MILWAUKEE — Malcolm Brogdon is sorely missed by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Then again, Brogdon isn’t missed at all.
From a personal standpoint, seeing Brogdon back in town Sunday with his new team, the Indiana Pacers, was a happy reunion with a players who was integral to the Bucks’ conference finals breakthrough a year ago. There were warm moments before and after the game, a tribute video and a standing ovation, and the sort of ruthless ribbing in which only the tightest of friends can engage.
For instance, Milwaukee’s George Hill, on his way in, pounced on Brogdon’s new mustachioed look the instant he saw him in the hallway.
“It’s a good look for Malcolm,” center Brook Lopez said later, more generous in his review. “I don’t know how many people could do it, but he does a great job with it and wears it with great confidence.
“I wish him utmost success. As long as he’s happy, he’s doing great on the court, that’s fantastic.”
Brogdon, widely considered one of the NBA’s top offseason acquisitions for his impact thus far with the Pacers, has been playing with confidence too, same as he did for three seasons with the Bucks.
Reigning Kia MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo thought it might take Brogdon (who was hurt when the teams met in Indianapolis last month) longer to master the role Indiana handed to him when they executed the sign-and-trade deal worth $85 million over four seasons to land the restricted free agent. Carrying a team, heavy usage on the ball, leading Indiana in scoring – all of that has come quickly, surprising no one less than Brogdon himself.
“This has been something that every respected NBA player wants,” the 27-year-old said before tipoff. “They want a team [where] they can still win at a high level but they have the ball more in their hands and they can control more of the game.”
Said Antetokounmpo, “Obviously, you can see, he got a lot better. His space is great, he’s finding his teammates real well and I think the game has slowed down even more for him.”
Despite so much goodwill and sentiment framing the game for Brogdon and his former teammates, the reunion turned into just another ruthless night at the office for the Bucks.
I would have loved to play for this team. If they wanted me. If they had valued me the way the Pacers valued me. That’s all I’m gonna say.”
Brogdon shot poorly in the first half, but Indiana was within 59-55 at the break. Then the home team stiffened. It limited the Pacers to 4-of-17 shooting through the first 10 minutes of the third quarter, opening a lead that bloated to 21 points. In the fourth, five different Bucks drained deep 3s on consecutive possessions and soon, Milwaukee had a 117-89 win. Brogdon finished with 10 points and 10 assists, but managed only four and two after halftime.
Thank you, Malcolm! pic.twitter.com/zMSDIrALe1
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 23, 2019
As valuable as he was last season — averaging 15.6 points while hitting that rare 40/50/90 mark in field goal, 3-point and free throw accuracy — it’s been hard to find the void he was supposed to have left in Milwaukee’s play.
There still are critics who think the Bucks signed the wrong point guard when they pre-empted Eric Bledsoe’s free agency with a four-year, $70 million extension last March. Brogdon’s consistency argued on his behalf, and his superior shooting was a better fit with Antetokounmpo.
Still, Bledsoe was an All-NBA defender last season and Milwaukee’s clear third option offensively after Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, at a preseason media session, said re-signing Brogdon would have been a “luxury.” Brogdon figured, once Bledsoe got his deal, that his Milwaukee days were numbered.
“I would have loved to play for this team,” Brogdon admitted Sunday. “If they wanted me. If they had valued me the way the Pacers valued me. That’s all I’m gonna say.”
That’s where this is looking — for now — like a win-win with little regret. Brogdon likes his contract, his new team and his role. The Bucks, meanwhile, are 27-4, holders of the best record in the NBA and tied with the 1970-71 championship squad for the best start in franchise history.
The throttling of the Pacers was Milwaukee’s eighth victory by 20 points or more this season. Coach Mike Budenholzer got his 300th career win and the team now has sold out a record 50 straight home games.
With second-year wing Donte DiVincenzo taking a big step this season — he has been starting while Bledsoe recovers from a right shin fracture — and veteran Wesley Matthews handling 3-and-D duties, the Bucks have papered over Brogdon’s absent contributions. They also used some of what might have been his money to add Matthews, Robin Lopez and Kyle Korver to this season’s roster.
Budenholzer said management liked the “good, young wings” who were ready for greater workloads, including DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown. Lopez talked about how they’re getting a lot of what Brogdon did then “by committee” now.
Said Hill: “We knew losing Malcolm was a big punch. But we have guys like Donte, Wes, myself, and other guys coming in filling up roles.”
It’s early, of course, and way too soon to make pronouncements for a Bucks team whose success will be determined by whether they play past May. If they don’t, it could wind up easy in hindsight to point to a playoff game or three where Brogdon’s particular brand of impact was fatally lacking.
But not now. He is thriving in Indy, even as the Bucks keep powering on.
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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