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Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon: Giannis helped me become a better player

Indiana’s new point guard credits his time in Milwaukee for his strong start

Malcolm Brogdon will see his former Milwaukee Bucks teammates on Saturday for the first time since he was traded to the Indiana Pacers. And he is returning as a budding star.

The 26-year-old guard is averaging 20.7 points, 8.5 assists and 5.2 rebounds this season after the Bucks sent him to Indiana in June in a sign-and-trade deal that will pay him $85 million over four years.

“Milwaukee was amazing to me for three years,” Brogdon said. “It really propelled me to where I am now with the Pacers. I’m excited to go back. I’m excited to see those guys. I had great teammates. It was a great organization.”

Brogdon and the Bucks were two wins shy of making it to the NBA Finals last season after they were eliminated by Kawhi Leonard and the eventual champion Toronto Raptors. But the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year said there are no regrets about how they came up short.

“We lost to a team that had a player in Kawhi Leonard that was playing the best basketball on the floor,” Brogdon said. “That is usually how it goes in the playoffs. If you have the best player or the guy playing at the highest level at that point in time, that is usually who is going to win. I thought they deserved that series.

“We got off to a great start. But they were able to make adjustments and come back and beat us. I respected them for the way they went about it.”

Now Brogdon is with the franchise he actually thought would be the best fit for him entering the 2016 NBA draft out of Virginia. And he’ll eventually form a dynamic backcourt with All-Star Victor Oladipo, who is working his way back from a ruptured quad tendon.

Brogdon talked with The Undefeated in October when the Pacers played two preseason games against the Sacramento Kings in Mumbai, India, and more recently by phone about his time with Giannis Antetokounmpo, his new contract, and the team’s goals.

How did it feel to be so close but so far from the NBA Finals?

It’s hard to win 60 games in an NBA season. Rarely anybody does it. So, for us to not go to the Finals was definitely tough. And then to leave that team was tough because I loved the guys on that team and the way we played together. But I think this is a better opportunity for me.

Did you feel like Giannis’ aura was too big for you to also be a star?

Honestly, I think that is part of my growth. Playing with a guy like that has helped me become a better player. So, I don’t think that stunted me at all. I think it actually prepared me more. And I actually got to see what he had to go through on a daily basis. The blame he would get for games we won or lost. He was getting the bulk of what the attention was. I got to see what it was like for a superstar to have to play that way.

What is the best thing you learned from Giannis?

His work ethic. The more he accomplished, the hungrier he got.

Why did you sign with the Pacers?

I’ve been sold on Indiana. The style of play. When I left college, me and my agent tried to find the best fits for me. We thought Indiana would be the best fit. We thought they would draft me at 21. It sort of fell through. Medically, I got red-flagged for my foot. So, that fell through. But it ended up being the perfect spot for me. It’s been great.

Malcolm Brogdon (center) of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 12 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

When you sign a contract for that kind of money, what goes through your mind?

It’s surreal. I still feel like a guy playing on a rookie and minimum contract right now. That doesn’t even sort of register with me right now. It’s crazy.

What do you do with that kind of money?

Once I have that money in bulk, once you acquire it over the next four years of my contract, you save it, you invest it and then you help people. You do things with it that are going to empower other people and transform lives. That is why God gives money to a lot of us, to help other people. We are not just on earth to make sure we live our own good lives. We are on this earth to help other people. …

I’ve always said since middle school when I went to Africa, I was like, ‘When I make my money, gain the resources, gain the platform, whatever it is, I am going to help people.’ This has always been my goal, to make this kind of money and to help people. This is beautiful now.

Any specific plans?

I am probably going to do two more [water] wells in Africa. I’m going to donate to my nonprofit Hoops2O. That’s the starting point, but I want to have my own foundation next summer. I will have my people working on it. I want to start all kinds of programs, whether it’s after-school programs in Indiana, whether it’s build schools in Africa, continue to build my clean water initiative. These are all things I want to accomplish.

How was your trip to Africa this summer?

