Brogdon vs. Middleton: Who Should the Bucks Sign?
Even before their 60-win season, the Milwaukee Bucks knew the summer of 2019 was going to be a crucial one. Now that it’s here, the Bucks face several tough decisions to make with their roster over the next month or so.
Just last week, the team traded Tony Snell and the 30th pick in the NBA Draft to Detroit for Jon Leuer. This move was purely a salary dump for the Bucks but an important start to the offseason because getting Snell’s contract off the books provides more money to sign free agents or re-sign their own guys.
The two biggest names on the roster that the team will be looking to re-sign are Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon, both key contributors for the Bucks over the past few years. Middleton came over as an unknown piece in the Brandon Knight/Brandon Jennings trade, and suffered through a 15-win season in 2013-14, but has led the Bucks from the bottom to the top as the Bucks’ secondary piece to Giannis Antetokounmpo. A second-round pick six years ago, Middleton has developed into an NBA All-Star.
Brogdon was also a second round pick in 2016 who was a seasoned player coming out of Virginia but was not seen as having as much potential as those drafted ahead of him. Brogdon spent his rookie season proving everyone wrong as he would win Rookie of the Year honors, looking like an important piece in the Bucks future. He has unfortunately suffered injuries that have kept him out for long portions of the last two seasons, but has still been a solid contributor, and had a 90/40/50 shooting season this year, only the eighth player in NBA history to achieve this feat.
Both players have been instrumental in taking the Bucks from a 15-win team to a low-seeded playoff team and now to a 60-win team who is a legitimate title contender. But unless one of them takes a hometown discount, it is unlikely the Bucks will be able to keep both players. Bucks fans can dream, but in reality the time for the debate is here. Should the Bucks sign Brogdon or Middleton?
The Case for Brogdon
The 36th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft is one of the best picks the team has made over the last decade. No one projected Brogdon to be this good, expecting a polished veteran coming out of Virginia -- not a key contributor. He has turned out to be an absolute steal, and while he is not yet an All-Star three years into his career, ‘The President’ is getting close, and teams are on notice.
The Bulls, Sixers, and Mavericks are among the teams rumored to have interest in Brogdon. Unlike Middleton, Brogdon is a restricted free agent, so the Bucks ultimately control his fate. The question is: ‘How confident are the Bucks in Brogdon?’ and if they let him walk, ‘How confident are they that they can find a suitable replacement for him?’
There is little doubt the team is better with Brogdon. Through the first 69 games of the season, Brogdon started in all 64 games he played in, and averaged a career high 15.6 points per game. The Bucks finished the season a mere 8-5 in his absence, though they did have a chance to ponder a future without Brogdon while watching the play of Pat Connaughton and George Hill.
Brogdon was sorely needed against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, however, scoring in double figures in all but one game of the series after a two-month layoff. That kind of skill sums up what Brogdon brings to this team, in addition to his consistency, poise, and leadership.
He is a solid defender, a good shooter, and attacks the rim exceptionally well. There are other guys who can do that, but they are just some of the many things Brogdon brings to the table that will be hard to replace; the Bucks are well aware of that impact.
Unfortunately, replacing him may be the move the Bucks have to make.
Although only in his third year in the league, Brogdon is already 26. He has missed good portions of each of the last two seasons with injuries, so staying healthy is becoming a concern. Those two factors combined with the likelihood he gets offered a sizable contract elsewhere, make it tough for the team to prioritize him.
The Case for Middleton
Middleton can be inconsistent, but he always seems to come through when this team needs him most. A former second-round pick who wasn’t expected to do much in this league, Middleton has developed in the Brew City and is coming off his first ever All-Star Game appearance in his sixth season in the league.
There is no doubt Middleton could get offered a max or near-max contract when free agency opens up in July, but the expectation around the league is that his preference is to stay in Milwaukee.
But how mutual is that feeling?
Like Brogdon, the Bucks are much better with Middleton on the floor, and they struggled at times a few years back when he missed the majority of the regular season with a torn hamstring. Besides that unfortunate injury in the late summer of 2016 however, Middleton has been durable for this squad.
He has been the Robin to Giannis’s Batman as they have developed through the years, and while there may be more talented number wings to pair with Giannis, there aren’t many that fit better, or will have the comfort level with the Greek Freak that Middleton does.
Middleton is a pure shooter and one of the few members of the current roster who can get his own shot. Although his scoring numbers were down slightly this season - mostly due to reduced minutes brought on by the many Bucks blowouts - Middleton showed a better all-around game in year one in Coach Bud’s system, averaging career highs in assists and rebounds, and defending at a higher level than in the past.
Like several Bucks, Middleton struggled at times in the Toronto series, but defending Kawhi Leonard will do that to a player. Still, he seems to come through in big moments for this team, making several poised plays over the last couple postseasons, as well as several game-winning shots throughout his Bucks tenure. Although the game ended in a loss, this one will always be remembered by Bucks fans.
It will be costly, but the Bucks should do what they have to in order to keep Middleton around. While a big three of Giannis, Middleton, and Bledsoe may not look as good on paper as some of the others which may develop around the league, it will still have good skill and better chemistry. It should also allow for the Bucks to have a deeper team once again compared to many other contenders in the league.
In a perfect world, the Bucks would keep Brogdon, Middleton, and the entire core of the team that led them to their best season in decades in 2019. But as we all know, that is not how the NBA works. It often is about business decisions, and the Bucks are facing some of the biggest in franchise history right now. They need to do what puts them in the best position to win with Giannis, and while it would be sad to see Brogdon go, keeping Middleton seems imperative to the Bucks’ success.
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Statistics Courtesy of Basketball Reference