3 goals: Bruce Brown – shoot more (and better), finish at the rim

(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Bruce Brown. Coming Friday: Louis King.)

Bruce Brown’s filter comes with refreshingly wide holes in it, on full display as he reflected on his NBA rookie season. His 1,000-yard perspective of his first go-around at basketball’s highest level was that, all things considered, it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as he anticipated it would be. It didn’t take him long, he said, to grasp that he could hang with the players he’d watched on TV for years.

He’ll go into his second season knowing he belongs.

That confidence was palpable at Summer League, where Brown took ownership of the Pistons entry and led them to a 4-0 record before Dwane Casey and his cabinet decided they’d seen plenty and shut him down.

Brown played a critical role in getting the Pistons to the 2019 playoffs, finishing 16th in minutes played by rookies – second only to Jalen Brunson among second-round picks – and establishing himself as Casey’s most trusted perimeter defender.

Brown’s size and strength give him tremendous versatility, too, enabling him to guard point guards and small forwards with equal effect and making him someone who slots easily into Casey’s switching defensive blueprint. Brown’s ability to guard the opposition’s top perimeter threat enabled Reggie Jackson to get something of a break on the defensive end many nights. Avoiding all those bone-jarring hits fighting through screens might have helped Jackson play a full 82 games as much as anything.

Brown took advantage of circumstance to get on the floor ahead of schedule after being drafted 42nd overall following an injury-marred sophomore season at Miami. He drove to his first season opener expecting to be in street clothes and wound up starting when injury and illness shelved both Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock. He never looked back, starting 56 games.

Casey’s practice is to present his players with a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Bruce Brown, those are …

GET ABOVE 30 PERCENT – Brown doesn’t have to transform himself into Luke Kennard overnight, but he’ll have to be a more accurate – and a more willing – 3-point shooter this season than last. He knows it. He shot just 26 percent from the 3-point arc as a rookie, which went hand in hand with his growing reluctance to take the shot. Only 29 percent of Brown’s shots last season came from the 3-point line. For as good as Brown was in Summer League, it didn’t show up in his 3-point shooting. There were valid reasons, starting with the fact that Brown was focused on showing himself a credible point guard and spearheading team defense while playing heavy minutes. That wasn’t a recipe for improved 3-point shooting, which Brown readily volunteered would be the focus of the rest of his summer. Brown makes perfect sense in the starting lineup next to Jackson to take on the burden of guarding the league’s top perimeter scorers and sparing Jackson that duty, but his offensive fit next to Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond won’t be as snug if he continues to shoot nearly 10 percentage points under the league average from the arc.

FINISH THROUGH CONTACT – Brown is an inordinately strong player for his size, as attested to by his showing in strength testing at the 2018 NBA draft combine where he finished second, by one, in bench press repetitions with 17. He’s got an above-average burst and good ballhandling ability, the ingredients that enable him to beat his man and get into the paint. He should mature into an above-average finisher at the rim, but he wasn’t that as a rookie. No surprise there; it’s always a major adjustment for players unaccustomed to the speed, length and sheer size and strength of NBA interior defenders. Brown said in Summer League that video study showed he was taking off too far from the rim, likely a way to compensate for the mobility of rim protecters, and would spend whatever on-court time this summer not dedicated to 3-point shooting to becoming a more assertive finisher.

GROOM FOR THE FUTURE – Brown’s stint at point guard in Summer League was revelatory. He led Summer League in assists by a wide margin, his 8.3 a game nearly two full assists ahead of the runner-up. Brown exhibited unusual feel for a relative novice at operating out of pick and roll, picking his spots for getting deep into the paint for finishes or kickouts or at other times dropping deft pocket passes or lobs to the roller. The Pistons covered themselves at point guard for 2019-20 with the free-agent additions of Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier to go with Jackson – with rookie Jordan Bone on a two-way contract for added insurance – but you can never have too many players on the roster capable of serving as a primary or secondary ballhandler. Brown isn’t likely to get many opportunities to play as a true point guard in year two, but that doesn’t mean that Casey won’t be able to incorporate his ball skills into packages to utilize the things Brown showed in Summer League he can manage.