The Indiana Pacers are losers of five of their last eight games, including a couple of awful losses to the 8-29 Hawks and (in a blowout) the 12-25 Pelicans.
Not coincidentally, Malcolm Brogdon has missed six of the last seven games, and the seventh was a decisive 18-point victory over Philadelphia in which Brogdon was ineffective (five missed shots and two assists in eight minutes before leaving with an aggravation of his injury.)
Without Brogdon this season (10 of the team’s 37 games), the Pacers are just 5-5, and that once again includes getting destroyed by an awful Pelicans team.
Granted, two of those losses were to Milwaukee, a team the Pacers might not be able to beat with a healthy Brogdon and Victor Oladipo besides.
But without Brogdon earlier this year, the Pacers barely squeaked out a one-point win over the bloody Knicks.
Brogdon’s +2.1 Net Rating on-off split is testament mainly to how deep the Pacers’ bench is; when the bench plays the other team’s bench, they’re rock-solid.
What’s harder to explain away is the President’s .143 WS/48 (down from a high of .188 before he started seeing his advanced stats suffer as he was ineffective while playing hurt.)
Brogdon is, simply, the linchpin of the Pacers, possibly even more so than Oladipo himself, who never put up advanced stats quite like a healthy Brogdon did earlier this season even when Vic was healthy in 2017-18.
We’ve seen what happens when Aaron Holiday starts. It isn’t pretty. It’s not that Holiday can’t substitute in as a starter and play in wins; the Pacers are 10-7 when Holiday starts.
But that includes a 6-2 stretch in November where Holiday replaced not Brogdon but Jeremy Lamb.
Throw out those games and the Pacers are just 4-5 when their 2018 draft pick starts.
But—and I’m going to venture into a place I don’t normally go here—all these stats are all well and good. Maybe even, depending on how you look at them, a bit inconclusive on a team that also happens to have Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, both of whom have themselves missed time with injury, and T.J. Warren, a wild card who can win you a game by himself then disappear for two weeks.
What really establishes Brogdon as the irreplaceable superstar of this team (at least until Oladipo returns and, when both men are healthy, the Pacers have one of the best backcourts in the league) is how fans feel late in close games when Brogdon is on the floor.
If the team’s up by one possession and has the ball in the final minute, when Brogdon gets fouled, is there any doubt that the 93.3 percent free throw shooter and 2018-19 champion in that stat (at a lower 92.8 percent) is going to make the shots in the clutch?
If the team’s down by one possession in the final 24 seconds, does anyone doubt that, regardless of the result, Brogdon is going to get the ball into the hands of the guy who gives the Pacers the best chance to win the game? Sure, Warren or Holiday or Lamb or Brogdon himself may miss the game-winner or the send-it-to-overtime shot, but even in coach Nate McMillan‘s joke of an offense in the clutch (does anyone in the entire league call worse inbounds plays out of a timeout in the clutch than Nate?), Brogdon, like life in Jurassic Park, finds a way.
This is a haven for stat nerds…but we also watch the games just like everyone else, and every Pacers fan reading knows exactly the feeling I’m describing.
It’s the same one we got when Oladipo was healthy last year and, say, beat the Boston Celtics by himself in the only game the Pacers won against Boston in eight tries including the playoffs.
It’s the one Lakers fans always got from Kobe Bryant, even if statistically speaking Kobe was twice as likely to lose the Lakers the game in that situation as win it—stats don’t lie and he was atrocious at hero ball, he just made enough shots from sufficient attempts to trigger selective memory and confirmation bias.
Brogdon and Oladipo put up the numbers in the clutch and actually win the Pacers those games.
Brogdon continues to be “day to day”, and no doubt the Pacers will rush him back, especially if they keep losing and threaten to give away the fully six games they have on the seventh-place Nets in the Eastern Conference standings.
At that point, we can only hope that he doesn’t end up going full Kevin Durant and losing the rest of the season.
But while he recovers, this team will be painful to watch…and nobody else on the team has such a sharp contrast between what fans expect when he plays and what fans dread when he sits.
Get well soon…but on your own pace, Malcolm. The playoffs are all but certain even if the team loses even more wallbangers against lottery teams, and we’ll need you in April if we’re to overcome a coach who can’t win a playoff series to save his life.