Brown ready to fill whatever role Pistons ask of him: ‘I’ve come a long way from last year’
Sam Forencich (NBAE/Getty)
DENVER – Bruce Brown wasn’t the most obvious candidate to fill Andre Drummond’s rebounding void, but there he is – averaging 8.5 in seven games since the Pistons traded their longest-tenured player. Brown has averaged 10.3 rebounds over his last four games, hitting double digits in each one – the first Pistons guard in history to do so.
And that’s just one of the voids Brown has been asked to fill in a second season that could charitably be described as “eventful.”
“I think it’s definitely a learning year for us,” Brown said after a practice between games on the current four-game Western Conference road swing. “Coming in thinking we were going to make the playoffs and trying to achieve that, now still trying to fight toward the playoffs but with a lot of different guys. Not familiar faces from last year, so it’s just being ready at any moment, learning from every situation that I can and just working my (backside) off every day.”
Those three things – being ready and willing to adapt to any role, showing an aptitude for improvement through applied learning and leaving no question about his embrace of hard work – endeared Brown to Dwane Casey not long after his first exposure to him when Brown was drafted 42nd overall in 2018.
Brown has served as defensive stopper, point guard and chief energy officer for the Pistons before being tasked with heading the committee to replace Drummond’s rebounding. He’s both started – 98 of 130 career games – and come off the bench. It’s already the resume of a player who’ll have a long career in the NBA.
“He should,” Casey said before the Pistons lost at Denver, a game Brown missed with left knee soreness. “I think Bruce has done everything we’ve asked him to be. He and Khyri (Thomas) both. Khyri was ahead of him and Khyri got hurt and Bruce took over his spot and never looked back. He’s done everything.”
Brown wound up a surprise starter as a rookie for the way his perimeter defense and edge complemented the Blake Griffin-Drummond-Reggie Jackson core. Drafted four spots after Thomas, Brown took advantage of early playing time as a rookie and exhibited a flair for giving the Pistons what they needed.
His sophomore season has shown improvement across the board: scoring (4.3 to 8.9), assists (1.2 to 3.9), steals (0.5 to 1.1) and rebounds (2.5 to 4.7) have all nearly or more than doubled while his minutes have gone from 19 to 28 per game. His foul totals have declined from 4.4 per-36 minutes to 3.6 – a trend that might have more to do with how he’s viewed and the respect he’s come to earn as a first-rate defender.
“I think I’m just not a rookie anymore. I’m not getting those rookie calls,” he said. “I got a little respect on the defensive end with the refs. I told Sekou (Doumbouya) the other night when he was guarding (Carmelo Anthony), he was getting rookie calls. I’m like, ‘Bro, you just got to live with it.’ Last year I was getting some bull ones. They’re going to call it. You’ve just got to live with it.”
His perimeter shot remains the weakest part of Brown’s game, but even that has noticeably improved: a 39.8 percent overall and 25.8 percent 3-point shooter as a rookie, Brown now comes in at 44.3 and 33.7.
“Bruce has improved in a lot of areas,” Casey said. “Shooting has been the last one to come around and I do know that will come around.”
The statistical improvement is the result of the only measuring stick Brown uses to mark his progress: confidence.
“Out there, there’s never a doubt in my mind about me doing anything and last year that was a big factor for me,” he said. “I was thinking too much. Now I don’t think; I just play. I think I’ve come a long way from last year.”
By about 10 minutes, Thomas – drafted four spots before Brown – ranks ahead of Brown in Pistons tenure. They’re fourth and fifth among the 17 players – 13 on standard contracts, two on two-way contracts, two on 10-day deals – currently in their employ. Only Derrick Rose among active players is 30 or older.
Casey has told Brown that the consistently high level of energy he brings to the floor gives him the right to hold teammates accountable despite his relative youth and Brown has grown comfortable flexing his leadership muscles, too.
“I’m still learning. I’ll still young,” he said. “Still learning from D-Rose and still learning from Reggie (Jackson). We keep in contact. That’s always going to be my guy. We have multiple leaders on this team. I think I can definitely be one.”
Being comfortable shouldering a leadership role is another measure of Brown’s confidence – and another measure of the respect he’s earned. Players see in Brown the things Casey gleaned in Summer League practices soon after his drafting – the fearlessness, the willingness to do whatever he’s asked, the disdain for losing.
Here’s another way Brown knows he’s in this for the long haul.
“Guys know my name now. They talk to me, ask me how I’m doing,” he said. “That’s pretty cool. Last year, that wasn’t the case. They called me Rook. This year, they know my name and ask how I’m doing. That’s some respect there.”