There are only two players in the history of the NBA to have been named both the Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year.
One of them is two-time NBA champion Mike Miller who played 17 years in the league as a high-end role player. The other is one of the newest members of the Portland Trail Blazers, Malcolm Brogdon.
The pair of individual awards that Miller and Brogdon have won makes for a peculiar match as Rookie of the Year winners are typically expected to blossom into a superstar rather than become a Sixth Man of the Year awardee. For reference, 17 different individuals who have been named the NBA Most Valuable Player were also named the Rookie of the Year following their maiden season.
It may look like Miller and Brogdon have underachieved compared with their fellow Rookie of the Year awardees, but them earning this award is actually more a byproduct of their relatively weak draft classes rather than a knock on their quality. Miller turned into a highly coveted shooter while Brogdon has become one of the most steady guards in the NBA today.
Furthermore, what’s interesting about these two players is that their connection could go beyond their common hardware as the career that Miller had may provide a blueprint for the next chapter of Brogdon’s journey.
Miller was a double digit scorer over nine of his first 10 years in the NBA, the best of which was his seventh campaign–the season after he was named the Sixth Man of the Year. He put up 18.5 points, 2.9 three-pointers, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists that year as a full-time starter for the Memphis Grizzlies and became the second option behind Hall of Famer Pau Gasol.
That ‘06-’07 season proved to be Miller’s best from a production standpoint as he gradually transitioned into a supporting role in the succeeding years. He eventually found himself on the Miami Heat with whom he served as a three-point specialist and he helped them win two NBA championships in 2012 and 2013.
Brogdon has embarked on a similar path in his NBA career so far, though it is abridged in comparison as he entered the league at the mature age of 23 versus Miller who was a 20-year-old rookie. The 6’5 guard kicked off his career with the Milwaukee Bucks and became one of only nine players to ever record a 50-40-90 season in his third year. He then spent the next three seasons with the Indiana Pacers where he recorded his best statistical seasons in the NBA to date.
The ‘20-’21 campaign remains Brogdon’s flagship year as he averaged 21.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in 56 appearances.
While there is no question regarding Brogdon’s talent, his durability has become an issue. He has yet to play more than 70 games in a regular season since his rookie year and the Pacers decided to move on from him as he became expendable following the acquisition of Tyrese Haliburton.
Indiana traded Brogdon away to the Boston Celtics who proceeded to employ him as their sixth man for ‘22-’23. The lighter workload helped him appear in 67 games–the most since the 75 that he played in during his first year–but the injury bug, in due course, caught up to Brogdon in the Eastern Conference Finals. A forearm strain limited him for most of the series and forced him to miss Game 6 which turned out to be their last win of the season.
Brogdon thrived as the third guard for the Celtics and was rightfully named the Sixth Man of the Year last April. This inevitably boosted his value though and the team attempted to trade him to the Los Angeles Clippers in their bid to acquire Kristaps Porzingis.
Although the deal with the Clippers fell through last June and Porzingis was instead acquired via a package centered around Marcus Smart, Boston still wound up shipping out Brogdon a few months later. The Celtics traded him to Portland along with Robert Williams III and two first round picks for two-time NBA All-Star Jrue Holiday.
The 30-year-old guard now finds himself as the elder statesman on this rebuilding Trail Blazers team and is expected to back-up both guard spots this year if he is not moved to a contender. Brogdon could be an excellent mentor to 2023 third overall pick Scoot Henderson, but his on- and off-court skillsets are still best utilized on a team with postseason ambitions just like Miller many years before him.
A team with title aspirations such as the Clippers could use a player like Brogdon as his playmaking and shooting are a perfect fit next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Other teams such as the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets could use Brogdon’s help as well in their bid to take the leap into the postseason.
While it is risky to feature Brogdon prominently given his injury history, he has immense value as a team’s top reserve as seen during his one-year stint in Boston. Contending teams should be lining up with offers to take him off Portland’s hands and he may very well be the missing piece that helps a franchise jump from good to great this coming season.
Brogdon may be injury prone, yet the skillset that he possesses will allow him to age gracefully. If he can transition into a spot-up shooter ala Miller as he ages, this might help his durability too as he should take on less contact in this capacity.
The seven-year veteran may not be a household name like your typical Rookie of the Year, but it will not be a surprise if he turns out to be that role player who swings the NBA Finals in his team’s favor just like what Miller did a little over a decade ago.