It was amazing. Going to Tanzania, East Africa, is a little different than Senegal. West Africa is a little bit faster-paced. But there is a lot of need in both areas. In Tanzania, it was more rural with my water project, seeing the wells. In Senegal, we were in Dakar, the main city. It was more advanced. But there is need everywhere.

Did you go see some of your past work with water wells?

I saw my past work in Tanzania in the villages and the rural communities. The people were so appreciative just to have clean water. Over here, we focus on cars and jewelry and all this extra stuff we don’t need to live a healthy, decent life. Over there, they just want clean water and the necessities. And they are so appreciative and welcoming when we go there.

You were playing for the Bucks when guard Sterling Brown was the victim of stun-gun use and arrested by Milwaukee police for parking over two handicapped parking spots. Did you help him through that situation?

As a black man, I thought he handled it as well as he could have. That’s sort of the direction that things have gone with the police and the black community. It’s sad. But it is something we have to acknowledge. Something we have to face.

It’s something we need to move forward on and try to work better with cooperating with the police, not being scared. There are a lot of elements that go into it. We have to develop a better understanding between the two. And for Sterling, I wanted to be there for him and to encourage him to speak out. To use his voice to be thoughtful with his comments and to handle it the right way.

How do you feel that things haven’t been resolved between Brown and the Milwaukee police?

Something like that should be resolved. It’s very simple. If you go look at the facts of the case and look at what happened, the answer should be very concise. But things are very drawn out and people disagree on how things should be handled. This is sort of the aftermath.

What do you do on a day off in Indianapolis?

Not much. Pretty much relax. This is a quiet city. I live in the suburbs. So, it’s a quiet thing. My chef comes over and makes me dinner. I watch movies. Playing in the NBA, off days and down time is really about making sure you refill your cup. That’s physically, of course. Resting. Not doing a lot of standing. I do not want to do a lot of talking on my days off. I really want to sit in silence, sit in peace, be able to zone out and recharge.

What do you think about playing point guard in Indiana?

It’s perfect for me. Coach [Nate] McMillan has put the ball in my hands and has me guide the ship. I can’t be more thankful. I’m ready for the opportunity and excited. I have two of the best big men in the NBA [Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis]. They play beautiful together. And then two hungry talented young guards in Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren. I think we are going to be really, really good.

Did you talk much to Victor Oladipo after you signed?

Me and Victor were always in communication before we got here over the summer. I went to Vegas to work out with him. I was supposed to meet him in Miami, but it didn’t work out. Me and Victor are always texting.

Are you getting excited about Victor coming back?

I’m superexcited. He just got cleared to play full pickup with the [Pacers’ G League affiliate] Mad Ants. He’s almost full speed. I want him to take his time. I know what it’s like to go through an injury like that. But when he comes back, we’re going to be really, really good.

What has been the key to you playing well so far?

Just understand the responsibility of the lead role I’ve had to take on and what my coach and teammates expect from me. And really just taking it on at first and not shying away from it. Just stepping into the role and assuming it.

What has been the key to the team’s resurgence after its slow start?

A lot of it is chemistry. We’re still learning each other. We have a lot of new guys. The Pacers brought in a lot of talent. But we’ve have had guys injured with new guys moving in. So, we have a lot of moving pieces right now. For the guys that have been healthy for the past 10 games, the second string has played a vital role in bringing energy and playing good ball. The first string, our chemistry has really developed.

Are the Pacers an Eastern Conference title contender?

Absolutely. I don’t see how you can think we are not. We have the talent. We have the youth. We have the style of play. We are a team that can half-court dominate people with our bigs, with our discipline and our coaching. Now, we can run this year. We have scorers. We have shooters. We can get out on the break.

Are you starting to think about the possibility of being an All-Star for the first time?

That would be amazing. That’s not my goal. That is icing on the cake if that happens. But that is not what I am thinking about. I want to win as many games as possible. This organization hasn’t been out of the first round since [2014]. That’s the goal right now.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.