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An analysis of Malcolm Brogdon going left as a shooter

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Indiana’s starting point guard is still going to be involved in ball screens, even if he also plays more away from the ball.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Playing predominantly as a spot-up option off of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s gravity, Malcolm Brogdon made 42 percent of his three-pointers during his final season with the Bucks. That number plummeted to 32 percent with the Pacers last season for a few explainable reasons. For one, only 20 percent of his attempts from deep last season were wide open, according to NBA.com. In 2018-19, with a dominant drive-and-kick force serving as the fulcrum of Milwaukee’s offense, that mark was over 25 percent. Moreover, with greater on-ball responsibility, Brogdon also had to be more of a self-starter, attempting over 20 percent of his threes off-the-dribble, compared to just eight percent in Milwaukee. The discrepancy in those numbers alone suggest that a shift in role, where he would be allowed to play more off-the-catch than the bounce, has the potential to level off some of his nose-dive from behind the arc.

But is it really that simple?

Granted, as a former point guard himself, Nate McMillan’s offense was largely built around having his point guards dribble a whole bunch mostly out of one-dimensional, standstill pick-and-roll. In the playoffs, the only player who finished with a higher time of possession than Brogdon in the first round was offensive maestro Luka Doncic, and in the absence of Domantas Sabonis, only Denver’s Nikola Jokic’s bested him in passes per game. That’s an unrealistic workload, which should hopefully be reduced by the improved health of Sabonis and Victor Oladipo as well as the expected emphasis on connecting one action to the next with free-flowing, egalitarian ball and player movement. However, until proven otherwise by Oladipo’s sloppy handle, Brogdon is still the most reliable primary ball-handler on a team lacking in elite perimeter playmaking, which means he needs to be able to hit off-the-dribbles threes with improved accuracy to thin out traffic at the nail and avoid being prioritized as a driver, especially now that teams have written the book on forcing him to his weak-hand.

After all, if the Pacers, as some have expressed, want to play a similar style to the Raptors, then firing away from deep is going to be key. Admittedly, Toronto ran plenty of stagger actions last season designed to get the backcourt moving away from the ball, but Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet also shouldered much of the responsibility for opening the floor up for others, combining to attempt as many pull-up threes per game (7.2) this past year as the Pacers averaged as a team (7.2).

“Shooting the three-ball,” Brogdon responded when asked about what he worked on during the shortened offseason. “Off-the-dribble, off-the-ball, and going left shooting the ball. Teams want to weak me. Teams don’t want me to get to my right hand, so I worked on left finishing, and I worked on going left shooting the ball.”

Per manual count, Brogdon launched fewer than 30 threes last season when dribbling left off a screen or hand-off. On top of having a slow release, part of the problem stems from his shot preparation. Rather than immediately ripping the ball across his body into his shooting pocket, he occasionally wants to sneak-in an extra left-to-right cross so he can pick up the ball with his strong hand.

Adding that type of accessory to his gather is fine when he can still pull-up while Wendell Carter Jr. has his foot back, but not so much when it gives his defender an opportunity to swallow up space despite ducking under.

The greater issue, however, is a matter of directionality. Overall, Indiana’s floor leader is more comfortable moving toward the basket than he is sliding away from it. That’s why, even if he can’t get the ball back to his strong hand, he generally still manages to shoot a clean, rhythm jumper when he’s able to step forward with his left foot, dribble, and then step into his shot with his right.

For that reason, more touch-and-go are the scenarios where he has to move laterally, altering his routine to drag out his defender, with the ball still in play.

Too often in these situations, in order to maintain enough breathing room on his release, he has to take more than one dribble to create airspace into his gather side-step and then ends up pulling the trigger while he’s still moving from right-to-left and before he has his feet squared to the basket. Worse still, though, is that these are the types of shots — and, sometimes, heal turns — that are actively encouraged when teams weak the ball-handler with ice coverage.

Take a look at these two possessions against Brooklyn and Milwaukee, for example. With Kyrie Irving and Donte DiVincenzo pushing the action to the sideline with their backs to the screener, Brogdon has fewer means of escape. In order to peel his man off his hip, he either has to snake his dribble in front of the screen and into a shallower shot, which can occasionally prove dicey, or he has to drift crabwise with his left along the three-point line.

That said, given that the 28-year-old guard is about to enter his fifth season, perhaps the simplest solution doesn’t have so much to do with adjusting the timing and mechanics of his release against push coverage as it does with how he sets up the screen.

Here, for example, notice how he retreat dribbles twice and then watch what develops next:

Even with Turner barely making contact on the screen, Brogdon is back in his wheelhouse, dribbling downhill into a rhythm jumper instead of zagging away off-balance.

Taken altogether, this same technique can be applied to the screening craft he developed with Sabonis last season; it just needs to be used further out from the basket. Remember what happened against the Nets? Re-imagine that as if Brogdon had moved Kyrie back toward half-court with a lift hesitation just long enough to buy time for Sabonis to change the angle on the pick.

Then, with the benefit of the flat screen, he could once again shoot in his more natural motion, moving north-south as opposed to east-west.

All of which is to say that, sure, if Oladipo can maintain better control of the ball and deliver passes on-time and on-target so that defenders don’t have as much time to closeout, Brogdon’s efficiency from three arguably should see an organic boost from an increase in open, spot-up opportunities. Nevertheless, after assisting Brogdon on more made field goals in 2018-19 (85) than Indiana’s entire roster last season (81), Giannis isn’t walking through that door. And like the Raptors, who at times struggled to crack defenses in the half-court, the Pacers as a whole stand to gain from their point guard diversifying what he can do with a ball screen and continuing to function on-ball, albeit in a less dominant role, as well as off.