Nets Notes: Bruce Brown is Back for Brooklyn

Guard again making an outsized impact since returning to starting lineup a month ago

With the Brooklyn Nets up by a point on the New York Knicks in the waning seconds on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, the visitors inbounded with 13.4 seconds remaining and the ball went to New York’s Evan Fournier in the corner. As the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson slipped into space in the lane, Bruce Brown closed out hard and deflected Fournier’s pass, breaking up the play. The ball went to the Nets and Kevin Durant made four free throws in the final 10 seconds to lock down the 110-107 win, Brooklyn’s third straight.

Defense is the calling card that brought Brown to the NBA as a second-round pick out of Miami in 2018, and the 6-foot-4 guard’s impact and intensity on that end has never waned. On the other end, he’s reinvented himself more than once over his four years in the league while turning himself into a box score-filling utilityman.

Sunday’s stat sheet was a perfect example: 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. It also was consistent with the level Brown has been at since he moved into the starting lineup back on Feb. 12.

“Bruce has been great,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Locked in defensively. We’ve pushed him to find his indentity down there. He’s been really solid with the game plan. Pitches in with 15 points, five assists, seven rebounds, two steals. It’s just winning basketball plays he makes over and over. Love his competitiveness, his spirit, and defensively he’s really locked in.”

A year ago, Brown carved out a unique role that defied easy categorization. With the Nets short on big men, Nash started using Brown as a screener, and as defenders clung to ball-handlers and shooters arrayed around the floor, he slipped into open space and sliced teams apart in the paint. In a big man’s role, Brown played much larger than his size. His 55.6 field goal percentage was the second-highest in the league for a player measuring 6-4 or under. Brown also averaged 5.4 rebounds in 22.3 minutes per game, a per-36 rate of 8.7 that was also No. 2 in the league, behind triple-double machine Russell Westbrook.

But circumstances and personnel around Brown shifted, and at the beginning of this season the offensive opportunities that presented themselves a year ago weren’t as available. He had to go back to finding a way to fit in.

“Early in the season it was all mental for me,” said Brown. “I was trying to fit in the role that I had last year and it wasn't working. So I got kind of frustrated and that's when I kind of got out of the rotation.”

He dug back in on more traditional guard skills, but in a Brooklyn rotation that has seen a lot of shifting throughout the season, it took a while to regain a foothold. In the 14 games before he moved back into the starting lineup, Brown averaged 3.9 points per game and scored in double-figures just once.

Over Brooklyn’s last 13 games, Brown is averaging 13.8 points on 53.5 percent shooting. He’s hitting the boards for 5.8 rebounds per game, a higher rate than he finished last season with, and also averaging 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game. After attempting just 0.8 3-pointers per game through Brooklyn’s first 55 games, Brown is launching 2.1 per game and hitting at 44.4 percent since Feb. 12.

“Last year, we used him as a screener and roller to the rim and he is effective in that role,” said Kevin Durant. “But now, I think it helped him and his development as a player playing in different spots on the floor. So this year, he’s playing like an all-around player. Guard, shooting threes, getting it off the rim, defending as he always does. Seven rebounds, five assists, two steals. Fifteen points. He is playing with ultimate confidence. I look at Bruce as still a younger player, and when you start to see younger players figure out what they want to do in this league, it’s fun to see in real time. I’m just excited he’s getting better and better. He’s not complacent with where he is right now. I can tell you that.”

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