Bucks' depth tested as Mirotic joins Brogdon on injury report
Less than a week after the news broke that Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon would miss 6-8 weeks with a right foot injury, the Bucks' previously impressive depth took another hit when forward Nikola Mirotic was forced to leave Tuesday's win over Los Angeles with a slight left thumb fracture. Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Mirotic's injury and its accompanying 2-4 week timeline on Wednesday.
Even if Mirotic hits the far-end of the timeline and is out for four weeks, he should still be ready to go at or near the start of the first round of the playoffs. It shouldn't take the 28-year-old too long to get into the swing of things either; Mirotic was dealing with a calf problem when the Bucks traded for him, but when he hit the court, he topped double-digit scoring in four of his first five games off the bench. If anything, this injury opens the door for second-year player DJ Wilson, who was finally emerging as a weapon prior to the Mirotic deal, to get some additional minutes before the playoffs.
Brogdon's injury is the real doozy, though, as the 2017 Rookie of the Year has quitely developed into a vital cog in Mike Budenholzer's system. Brogdon is averaging career highs in points (15.6) and rebounds (4.5), and is the only player in the league with the coveted 50-40-90 shooting splits. (Only eight players in league history have ever hit those marks while playing at least 1,000 minutes.)
Not only are the Bucks losing highly efficient scoring and a second ball handler, Brogdon's injury also minimizes Milwaukee's positional flexibility. The third-year guard out of Virginia certainly is not the quickest player in the league, but he has the size, guile, and hoops IQ to still put himself in the right position on both ends of the floor.
Defensively, the 6-foot-5 Brogdon was the perfect bridge between 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe and 6-foot-8 Khris Middleton on the perimeter. Bledsoe and Middleton made up the starting backcourt in Milwaukee's first game without Brogdon against Philly, and while those two can certainly do the trick on defense, the Bucks' five-man unit was clearly missing the switchable piece that could toggle between fleet-footed guards and bigger wings.
In the short-term, the Bucks have built up enough equity that they should be able to survive if Brogdon's 6-8 week timeline is accurate. The Bucks three-game lead over Toronto for the top seed in the East should be safe; Milwaukee's remaining strength of schedule ranks 23rd in the NBA, and it already owns the tiebreaker over the Raptors. Tony Snell and Pat Connaughton, the two players likely to see more time, especially with several other members of the Milwaukee backcourt dealing with nagging injuries, are perfectly solid NBA role players. The Bucks shouldn't experience too much of a downturn as they finish out the regular season.
Long-term, however, this injury could derail the Bucks' title hopes. Six weeks from the point of injury puts a Brogdon return around the start of the second round, while eight weeks moves his start date back towards the beginning of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Milwaukee should be able to dispatch the East's eight seed – currently Miami with a 34-36 record – without issue, and even the second-round opponent, likely to be either Boston or Indiana, should be beatable behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and home-court advantage.
But should Brogdon's injury linger any longer, the Bucks will be hard-pressed to push through without its starting shooting guard. The Raptors and 76ers both loaded up on stars at the trade deadline, and in case Milwaukee does worm past either team, the vaunted Golden State Warriors will likely be waiting on the other side.
Reaching the Finals is a long way off, and though this season would certainly be considered a success even if Golden State swept the Bucks, these opportunities do not come around often. It would sting to put together a deep roster en route to the organization's best run in decades, only to see the entire dream fall apart at the last possible moment.
There is still time for the pieces to get healthy and round into form before Milwaukee should seriously worry, and as long as Giannis is around, the Bucks will have a puncher's chance against any team in the league, save the Warriors. But if another lengthy injury pops up along Milwaukee's starting lineup, it could be the final nail in the Bucks' otherwise wonderfully constructed coffin.
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