Jeff Green, Bruce Brown Became Brooklyn Nets Mainstays
Out of minor roles at the start of the season, the young guard and veteran forward became major contributors to winningest team in Nets history
Opportunity arrived for Jeff Green and Bruce Brown at the same time, and the Brooklyn Nets’ season wasn’t the same afterwards.
It was the ninth game of the season back on Jan. 6. Brown had been out of the rotation at the start of the season, with four DNPs and 13 total minutes played through seven games before getting some extra run one game earlier in a rout of Utah. Green, the veteran forward signed a week before training camp started, had averaged 15.8 minutes mostly off the bench, with one start through eight games.
With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out, Nets head coach Steve Nash dropped Brown and Green into the starting lineup for what turned out to be 122-109 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
From that point on, they’ve been foundational parts of the Brooklyn rotation. Green’s minutes nearly doubled and his scoring average did — from 15.8 minutes and 4.1 points over the first eight games to 28.5 minutes and 11.9 points since. Brown went from essentially zero to averaging 22.3 minutes for the season.
Brown ended up starting 37 of the 65 games he played in, while Green made 38 starts in 68 games. In the end, only Joe Harris, who played in the first 69 games before missing the final three, appeared in more games for the Nets this season, and only Harris and Irving played more minutes than Brown and Green.
“They've done the job every single night to the best of their ability,” said James Harden. “And like as role players, it's all you can ask for. They play extremely hard, they listen, and they go out there and just, you know, do their job every single night. On a team like this that’s so you know, with stars or whatever you want to call it, to have guys like that to fulfill those roles and do it and know what you will get out of them, for a coach it’s great. And obviously for me knowing what they bring to the table every single night. Now the little nuggets that I can give them to help them out, like to be in certain positions, it’s just extra. But they bring a different energy level to our team that no one really does. And we're going to need them if we want to make this deep run.”
It’s been that kind of season for Brooklyn, and it’s not just Brown and Green. Nearly every player on the 15-man roster has had a regular rotation role at some point in the season.
Nic Claxton made his season debut on Feb. 23 and carved out a role in the fluid center rotation, giving the Nets some of the elements lost with the trade of Jarrett Allen. Landry Shamet shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range. Blake Griffin arrived in March and gave the Nets a multi-faceted, charge-drawing, yes-he’s-dunking-again option at forward and center. Mike James came over from Europe and shored up the point guard rotation late in the season while Harden was out.
“They're the pieces, and I met with the guys, I forgot what city it was in but it was about a week ago,” said Harden. “And obviously we know that myself and Kevin and Ky are gonna do what we do at a high level, but I wanted those guys to know that they're very, very important to this run that we're about to go on. Each individual guy. It can be a different game that they win. Whether it's a rebound, whether it's a shot, whether it's a defensive play, a box-out, whatever it is, but they're very, very valuable to this team and we have to do it together. So I'll do my part in the sense of making their job easier offensively, but we all have to do our parts defensively, be on the page on the detailed little things and it's been going great since then.”
For the season, the Nets used 27 players and made up 37 starting lineups out of 19 different players, all franchise records.
“I think just having different lineups on the floor, having to be able to adapt and overcome some early adversity throughout the season, injuries, new lineups, that definitely builds character for a team for sure,” said Shamet. “So we've all gotten to know each other, it's a tight locker room, and it definitely goes a long way for sure having to deal with that.”
“We’ve had so many games this year and we’ve had so many different lineups,” said Nash. “Guys have got to stay prepared and be ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. Certain nights, they kind of give us a lift. That’s the nature of basketball. It can’t always be the starters that are going to win the games. You need an individual to step up, a group to step up and your bench to play well. If you have a strong bench, perhaps they can perform consistently and you’re a much better team.”
With all that shuffling, Brown and Green have been constants. Nash used the same “Swiss Army Knife” description for two players who otherwise might not seem to have much in common.
Brown is a 6-foot-4, third-year guard drafted 42nd overall in 2018. Green, a 34-year-old, 6-foot-8 forward-turned-sometimes-center, was the No. 5 pick back in 2007 by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Green played with Durant and Harden in Oklahoma City, then made his way around the league. He missed a season in 2011-12 due to an aortic aneurysm. He went to the NBA Finals with the Cavaliers in 2018. He played for nine different franchises before landing in Brooklyn and played in 72 playoff games — more than Griffin or Jordan or Irving. Cut loose by Utah in the middle of last season, he reunited with Harden in Houston and finished out the season in the bubble. Then he waited for a call.
“He’s a guy that was kind of on his couch a couple days before we got him,” said Nash. “We thought he’d be a great fit for us but you never know what you’re gonna get. But he’s been fantastic. Not only has he been a veteran, experienced player, great character, quality individual, but he also has been a guy that guards multiple positions, plays multiple positions offensively, makes threes, can be a dynamic roller, can handle the ball. He’s just been a Swiss Army Knife of sorts for us and really, really valuable and important to us this year.”
In his 13th season, Green shot career highs of 49.2 percent overall and 41.2 percent from 3-point range and added 3.9 assists per game. Along the way, he delivered a full reel of devastating dunks.
If Green took an established game to new heights, Nash wasn’t sure what he was getting with Brown.
In two seasons with the Pistons, Brown had earned a roster spot and then a role based largely off his defensive effort. He played some point guard for Detroit, doubled his scoring average and dramatically improved his percentages in year two, and then found himself headed for Brooklyn as part of a three-team, draft-week trade.
Less than a week after Brown entered Brooklyn’s rotation, the Nets turned their roster upside down with the blockbuster trade for Harden. There was playing time to be had, and Brown never let go. With the Nets unsettled at center — Claxton’s season debut and Griffin’s signing were more than a month away — the Nets began experimenting with Brown as a screener for Harden and hit paydirt.
With his toughness and touch, Brown turned into an atypical scoring option off the roll, and an extremely effective one. Brown took 318 of his 423 shots this season at the rim and his 55.6 field goal percentage was second in the league among players 6-foot-4 or under. He averaged 8.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and his per-36 rebounding rate of 8.7 was also second for players 6-4 or under behind only Russell Westbrook.
He never let go of the drive that made that happen either. In the final week of the season, after starting 37 games and playing more minutes than all but three teammates, Brown was still logging workout time with the team’s stay ready group, going head-to-head with a rehabbing Harden.
In the end, Nash simply calls Brown “a winner,” and in a great description of the way Brown carved out a role and filled a need, says, “he’s a solution for us.”
“He can guard multiple positions, he does the dirty work,” said Nash. “His physicality and competitive nature I think are a big add to our group. He gets offensive rebounds, he can be a pick-and roll-guy. He makes the odd 3, he's a good free throw shooter. So he does a lot of things for us, and can kind of plug a lot of holes. So he's just a really versatile player for us. And that's not necessarily what I expected; I didn't know a ton about him when we got him to be honest enough. It's been fantastic to see him evolve into this role.”
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