Stars now. We’ve got guys who were drafted first and it didn’t work out. It’s all about what you do once you’re in.”
Brogdon developed a nice floor chemistry with Monroe and veteran Jason Terry on Milwaukee’s second unit before he got upgraded as a starter. As for Monroe’s jibe about being 30, that was meant for Brogdon’s ears – they use adjacent stalls in the Bucks’ home locker room. It’s not a sore spot, either, because he and the Bucks knew exactly what they were getting in each other.
“The draft is never perfect. They always now have the ‘redrafts’ to give people something to do,” coach Jason Kidd said. “But Malcolm is a basketball player. Sometimes being older hurts you, for whatever reason. Everybody wants to go young – not everyone but some teams. I think it’s a matter of fit. We felt he fit what we do, being a bigger guard. Understanding his IQ and he knows how to play basketball.
“So was he underestimated? I don’t know, I think a lot of teams liked him. We feel he has a huge upside still. Being 24, there’s a lot for him to learn and he wants to learn.”
From Brogdon’s side, his agents had prepared him for a longer draft night than he might have wanted. But they identified Milwaukee as a possible destination – the Bucks used their first pick on Thon Maker, No. 10, then hoped through 25 more Brogdon still would be on the board.
“This was one of my top teams for where I wanted to fall to, whether in the first or second round,” Brogdon said.
The appeal was obvious: Kidd as head coach. If you’re a big, seemingly heady, aspiring NBA playmaker, there is no one from whom you’d rather learn.
“He’s arguably the greatest point guard, one of the greatest players of all time,” Brogdon said. “To play the same position as him, it’s huge. I’ve learned a lot. I don’t think there’s anybody I could learn it any better from.”
Kidd, he said, has been demanding and exacting on the rookie. “He’s a guy who has high expectations for anyone who plays for him, but more so for his point guards,” Brogdon said. “His mind is special for the game. That puts more expectations on me as a point guard – he’s hard on me – but it makes me better.”
New York coach Jeff Hornacek knows a little about overachieving late picks. He went No. 46 overall in 1986 out of Iowa State but wound up leading his class – which included Ron Harper, Chuck Person, Brad Daugherty and Dell Curry – in minutes, points and assists.
“The Bucks saw he was a solid player,” Hornacek said of Brogdon. “He knows how to play the game. He’s been in systems. Sometimes those guys get overlooked, because when the draft comes up, teams are looking at ‘potential’ a lot. So guys like that kind of slip through. He’s doing a nice job for them – he’s solid defensively, he’s making nice passes. When they give him a drive, he takes it. That’s a big key for those guys.”
Brogdon, who has both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, might add to his achievements if the NBA awarded a “true rookie” of the year title. As it is, the entire Class of 2016 is chasing Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, finally healthy three seasons after he was first drafted.
But that’s just “extra stuff” about which he’s not worried, the rookie said. The same goes for social media – Brogdon intentionally isn’t on Twitter, so he didn’t see how NBA timelines blew up after his recent dunks over Kyrie Irving and, especially, LeBron James.
“I want to be low key with no distractions,” Brogdon said. “I think my play will talk for me, It will show people and it will show the league.
“I pride myself on what I do every night, I pride myself on my work ethic and how I carry myself. I want to be mature in my approach but focused and disciplined.”
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