ATLANTA — When Malcolm Brogdon was traded from the Pacers to the Celtics last summer, he had started every game in which he had played over the previous four seasons. But the Celtics had just gone to the Finals and did not intend to disturb their dominant starting lineup, so Brogdon would come off the bench.
He embraced and thrived in the role this season, and it became part of him. Even when the Celtics were extremely shorthanded and in need of reinforcements in their starting lineup, Brogdon’s reserve role never changed.
And on Thursday evening he was rewarded for his efforts by being named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. Brogdon received 60 of 100 first-place votes from a media panel and finished with 408 points. Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley finished second in the voting with 326 points.
Brogdon received the John Havlicek trophy, named for the Celtics’ former star sixth man, during an appearance on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show.
“A lot of what happens between the lines out here is about ego,” Brogdon said during the broadcast. “If you can check your ego at the door, a lot of the time you’re going to be better off. When the trade happened I talked to [Celtics president of basketball operations] Brad Stevens and he told me straight up, ‘You’re going to be coming off the bench. We have a formula here. We have something that works. We think you can be a key piece and really help us, but your role is going to be coming off the bench.’ And I chose to embrace it.”
Brogdon is the third Celtic to win the honor, which was created in 1983, joining Kevin McHale (1984, ‘85) and Bill Walton (1986). Brogdon, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, is the second player to win that award as well as Sixth Man of the Year.
“Each guy has had to sacrifice or put something aside for the better of this team, and when you have the depth and talent that we have, you can’t be in the position that we are without it,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said Thursday, before Brogdon won the award. “I thought Malcolm taking on the identity of the second unit, getting with the patience of sometimes finishing halves, sometimes not … I thought he just handled it with an open mind. He handled it with a humility and kind of regardless of what his sub pattern or what he was doing, he just played. And we’re grateful for that.”
Allowing Boston stars such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to handle most of the heavy lifting may have even preserved Brogdon a bit. He appeared in 67 games, the most since his rookie season, and averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, and shot a career-best 44.4 percent from the 3-point line.
“[He’s] the spearhead of the second unit,” Mazzulla said, “Whether it’s scoring in early offense, whether it’s his pick-and-roll threes, his catch-and-shoot threes, and really, his defense. The defensive system we play can be unique. It can be different than most players have seen on other teams, and so when they come here, it just takes getting used to. It’s just his ability to adjust to our defensive scheme and really make an impact on that end of the floor has helped us.”