2019-20 Breakout Player Series: Pat Connaughton
Courtesy of CloseUp360.com
Drafted 41st overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, not much was expected out of Pat Connaughton. He had a fine collegiate career at Notre Dame, but didn’t necessarily have any standout skills that would make him a star in the big leagues. In his first three years for the Portland Trail Blazers, Connaughton was a sparingly used bench player who finally showed some flashes of a potential role player in the 2017-18 season.
That stint was all the proof the Milwaukee Bucks needed to jump on him in free agency the next summer, signing Connaughton to a two-year, $3.36 million deal. In his first year in Milwaukee last season, Connaughton surprised many with his solid play off the bench, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds per 36 minutes. For most onlookers, however, what really stood out are the things he did that didn't show up in the stat sheet.
Connaughton showed pure hustle, underrated athleticism, and demonstrated a penchant for making the little plays that affect the outcome of a game. Whether it was hustling back to stop a breakaway layup, chasing down a rebound, or saving a ball from going out of bounds, Connaughton showed a knack for making important plays that can go unnoticed in a game.
Every championship contender needs a guy like that; he was an important part of the Bucks finishing just two wins short of the NBA Finals last season.
This past offseason, the Bucks (more or less) allowed pricey up-and-comer Malcolm Brogdon to walk in free agency; he was dealt in a sign and trade to the Indiana Pacers. The Bucks brought in the likes of Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver in free agency, but there are still many minutes to be had at the two guard position on this team, and that is where Connaughton will become a factor. It is time for his breakout, and by the end of the year Planet Pat might be a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year (6MOTY) candidate.
The first thing that will lead to Connaughton’s emergence is the aforementioned availability of playing time. Now, the Bucks still have a crowded backcourt, but Connaughton is someone Coach Mike Budenholzer really trusts and relies on in big situations. His raw numbers should undoubtedly improve as his playing time goes up.
Connaughton’s emergence will indeed hinge a lot on offensive production. When on the court, he is very fluent in Coach Bud’s system, and good at finding open spots on the perimeter and via backdoor cuts. He’s a solid, if unspectacular, spot up sniper; a 35% shooter from distance over his career. He is also a sneaky-quick attacker of the basket. You wouldn’t think of it by looking at the 6'5" guard, but the man can dunk with the best at his position.
Elite three-point shooting and hard attacks to the basket were something the Bucks consistently got from Brogdon, and if Connaughton can continue to improve on what he already brought to the squad last year, he will undoubtedly be a bigger part of this team.
On the defensive end, Connaughton can struggle at times. We all know how athletic the guards in this league are, and I think Connaughton would admit there are some players out there that are just flat out quicker than him. The Bucks were the top defensive unit in the association last season, but at times that may have been due to Connaughton being on the bench.
However, this is not to say Connaughton is a hopelessly bad defender; far from it, in fact. What he may lack in quickness, he makes up for in aggressiveness and savviness. Connaughton quietly had 33 steals and 25 blocks last season, both of which were career highs. He can often be seen making plays like this - plays that not many other two-guards in this league can make consistently.
Don’t sleep on Planet Pat as a rebounder either; he averaged nearly 10 rebounds per 100 possessions last season. The defense can still use some improvement (especially when using Brogdon as the measuring stick), but if Connaughton can start to play more consistently on that end, he will be on the floor more frequently as a key player for the Bucks.
Connaughton is, simply, the player every championship team needs. He is a great locker room guy, a savvy player, and an underrated athlete. He can contribute in every facet of the game and is quite skilled in multiple areas. With continued offensive development and a fair bit of improvement on the defensive side of the ball, Connaughton will make the jump from role player to 6MOTY candidate for a team that could be playing well into June.