The NBA draft became a futures market years ago: Much as the league says it prefers players stay in college, the gifted 19-year-olds are all the rage at the combine.
That’s what makes Malcolm Brogdon’s story refreshingly different: He’s the anti-prodigy. He’s 23, used all four seasons of eligibility at Virginia, and makes no apologies for his route to the 2016 draft.
In fact, he says the contrast with most of the others at the combine help him define a distinctive brand.
"A lot of people talk about the one-and-dones, the guys with all the potential. But for me, I pride myself as being the older, more mature one," Brogdon said Thursday.
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"The guy who can come in and help a team right away."
The Charlotte Hornets interviewed Brogdon in Chicago and seemed impressed with his intellect and character. Brogdon is part-way through a master’ program in public policy at Virginia. He figures to have a great second career someday in that field, but he’s not ready to give up basketball.
If the Hornets are interested, it’s hard to say whether they would have to use the 22nd overall pick on Brogdon, or whether he might possibly last to their second-round pick (53rd overall).
But he seemed confident when asked about that meeting, that both he and the Hornets left positive impressions.
"They seemed very intrigued and I’m very intrigued," said Brogdon, last season’s ACC Player of the Year. "I love how they play and how they’re building their organization."
Brogdon has a tie of sorts to pro basketball in Charlotte, having played his college ball for Tony Bennett. Before entering college coaching, Bennett was a second-round pick of the original Hornets.
Like Brogdon, Bennett entered the NBA at 23 and was far from a sure thing. He lasted with the Hornets for two seasons and part of a third. Brogdon said Bennett has been instrumental at getting him ready for the NBA’s raised expectations.
"He was hard on me because I think he saw a lot in me," Brogdon said of Bennett. "He’s one of the ones who really pushed me to come back (his senior season), not just for the success of the program, but he knew what it would take to get to the next level and be successful."
Pros keep telling Brogdon to improve his shooting range. He shot 39 percent from the college 3-point line last season (averaging 18.2 points per game), but the NBA line is several feet farther from the basket. At 6-foot-5 and 217 pounds, some teams would eventually like to try Brogdon at point guard.
The rule-of-thumb in the NBA is you must have at least one clear pro skill to have a shot at being a first-round pick. For Brogdon that skill is the ability to defend a variety of scorers.
"I think I can guard anybody," Brogdon asserts.
Pressed on that, Brogdon said he’s confident he’d effectively defend NBA small forwards, shooting guards and point guards. He believes he’d be better off being drafted by a playoff team, where he could have a small, but fixed, role right away as a defensive specialist.
"The way the NBA is evolving, (broad-spectrum defenders) like Draymond Green, like Kawhi Leonard are more of a commodity. Teams want guys who can play a bunch of roles and guard a bunch of positions.
"I really think that helps me because I’m a versatile player."
He’ll find out soon enough if the NBA agrees.