Pistons patch up point guard in the short term, stock up on it for the long term

Bruce Brown showed Dwane Casey enough in his first four games at point guard, finishing with a Summer League-best 8.3 assists per game.
David Dox/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

A month ago the Pistons had one point guard. Now they might have five.

And with the way the NBA is trending, point guards are to basketball as pitchers are to baseball. You can never have too many.

After signing Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier in the first two days of free agency to complement Reggie Jackson, the Pistons completed their 2019-20 depth chart at the position.

Bruce Brown isn’t technically on it, but he certainly has met the high end of Dwane Casey’s expectations for his future at point guard with how emphatically he took to the position through four Summer League games before Casey had seen enough, shutting Brown down after leading the Pistons to four straight wins.

Brown led Summer League in assists and by a healthy margin at 8.3 a game. He became only the second player in Summer League history, joining Lonzo Ball, to record a triple-double with Wednesday’s 11-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist line as the Pistons stayed perfect.

More than the numbers – even more than the winning, which Brown drove along with classmates Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk – was the feel for the position Brown exhibited. Casey must have seen flashes of what Brown entered into evidence in Las Vegas in Pistons practices last season, enough to forecast that point guard was Brown’s future.

Brown has all the physical tools to do it and them some – terrific size for the position at 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, above-average athleticism featuring an explosive first step, solid ballhandling with the ability to use his left hand naturally. His physical testing at the NBA draft combine last year put Brown second in bench press repetitions and high up the rankings with a 38-inch vertical jump.

So size, athleticism, strength – check. Defense? Hey, he started 56 games as a rookie despite, as he admits, defenses backing off of him because he shot 3-pointers poorly and, often, hesitantly. He won Casey’s trust to guard the NBA’s most dominant scorers – from James Harden to Kemba Walker to Damian Lillard.

So that leaves two hurdles left to clear before Brown can be looked at as more than the emergency point guard: sharpening that 3-point stroke and exhibiting the instincts of a point guard.

On that second matter, what Brown showed in Las Vegas is eye opening. At times he looked simply masterful running the pick and roll – using his size-strength-speed combination to get penetration, then making the right choice time after time: keep going to get to the rim; fling a pass to an open 3-point shooter in the opposite corner or maybe the wing; drop the pocket pass or perhaps a lob to the rolling screener.

Some players who nominally play point guard never really develop the sort of feel Brown exhibited in his first extended run as a professional at the point. In most cases, it at least takes far more repetitions than Brown has experienced to demonstrate the level of proficiency he’s shown.

If Jackson, Rose and Frazier all stay healthy, it’s debatable whether Brown will play much point guard for the 2019-20 Pistons. But Jackson and Frazier will be free agents after next season. When the Pistons plot for free agency next July, Brown might have shown them enough already to factor into their decision making.

Which brings us to Bone. The Pistons say they had Bone rated as a first-round pick, meaning they had him pegged among the top 30 prospects. They got him by trading for a second-round pick when Bone was still available after 56 players had been taken. But they still signed two point guards, Rose and Frazier, after drafting him. Bone signed a two-way deal. The Pistons weren’t ready to reserve a roster spot for Bone just yet despite their excitement about his future.

What he’s shown in three Summer League games – three times more games than practices, joining the team only after the moratorium period ended July 6 and the draft-night trade was OK’d the next day – is early validation of their faith in Bone. He was the quarterback for a 31-6 Tennessee team, but the role he was assigned for the Volunteers – while absolutely conducive to their success – didn’t really showcase why Bone was attractive to the Pistons.

The Vols had two all-SEC inside players drafted ahead of Bone, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, and that’s where their advantage was. Bone followed marching orders and set them up to score.

“It wasn’t my role to be a scoring point guard at Tennessee,” Bone said when he visited the Pistons the week before the draft. “But that’s definitely something I can do. Looking at my college film, there’s many things that a lot of outsiders still don’t know about my game that are going to translate well on the next level.”

His athletic testing at the combine was insane – best in three of five categories, second in a fourth, top five in the fifth. With the far greater space NBA offenses create than NCAA versions, Bone’s speed and quickness give him a chance to be dynamic. He wound up taking a number of mid-range jump shots off of pick-and-roll situations in his limited opportunities, using his speed to create space to get them off. He’s good at it, but it’s not a shot that NBA analytics supports. It probably will remain a part of his repertoire, but as he soaks up repetitions more of them will likely be converted to the layups, kickouts or pocket passes that had Brown thriving in his second Summer League.

Bone will get 45 days with the Pistons, plus whatever spills over before and after the G League calendar, in 2019-20. The rest of the time, he’ll get all the reps he can handle in Grand Rapids, running Casey’s offense and grooming to put himself in position to join Brown as part of the solution at point guard in 2020-21 and beyond.

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