Steve later added further perspective:
“With our group in particular, it’s not as much about blindly
acquiring talent as it is fitting a team together. We’ve got some
very, very talented guys, and they are young. So it’s about how do
we fit together, bring our strengths together to accentuate each
It's the approach that landed Derrick White (and Daniel Theis,
in some respects) this past trade deadline, and the same theme is
underlining Boston's two splashes this NBA offseason.
Last Friday, the Celtics reportedly acquired Malcolm Brogdon
from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Theis, Aaron Nesmith, Juwan
Morgan, Malik Fitts, Nik Stauskas and a 2023 first-round pick —
essentially one rotation player, several reserves and a draft
asset. According to several reports, they also intend to ink Danilo
Gallinari to a two-year contract following a buyout with the San
Observers have lauded both moves in consensus, and I'd join the
chorus. Boston barely subtracted from its 2021-22 rotation while
adding two veterans who have averaged at least 24 minutes per game
in each of their respective seasons since Gallinari's 2008-09
rookie year. Brogdon and Gallinari add 821 combined NBA games
started to the shuffle, and to have both off the bench is a
testament to the depth of a title frontrunner.
But even if the on-paper trade-off was minimal, this is still a
serious bet that Stevens and Ime Udoka know how to straddle that
aformentioned fine line — how to avoid complacency without
upsetting the fragility of a team's identity. Brogdon and Gallinari
bring strengths that the Celtics sorely lacked in their Finals loss
— and concerns that could undermine their fit with the rest of the
Here's how I painted Boston's offseason needs:
And here's another nugget from Stevens:
“I think we need a little bit more playmaking. I think that’s
real,” Stevens said. “I think we need more playmaking, but I don’t
think we can be stagnant. We have to make sure that we continue to
play with pace. When we are at our best we play with pace, and when
we create one advantage the ball whips around the court and I just
thought we played pretty slow in that last series.”
An idealized Malcolm Brogdon hits my third bullet point and
In his smaller, 36-game sample size from an injury-plagued
2021-22 season, Brogdon finished fourth in the NBA with 18.3 drives
per game. He's steadily increased that volume throughout his NBA
career, and has kept up some impressive numbers on those attacks.
Here's how he ranked in several metrics when driving the ball last
season, among 83 players who drove at least seven times per game
across at least 30 games:
What does playmaking mean? It's an amoebic term that people
use... creatively, throughout basketball. To me, a good "playmaker"
can create an advantage and make the high-efficiency play, whether
it be a bucket or a pass, out of that advantage. Brogdon
successfully play-makes when he hits these driving lanes.
It's impressive how he can generate quality looks without an
eye-popping first step or vertical leap. Brogdon can use a quick
dribble move to get his legs running, and he's great at creating
extra space with his opposite arm and shoulder without fouling.
Then, he can get the ball to his extended finishing hand so quickly
that even longer defenders can't recover in time (look at that
drive on Jaylen Brown). Brogdon doesn't have the best natural touch
at the rim, but all of these smaller tricks of the trade help him
clear the obstacles.
Brogdon isn't passing players open, but he has the requisite
court vision to read help defense and sense where his shooters are.
Brogdon notched upper-echelon assist rates in each season as a
Pacer without sacrificing too many turnovers, and should continue
to do so in a smaller role.
I read and listened to some Brogdon season-ending reviews from
Caitlin Cooper and Mark Schindler. One notable critique they
alluded to was his tendency to lean into the drive, particularly on
Cooper noted one play against
the Detroit Pistons where Brogdon charged at a switching Isaiah
Stewart without any threat of a pass or pull-up. It's noteworthy
because one of the biggest criticisms of the Celtics all season
long was their late-game tendency to fall into isolation
mismatch-hunting, gunking up the ball movement. That overlap does
give me pause.
Schindler elaborated on an April episode of the Indy
Cornrows podcast that Brogdon demonstrated a concerning
hesitancy to shoot in search of drives. He shot just 31.2% from
beyond the arc last season, the worst percentage of his career and
far off from his 38.8% clip in 2020-21. It further strained the
synergy between Brogdon and Tyrese Haliburton, who, as Caitlin and
Mark both emphasized, did not mesh particularly well in a tiny
Fitting Brogdon into Boston's guard rotations should be
Firstly, it's reasonable to expect shooting improvement. Brogdon
was in and out of a jumbled Pacers lineup last season, and again,
played only 36 games. He made just 33% of his catch-and-shoot
threes last season after hitting on 44% of those shots the prior
year. Brogdon isn't the 50-40-90 player he was in 2017-18, but he's
also just a better knockdown shooter than his 2021-22 numbers
He won't be playing the same minutes with the same
responsibility, and a change of scenery can always act as a
confidence reset. Tatum, Brown, Smart and White can all orchestrate
offense with a base level of comfort, meaning Brogdon receives more
time as a spot-up perimeter threat.
Boston desperately needed another player who could collapse
defenses in the Finals, particularly as Brown and Tatum grew
fatigued from high usage. Boston drove to the basket 52 times per
game in the Finals. Tatum, Brown, Smart and White combined for 91%
of those drives. Tatum and White struggled immensely against Golden
State's defense, shooting 31.0% and 27.8% from the field,
Brogdon should feast on reps as an initiator off the bench or as
an off-ball threat to shoot or drive next to Boston's other primary
creators. His presence should particularly help White — who is used
to playing as a "1B" attacker from his days in San Antonio — speed
to the basket with more freedom as Brogdon draws some defensive
Payton Pritchard is another beneficiary, though I wonder what
the trades mean for his playing time. He's the best shooter on the
Celtics, but one of the least threatening drivers in the entire
league. Now, he won't have to worry about pressuring a defense, and
in theory, he can turn into a floor-spacer while Brogdon and White
do the heavy lifting with the ball.
On defense, Boston simply needs its cast to hit a threshold of
individual switchability and team communication. Brogdon won't make
an All-Defensive Team next season, but at 6-foot-5 and nearly 230
pounds, he's an above-average defender who should hold his own on
most guards and leaner wings. Brogdon will rarely have to exhaust
energy as a point-of-attack defender as long as Smart and White are
healthy, and he seems capable of acclimating to the high-pressure
world of Celtics scrams and switches.
All of these visualizations hinge on two additional question
marks. First, Brogdon has to settle into his role. Multiple reports
from Boston-area outlets have repeated that, barring some stunning
change, he will be used off the bench. This shouldn't be a serious
concern; Brogdon might stay healthier with a lesser workload, and
he's indicated he knows what he has to sacrifice.
“I’m looking to win a championship, that’s actually it,” Brogdon
said to Jared Weiss of The Athletic. “In
the past, I’ve worried about stats and numbers and all that. I’m
going to Boston and not worrying about that.”
Health is an entirely different topic.
Brogdon has not played more than 65 regular-season games in a
single season since his rookie year. He's never had one serious
long-term injury like an ACL or Achilles tear, but has fought
through numerous ailments all over his body throughout his career
(here's a list). I won't
speculate on what we can expect for availability, and the Celtics
doctors know far more than we do. It's still worth monitoring for a
guard who turns 30 this winter.
But as long as Brogdon is healthy, he's one more supporting beam
for Boston's offense as it tries to create the consistency worthy
of an NBA championship.