For rust to form on metal, it must be exposed to oxygen and water over a period of time. The answer to what it would take for rust to form on Malcolm Brogdon remains unclear.
By the time Malcolm Brogdon stepped back on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks on May 8th, he’d missed nearly two months of basketball. He played 64 regular season games for the Bucks before suffering a plantar fasciatis tear in his right foot, putting an abrupt pause on a career year. Brogdon was averaging highs in points (15.6), rebounds (4.5) and field goal percentage (50%), including a scorching 42.6 percent from beyond the arc, and was a key cog alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton as the Bucks set their sights on an NBA Finals run.
When an athlete misses such an extended period of time, it’s impossible to simulate the game speed they’ll experience upon their return no matter how many 5-on-5s you run with them in practice. It took Joel Embiid nearly the duration of the Philadelphia 76ers playoffs run to work himself back into game shape following lingering knee tendinitis that caused him to miss 14 games in the second half of the season, and even then the big man still struggled with his conditioning. Brogdon returned for Game 5 of the Bucks Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with the Boston Celtics on a minutes restriction, and played much of it in garbage time. He played 17 minutes and scored a quiet 10 points, but was able to parachute in to a low pressure environment as the Bucks blew out the Celtics by nearly 30 points to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
With a week off in between that Game 5 and the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals, head coach Mike Budenholzer tossed Brogdon’s minutes restriction in the trash. He’s averaged nearly 30 minutes per game in three games against the Toronto Raptors, and played 37 minutes in the Bucks overtime loss in Game 3.
It cannot be understated what Brogdon’s return has done for an already devastating Bucks team. Milwaukee has a +21 net rating in the ECF when Brogdon has been on the floor, including a sparkling defensive rating of 96.3. Offensively, his return has helped space the floor to an even greater degree, leaving the Raptors defense with a a bit of Cornelian dilemma: commit multiple to defenders to keep Antetokounmpo from wreaking havoc in the paint, leaving guys like Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic and Middleton open for threes, or have their help defenders stick with the Bucks shooters and take their chances on stopping Giannis with just one or two men. It’s often a lose-lose proposition.
In Games 1 and 2, Brogdon made the Raptors pay for their obsession with Antetokounmpo. He went 6-12 from deep, punishing the Raps in the halfcourt when their defenders were forced into rotations after Anteteokounmpo or others broke into the paint and in transition when the Raptors continually struggled to find their man and match up. The Bucks are shooting 43 percent from deep as a team against the Raptors, paced by Brogdon shooting it at a 45 percent clip.
And though Brogdon doesn’t possess what you’d called “elite” speed, he’s more than capable of beating you off the dribble, as he did here to Kawhi Leonard in Game 3.
Though Khris Middleton has spent the most time guarding Leonard in this series, Brogdon has shown he’s more than capable against the star on the handful of possessions the two have been matched up. Brogdon has held Leonard to just 4-13 from the field on possessions where he’s been the primary defender in the halfcourt, per NBA.com, and has been deft at fighting around screens and getting a hand up to contest Leonard’s arsenal of mid-range jumpers.
Brogdon is the final dish of the Bucks five-course meal. They can now beat you with Antetokounmpo, they can beat you with shooting and they can beat you with their length and ability to switch on defense. Brogdon’s return, and surprising lack of rust, has the Bucks on a fast track to the NBA Finals.