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Malcolm Brogdon needs to keep the ball moving

On what changed about the the shifty guard’s game during February and what needs to happen for it not to carry over into March.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Malcolm Brogdon had a peculiar month of February. Although he racked up 7.3 minutes of possession per game, which was his highest mark since October; his increased ball- dominance somehow translated into a lower average number of drives (13.3) than by comparison to his first 16 games of the season (16.8). Meanwhile, he barely got to the line, with only 2.5 attempts per game, and his conversion rate on freebies sunk to 80 percent, down from 91 percent over all the months prior.

For the most part, rather than knifing to the rim at the drop of a hat with the same surgical craft he displayed earlier in the season: his decision-making, particularly when there wasn’t time or space for him to pull-up for two, tended to lag, which, in turn, had the adverse effect of leading to surplus dribbling.

In fact, of the players who appeared in at least seven games during the month of February, only Trae Young, the best player on a very bad team, and James Harden, the league-leader in isolation scoring, pounded the ball more times per touch than Brogdon. That’s fine when he’s prodding the defense with purpose. Not so much when he’s standing in place, or missing his window of opportunity to get the team into their sets before the shot-clock ticks into single-digits.

To be fair, some of that excess stickiness has likely stemmed from the starting lineup’s underdeveloped chemistry, which (cross your fingers) seemed to show some positive signs of improvement during winning time against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.

Hopefully, that’s something they can build on, because the instances where they aren’t on the same page are going to be tougher to surmount when they’re no longer playing a string of consecutive games against bottom-five defenses.

For example, Sabonis putting his palms up out of confusion because he’s getting pulled in two separate directions by Brogdon and Oladipo is obviously less than ideal.

If Oladipo wants an off-ball screen to cut to the rim with his defender top-locking, then Brogdon needs to be stationed at the opposite slot in order to have an angle to make the pass. Likewise, if Brogdon intends on playing two-man game with Sabonis, then Oladipo shouldn’t be in the corner inviting his man to jab at the ball.

Rest at ease, this isn’t some sort of power struggle. But... it is indicative of the sort of knotted up balls of crossed-wires that, at times, have resulted in Brogdon holding onto the ball longer than usual.

That said, not all of the occurrences where he’s come down with a rapid onset case of the dribble flu can be attributed solely to miscommunications or the necessity to bridge gaps between broken plays. Rather, his delayed reaction time has occasionally been as much a cause for some of the choppiness in the offense as it’s been the product of it.

Take this possession against the Trail Blazers, for instance. First, perhaps because he’s only shooting 30 percent on pull-up threes and had missed his first such attempt of the game, he elected not to put his release to the test on this shot (again...THIS. SHOT.) even though Hassan Whiteside was ceding him oodles of space out of Portland’s zone.

Then, rather than feeding Myles Turner right away when he had Carmelo Anthony pinned in front of the rim, the deliberate point guard kept the ball to himself long enough on the post entry that Indiana’s starting center ended up misfiring on an 11-foot turnaround jump-shot instead of enjoying the spoils of a quick, easy drop-step.

Also, after snatching an offensive rebound and circling out and around to the three-point line in the second-half, why exactly wasn’t this pass made to Sabonis when his eyes were as big as saucers?

If you must know, this is what shot they got instead...with the shot-clock expiring. (Warning: You **might** want to avert your eyes unless you’re interested in pinpointing the exact moment when Sabonis started to go limp as the ball got reversed.)

Don’t get it twisted. The Pacers have obviously benefited from Brogdon’s prudence late in games when he’s channeled it into taking what the defense gives him, and they’re definitely made better by his ability to penetrate and kick, but he needs to think about trimming a portion of the fat from some of his porkier possessions over the last 22 games.

As in, maybe don’t reject a screen and then take the long road around a pick the screener already tried to set before taking a circuitous path back out to the perimeter against a big on a switch and motioning for a clear out.

Granted, Brogdon showed some impressive body control getting that layup to go while looking away from the basket, and he’s scoring just a shade below a point per isolation play (which is good for 71st percentile), but no one else even sniffed at the ball.

All season long he’s been at his best when he’s driving out the competition and keeping his eyes up. That’s why this play against the Hornets, when he collapsed the defense with the help of Turner’s spacing and some nifty smoke and mirrors, was perfect.

As you likely noticed, he’s still putting the ball on the floor plenty of times there as the team’s primary ball-handler, but he’s doing it while slicing to the basket and keeping his eyes up. It’s more decisive and less stagnant, two attributes which came in handy late against the Cavs when he scored a layup coming out of a double drag, generated an opportunity for a swing-swing three, and quickly dribbled toward the sideline so as to hand the ball off to Oladipo for an easy two.

In the playoffs, when game-plans get more exaggerated and individual shot-creation becomes more important, the Pacers are going to need Brogdon to be aggressive attacking gaps and against switches, but he needs to do so while keep the ball moving, both with his playmaking and his dribbling.