In a wholly underperforming rookie class, three guys have stood out all season long. One of them is Malcolm Brogdon, a four-year player out of Virginia.
After Philadelphia 76ers cult icon Joel Embiid got shut down for the season, this Rookie of the Year “race” is Brogdon’s to lose. It’s entirely possible Embiid brings home the award anyway, but Brogdon has, without a doubt, been the second best rookie all season and is completely overshadowing his 2016 contemporaries.
He leads all of his classmates in points per game (9.9) and assists per game (4.1) while having all the intangibles to complement the numbers. What gets lost while watching him is how seamlessly he translated to the rigorous defense of the NBA, and just because he’s got good size and decent athleticism didn’t mean it would work right away.
Each year, teams become enamored with college freshmen. The first three picks of 2016 spent one season in the NCAA. 2015 was no different, but 2014 was. That year, the first four selections spent just one year at school, and I’m not taking into account the international players who are less than 20-years-old when they’re drafted. General managers look for young guys for one simple reason: development.
When teams pick a 19-year-old who barely had enough time to decorate their dorm, they can mold them. The odds of them having bad habits are lower because, for the most part, they’re still thriving off of their physical gifts and get by because of it. All of them are still incredible players, but the potential hasn’t been tapped yet.
Off the top of my head, Andrew Wiggins is the best example of this. Before even getting to Kansas, Wiggins took the high school basketball scene by storm at Huntington Prep. His outrageous explosiveness made him a YouTube sensation, and it took off from there. Coaches around the country wanted no one else but the next coming of LeBron James and Bill Self was lucky enough to convince the prep school superstar to go out to the Midwest.
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Wiggins has had NBA-level athleticism for a long time, and he used his quickness and leaping ability to piece apart NCAA defenses at will.
Since getting drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, that organization has transformed him into a feared scorer and not just an incredible athlete. Wiggins’ three-point shot is starting to take shape, as well as his ability to take opponents down into the post and off the dribble.
With athletes who spend three or four years at school, teams fear they won’t be able to reverse what that player has already learned or that they’ve already peaked. Of course, that’s not an issue if you take them late in the first or the second round because the expectations are much lower. What also plays into that equation is the institution they’re attending. A senior from Duke looks better on paper than a senior from Eastern Michigan. It’s just a fact.
In conferences like the ACC, SEC and Big 10, the competition is much greater collectively than mid-majors, so plucking a senior from one of those schools between picks 25-60 could result in the steal of the draft. And that’s what Malcolm Brogdon is.
Brogdon spent four years at Virginia, an ACC powerhouse who’s always in contention to finish at the top of the conference. His teams did just that, and Brogdon powered the Cavaliers to three March Madnesses where they were seeded no lower than second — two of them were firsts. By the end of his time under Tony Bennett, Brogdon was one of the ACC’s top prospects, and it was strengthed by his incredible prowess on defense, which earned him the NABC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016.
He brought the total package to draft night: size, length, leadership, a high basketball IQ and a lights-out three-point stroke. There is nothing else you’d want from a four-year student-athlete, but the biggest con against him was his age. At 24, Brogdon would join David Robinson and Elgin Baylor as the oldest winners of the Rookie of the Year trophy. Not a bad list, right, Bucks fans?
Unfortunately, the numbers put up between the three are not comparable in any way, shape or form. Regardless, Brogdon has handled his situation with a poise that’s well beyond his years, and that’s one of the biggest benefits of staying all four years at Virginia. He’s started 17 games for the Bucks this year, and his first stretch didn’t come until mid-season, so he was, essentially, just thrown into the spot of having to lead and facilitate alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In those first 12 stars, Brogdon recorded his first triple-double, averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 44.7 percent overall and from three. Expectedly, the increase in production was helped by his added minutes, which jumped up to 32.4 from 22. I want you to find me another rookie this season who virtually doubled their production while being thrust into the starting point guard role out of nowhere. It’s not an easy feat.
For a young player, it’s even harder. Because of his tenure at Virginia, Brogdon was able to spend four years learning how to run a team efficiently.
It doesn’t stop there because he’s smart, too. Brogdon boasts one of 2016’s best nicknames, “The President,” and that complements his 2.73 assists-to-turnover ratio, which is best among rookies who have a usage rate greater than 15 percent in more than 800 minutes played, according to Basketball-Reference.
Malcolm Brogdon gives hope to any senior who feels inadequate in the one-and-done era. While younger players are more malleable, it’s evident that the majority of them don’t have the unmeasurable skills that the older guys have. Being a leader, having a high basketball IQ, being able to handle tough tasks that the coach throws at you is a product of refining yourself at the college level, and Brogdon personifies that.
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