Futures market: Brown’s tenacity, versatility put him at the heart of Pistons rebuild

Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown won a key role for a Pistons playoff team as a rookie and took significant steps to improve offensively in his second season
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

We’re in uncharted NBA waters – it’s neither the season nor the off-season. Life in America – and around the world – has been turned on its ear. Everyone’s focus is and must remain on staying healthy and preventing the spread of COVID-19. That makes undertaking daily tasks – whether working under different conditions, coping with the reality of jobs being temporarily reduced or eliminated, or navigating the new environment to put food on the table – all the more challenging.

And yet we all need something to distract us, ever so temporarily, from the assault of our new reality. Since there’s only so much Netflix you can watch and crossword puzzles to solve, we’ll try to do our small part to bridge the gap until life can start back on a path to normalcy.

The rebuilding phase the Pistons are undergoing will benefit from playing time accrued by a large number of young players during their injury-riddled season. We’ll look at those players – the experience gained this season, what it says about their future and how they fit with the Pistons of tomorrow.

First up, Bruce Brown.

PAST – Brown, a Boston native, went to a prep school in Vermont to up his recruiting profile and rose to high four-star status. He was the No. 26 prospect according to RSCI, a composite of the leading recruiting services, in a 2016 class that included one-and-done types in Josh Jackson, Harry Giles, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac, Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk.

Brown chose Miami and became an immediate starter, averaging 11.8 points in 32 minutes a game as a freshman, second in minutes and third in scoring for a team that went 21-12 and lost in the Sweet 16 to Michigan State. In the summer after Brown’s freshman season, he put himself on the radar as a potential first-round pick with his performance at Adidas Nations, a highly scouted prospect camp, where his 3-point shot – an unknown to that point – stood out.

Injuries sidetracked Brown’s sophomore season, though, first to his wrist and then a season-ending foot injury in February. In 19 games, Brown led Miami in minutes (34 per game), finished second to Spurs No. 1 pick Lonnie Walker in scoring and led in rebounding (7.1) while playing both forward positions in a perimeter-based offense.

He entered the draft, expected to go in the 20s, and was still on the board when the Pistons pick at No. 42 came around.

PRESENT – Brown’s rookie season exceeded expectations, taking advantage of the head start he got on fellow rookie Khyri Thomas – taken four spots ahead of Brown but hobbled over summer 2018 with a hamstring injury – to slide into the rotation for a playoff team. Brown immediately won Dwane Casey’s admiration for his aptitude, motor and tenacity.

His ability to defend at any perimeter position allowed Casey to manipulate matchups to take the defensive burden off of Reggie Jackson and Wayne Ellington as the Pistons rode Blake Griffin’s remarkable season to a playoff berth. Brown started 56 games almost exclusively because of his defensive value. Offensively, Brown struggled to finish around the rim and from the 3-point arc. He shot under 40 percent (.398) overall and hit barely a quarter (25.8 percent) of his 3-point shots.

Even before a wave of injuries altered the objectives of the 2019-20 Pistons, Brown had earned an increased role. With Jackson sidelined for 42 games with a back injury, Brown wound up spending the bulk of his time in that period at point guard. Casey knew he was asking a lot of Brown – trying to mold himself into an NBA point guard on the fly while maintaining his role as the team’s primary perimeter stopper.

Brown showed flashes of pick-and-roll feel while improving as a finisher and 3-point shooter, upping his percentages to .443 and .344 while roughly doubling his scoring (4.3 to 8.9) and rebounding (2.5 to 4.7) and tripling his assists (1.2 to 4.0) with a less dramatic spike in his minutes, 19.6 to 28.2.

FUTURE – Whenever the off-season arrives and however long it lasts as the NBA prepares to stay agile based on the COVID-19 timetable, Brown’s to-do list will be pretty much the same as last summer: continue to develop his perimeter shot while improving his other ball skills.

Brown’s relentlessness and selflessness assure him a long NBA career. As quickly as he endeared himself to Casey, so would Brown win over most coaches. His complete openness to filling any role asked of him is an invaluable trait – and especially so for a team launching a rebuild in which versatility will be paramount.

Casey told Brown going into his second season that he’d earned the right – by virtue of how hard he plays and the defensive responsibility he assumes – to speak out when the team’s competitive spirit didn’t meet his standards. While Brown was thrust into an unfamiliar role during Jackson’s absence, Casey unfailingly reminded him not to forget about his “day job” – being the defensive tone-setter for the Pistons.

As Brown’s second season wound down, Casey intended to limit his minutes at point guard, hoping to narrow his focus to allow him to further develop his skills as a secondary ballhandler, attacker from the weak side, defender and 3-point threat. It appears Brown will spend most of his time off of the ball going forward, though the experience he gained at point guard should surely benefit him in any role.

Because of his versatility, defensive prowess, toughness and team-first demeanor, Brown is a vital part of the future as the Pistons reshape their roster.


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