Great nicknames are something of a lost art in today’s sports world. Many players are known simply by initials, including Kevin Durant, Isaiah Thomas, and Paul George. Others are based on simple physical observations, such as James Harden (The Beard) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (The Greek Freak). Even some strong nicknames, such as Joel Embiid’s “The Process,” are self-given, which simply doesn’t feel right. A nickname should be earned, not self-anointed.
This brings us to Malcolm Brogdon. His humble and calm demeanor (as well as his middle name) earned him the nickname Humble Moses at a young age. Now that he’s broken into the NBA, however, Brogdon is known as the President. It’s a fitting nickname for a man who spent six years at the University of Virginia, earning a master’s degree in public policy along the way. Brogdon’s level-headed, calm attitude is very presidential as well. However, it’s primarily his voice that inspired the nickname. The President’s deep, smooth intonation closely resembles that of Barack Obama, who was of course still the President of the United States at the time of Brogdon’s debut.
A nickname, however, is empty if you don’t have the level of play to back it up. Brogdon has just that, as he has emerged as one of the top rookies in the 2016-17 NBA season. In fact, he’s the most deserving of the Rookie of the Year award, in a year when many seem puzzled about the rookie class. To be fair, the President’s stats don’t exactly jump off the page at first glance. His scoring average has hovered right around 10 points per game, which would be the lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year. However, among rookies qualified for the scoring leaderboard, Brogdon sits second in scoring and three-point field goal percentage. He also has the most steals and assists, and has accumulated the most win shares. Dario Saric has drawn some attention for scoring at a higher rate, but Brogdon is a better two-way and all-around player. Saric also turns the ball over and fouls at a higher rate. This translates to less than half of Brogdon’s win shares, despite a similar number of starts and similar playing time. Additionally, Brogdon’s Bucks are making a playoff push, with a 5th place finish not out of reach, while the Saric-led 76ers languish well outside the playoff picture. Some still point to Joel Embiid’s standout campaign, but his small sample size of 31 games can’t be overlooked.
The eye test further builds a case for the President. Brogdon seldom looks like a rookie, while others have had serious growing pains. For example, Buddy Hield, who won the Wooden Award as the most outstanding player in college basketball in 2016, has recorded the 6th worse box-plus-minus for in the entire NBA among players with 35+ starts. Jamal Murray has looked promising, but has also been incredibly streaky, going through long hot and cold spells. Brogdon has played a very mature game, seldom turning the ball over, and has formed quality relationships with teammates.
Greg Monroe spent the 2015-16 season trying to fit in with Milwaukee, and being lampooned by fans and press alike for his disappointing play. Enter the President, and suddenly Monroe has become a key cog for the Bucks during their playoff push. It’s not uncommon to see a veteran take a rookie under his wing, but it is uncommon to see such a pronounced positive effect on the vet’s play. It’s fair to say Humble Moses has been a perfect fit in the Cream City.
What makes Brogdon’s immediate success surprising is his draft status. Despite being the first player to ever win the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, Brogdon’s age worked against him. Being 24-years-old on draft day hurt his stock among many teams, and Brogdon fell all the way to the second round, where Milwaukee took him with the 36th pick. Only one Rookie of the Year has ever been drafted outside the top 30: Woody Sauldsberry, drafted with an 8th round pick all the way back in 1957. Suffice to say, there were not league-wide high expectations for the Virginia guard when the season began. He has absolutely destroyed those expectations, with extremely solid and consistent play. It’s rare to see a second round pick come into the league and make starter-caliber contributions. This is the heart of Malcolm Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year case. Saric was a first round pick. So was Hield. So were Murray, Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn, and many more. None of them have quite lived up to the hype. Brogdon has not only exceeded his expectations, but outperformed those selected ahead of him.
When it’s time to crown a new Rookie of the Year, Brogdon should be the man receiving the award. Thankfully, we don’t have to wait until November to see the results of the President’s campaign. One thing is for sure: Malcolm Brogdon is very deserving of the popular vote.