Alliteration aside, Saturday night brought Milwaukee Bucks fans a barrel-full of bad news. Due to a plantar fascia tear in his right foot, starting guard Malcolm Brogdon is expected to be out for quite some time, and almost assuredly the remainder of the regular season.
Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot, league sources tell @malika_andrews and me.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 17, 2019
The timing of this news is terrible. Brogdon started all 64 games this season, producing 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game, while blowing everyone out of the water with his efficient shooting splits (0.505 from the field / 0.426 from three / 0.928 from the foul line). While his 50/40/90 season remains intact (though perhaps with an asterisk), Brogdon had quietly put together a breakout third season ahead of his pending restricted free agency this summer. He’s still technically extension-eligible, but this injury combined with his serious quad injury last year put his long-term future down an unknown path.
In the meantime, the Bucks have their short-term future to worry about. They’re still the best team in the NBA by a significant margin, but Malcolm Brogdon was a huge part of their success. Whenever Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Eric Bledsoe were off the floor, Brogdon was able to take charge of the offense (even though he sometimes didn’t wait for any of that trio to be off the floor), and there’s no way to outright replace his efficiency or his cool-under-pressure performance.
There is some optimism that Brogdon could return on the short side of the “6-8 week” range, but his change in availability will have a ripple effect on the rest of the Bucks rotation. There is no one player that can replicate what he does. However, Mike Budenholzer and his staff are going to have to figure it out, so let’s take a look at what we can expect from who, keeping in mind that other wings are banged up, too.
While Malcolm Brogdon is out for the foreseeable future, the Bucks will remain without Sterling Brown (right wrist soreness) tomorrow vs Philadelphia. Pat Connaughton is probable with a right ankle sprain and Donte DiVincenzo is questionable with heel bursitis.— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) March 17, 2019
In terms of defense, Brown might be the guy who offers the same degree of versatility that Brogdon does. Coming in at 6’6” and 232 lbs, Sterling has never given any indication that he’s willing to back down from a challenge, on or off the court. He’s also been successful in reducing his foul rate, going from 5.1 fouls per 100 possessions to only 3.9, and even his shooting has been promising (3PAr of 0.521, making 36.0% from three this year, including 50.0% from the corners). However...Brown still “boasts” a basement-level net rating at minus-13.1. Part of that is his presence in garbage-time lineups that tank the team’s advanced stats, but Sterling has struggled to crack the rotation because of his merely average dribbling and passing skills.
When your team needs a shot in the arm, call on Planet Pat. The über-athletic two-sport athlete knows only one gear: all-out. He’s a plus-athlete in a league full of athletes, a willing shooter (who’s starting to finally come around lately), and at least has the adoration of his teammates. However, like Sterling, Connaughton doesn’t have the same kind of “dribble, pass, shoot” versatility in his offensive game that Brogdon has. Furthermore, Pat C has an awful lot of Thon Maker in his game on defense; he jumps at nearly everything (partially because he can jump), and finds himself out of position more often than is permissible. Connaughton will play, but elevating his place in the rotation to make up for Brogdon’s minutes are risky.
A Brew Hoop Podcast favorite, Donte’s Inferno had been seriously chilled due to a lingering heel issue, and while the rookie returned to the court during this road trip, his heel bursitis seems to have flared back up and his availability is in question. However, the captain of “Team Doing Things” will be a welcome addition when he is available...as long as he’s not relied on for more than he can handle. Donte’s game is awfully similar to Pat Connaughton’s; they both have impressive leaping ability, are willing shooters who struggle to hit the mark, but willing to get gritty and do the dirty work to help their team win. Like Pat, Donte is the perfect player to rely upon towards the end of your bench. He’s just not ready to fill Brogdon’s shoes yet.
After a lengthy absence due to a groin issue, Hill is working his way back into the rotation, and apparently not a moment too soon. The only other rotation player truly capable of playing point guard, his return coincides nicely with Brogdon’s absence, though the thought of immediately dialing up Hill’s responsibilities gives many pause. Hill is an older vet, and more importantly, he and Eric Bledsoe are easily the best guard defenders on the roster, as Hill’s absence not so inconspicuously aligned with a significant dip in Milwaukee’s game-to-game defensive rating. Changing Hill’s role at this stage of the game might seem tempting (he’s a decent shooter and a sneaky-good playmaker), but would fly in the face of what has made his time with the Bucks really click.
You might have forgotten about him since he’s such a quiet guy. However, Tony Snell is putting up another solid season for a member of a successful supporting cast, and also has increased the frequency of his “TONY SNELL DID WHAT?!” plays. Snell is also the type of low-usage role player that could slot in easily with the starting lineup; he’s still a good shooter (0.399 from deep this season), and offers enough positional flexibility (6’7”, 213 lbs.) to hold his own on defense. However, the main draw of Malcolm Brogdon is how much he can offer in terms of versatility and efficiency as a “tertiary option” in the offense, whereas Tony Snell might occasionally surprise you, but he’s not consistently in a position to do everything Malcolm does.
...Alright, you wanna get nuts?
Sometimes you need to zig when everyone expects you to zag. The Bucks need to replace a guard in their starting lineup...but what if they don’t use a guard at all?
Since his arrival, Nikola Mirotic has performed as advertised: he shoots a lot of threes and creates a lot of space doing it. Adding him to the starting lineup alongside Brook Lopez (another floor-stretching big) would be a promising problem to pose to opponents, since it gives Giannis as much space as he can to do the work he does so well.
The “new” starting lineup that’s entirely too silly to consider is Bledsoe-Middleton-Giannis-Mirotic-Lopez, giving the Bucks a ton of length across the board and height 2 through 5 (6’8” - 6’11” - 6’10” - 7’0”), all without sacrificing shooting. This would, in turn, open the door to both Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson contributing at the backup 4/5 spots (the latter being a major focus of many Bucks fans) without placing additional stress on the back court rotation. Then again, this lineup also risks putting both Giannis and Khris out of position, reduces the overall “speed” on the floor (Brogdon isn’t fast, but Mirotic is less fast), and could cause problems if the shots aren’t falling. Nevertheless, sometimes the best solution to a problem is to throw all your talent at it, and this lineup would at least put forth the Bucks’ five most-talented players available.
There is no easy answer to this question. Malcolm Brogdon has provided a ton of value this season, and his absence will be a major obstacle for the team to overcome. They haven’t needed to work through any serious injuries to their starters until now, and coming into a matinee matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers isn’t an ideal way to start that journey. But if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that this Bucks team is not like those of years’ past, and no matter which solution Coach Bud goes with, this team will have a fighting chance at holding down the fort until The President is back in office.