- The Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, with Giannis and Malcolm Brogdon leading the way. Similar to his team, Brogdon is red hot and playing the best basketball of his young career.
Nine months after hearing a terrifying ‘pop’ in his left quad as he lifted his right hand for a layup, Bucks third-year guard Malcolm Brogdon is back and ostensibly stronger than ever, putting up 20 points Thursday night against a seemingly unstoppable Golden State in Milwaukee’s unexpected win, another 23 two days later against the Clippers, and 20 more Sunday night against Denver.
Brogdon is red hot right now, as is his team. The Bucks sit at 10–3 to start the season.
“I think we are finding our flow, I think you can say that,” Brogdon told Sports Illustrated. “But I don’t think we’ve peaked yet, I don’t think we’re even close to peaking.”
The Virginia product went overlooked in the 2016 draft, dropping to Milwaukee in the second round before going on to secure Rookie of the Year honors. Amid a breakout second year for the Bucks, Milwaukee fired head coach Jason Kidd in January. Two weeks later, Brogdon tore a tendon in his left quad against the Timberwolves. The unexpected sidelining put things in perspective for the 25-year-old guard.
“[Last year] broadened my horizons in terms of what to expect during an NBA season,” Brogdon said. “When you have a coaching change, when you have trades, an injury, when you have all these things happening—these are all things that are out of your control. Quickly you start to understand that really the only thing you can control is going out and playing hard every night and being ready for your opportunity.”
Milwaukee went 16–14 in Brogdon's eight-week absence, clinching the seventh seed in the playoffs. Despite returning to action in April, just as the Bucks were about to take on the Celtics, Brogdon needed an entire summer to really recover from injury.
“The hardest part honestly wasn’t the actual rehab, it was getting back into the flow,” Brogdon said. “Once [I was] 100%, I was stepping back in basically during the playoffs, during the most competitive, hardest time of the year. I was trying to figure out my rhythm and also trying to trust that quad again. All those things, during the playoffs, are tough.”
After Milwaukee fell to the Celtics in seven games, Brodgon shifted the focus back to his body. This time, he wanted to be ready for the toll that an eight- or nine-month season can take on a player’s body. Brogdon said he decided on simplicity: in his eating, in his training, his focus, and in his game.
“Training-wise, it was really focusing on my legs, making sure I was stronger, making sure my legs were stronger and able to uphold a full NBA season,” Brogdon said. “These seasons are very long, they can tear your body up if you don’t take care of your body so it’s about eating right, it’s about rehabbing, it’s about keeping your legs strong so that you can make it through a full season.”
As he spent the summer rebuilding his body, the Bucks were doing some rebuilding of their own. Milwaukee brought in Mike Budenholzer as it’s new head coach, who took over the team just as the Bucks added veteran center Brook Lopez to their otherwise young lineup.
The result? A new-look Milwaukee team. In a matter of months, Budenholzer had the Bucks playing dramatically different. Gone are the days of deliberate pacing. In its place is an up-tempo offense that’s already finding its stride. The new system relies on balanced basketball, competing on both ends of the court and playing with confidence. Brogdon credits the growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s star small forward, and the arrival of Coach Bud for the Bucks' transition from an upstart contender to an elite team.
“I think Giannis [Antetokounmpo] has gone from being a young talent to being one of the top-five players in the NBA. I think when you have a player that good and that dominant, it’s going to take your team to another level,” Brogdon said. “Then I think having coach Bud here and having the coaching he’s brought us has also taken us to another level. Those two things combined have made the team a whole lot better.”
Budenholzer is crafting around the talent already at his fingertips, taking what guys like Antetokounmpo, Brodgon, Lopez and Eric Bledsoe, who the team traded for in 2017, bring to the table and working with it, rather than stuffing their strengths into a preset system. Milwaukee knows Antetokounmpo is the focus of most opponents, but by surrounding him with other talented shooters, the Bucks have become much stronger as a unit. And that’s tough to contain.
The team is buying in to what Budenholzer is doing, too. That’s the key, Brogdon says, to really succeeding. It’s reminiscent of what Steve Kerr did with the Warriors when he took over in 2014. He had the talent; the trick was figuring out how to best use it. That’s what Budenholzer is doing with the Bucks.
He’s using his team’s length and ability to knock down deep shots and to pressure opponents on both sides of the ball. Brogdon, a 6’5” guard with a 6’11” wingspan, fits perfectly with those priorities. Due, largely, to the defensive discipline he learned under Tony Bennett at Virginia, Brogdon has become one of the Bucks' strongest stoppers–and he's a knock-down shooter too, putting up numbers of 50.7% from the field and 43.5% from beyond the arc this season.
Simplicity has been the key to the Bucks' success on the court, but it’s also been key to Brogdon’s personal growth and development. He’s started the season leaps and bounds ahead of what the world saw in previous years.
“It’s a mantra I’ve had since I was in high school, going through college, all of it," Brogdon said. "For me, keeping it simple is the best way to live life, to not complicate things, to sort of keep things in perspective. It’s easy for especially NBA players to get caught up in the stress of the job, to get caught up in negativity and in what other people think and it’s hard but the best way to live is to keep things simple and enjoy everyday.”
Brogdon’s next goal is simple too: “Go out and win. We went to Golden State, we beat the Warriors and now it’s about carrying that over. Carrying that momentum, that focus, that energy and going out there and executing.”