Run of injuries speeds up Pistons timetable for Brown’s transition to point guard

Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown is averaging 18 points and 7 assists a game in two games as the starting point guard due to injuries to Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier
Ned Dishman (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

WASHINGTON – There’ll come a time when Dwane Casey and others look back at that time early in the 2019-20 season when his point guards queued up at the trainer’s office and credit the experience it provided Bruce Brown with his ascendancy – and the franchise’s upward trajectory.

That time isn’t this week … or maybe not this season, at all.

“He did OK,” Dwane Casey said after Brown’s second game as the emergency point guard due to injuries to Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier. “I thought he was one guy that did battle.”

Casey loves much of what Brown brings to the table. He loves his fearlessness, intelligence, strength, length and defense. Those were the things that earned him 56 starts as a rookie after falling to 42nd overall in the 2018 draft following two seasons at Miami. Somewhere in there, Casey saw the seeds of a future NBA point guard.

With that in mind, the Pistons played Brown exclusively at the point in Summer League, where he excelled. He led all players in assists, averaging eight a game, and had the Pistons at 4-0 before sitting out the last game, proving what he’d needed to prove to the coaching staff.

But the Pistons were never banking on Brown to be a point guard this season. That’s why the first two moves they made in free agency were signing Rose and then Frazier to complement Jackson.

“He’s a smart player. He handles the ball well. He passes well,” Casey said of the traits that led him to ponder a future with Brown at the point. “So he has those instincts. That’s one reason why we had him in Summer League – not knowing this year would be the year we’d need him because we had three point guards. But I thought that was a good experience for him.”

It gives Brown a fighting chance to keep the Pistons in games and to survive the whammy of having virtually all of their primary ballhandlers – when their point guards aren’t handling the ball, Griffin is – shelved simultaneously.

Brown isn’t wrapped up in where Casey sees his future, only that his coach sees him as a part of it.

“I think I can play whatever,” he shrugged. “Whatever Coach wants me to do, I can do.”

If you read that as indifference, you’re reading it wrong. It’s more about competitiveness, Brown’s belief in his ability to do any task he’s assigned and a selflessness to handle blue-collar assignments as well as more spotlighted functions.

Brown tested as one of the strongest players at the 2018 draft combine – his 17 bench presses ranked second to Yante Maten’s 18 – at 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, 3.75 percent body fat and a 38-inch vertical leap. If he’s going to wind up at point guard, he’s going to be in the upper tier athletically.

The Pistons drafted him largely on the basis of those numbers and his track record at Miami with the expectation that he’d help restock a depleted wing rotation. When Casey saw all of that plus his basketball IQ, passing and ballhandling skills, the notion of him playing point guard took root.

“He’s such an instinctual player,” Casey said. “He knows the game. He’s smart. He knows the other teams. He knows all of our sets and he has the ability to transfer that to point guard.”

In two starts, Brown has averaged 18 points, seven assists and two turnovers a game. He brings rebounding into play, grabbing seven on Monday including five offensive boards. And Casey isn’t cutting him any slack defensively, either. He guarded Kyrie Irving in his first point guard start and spent much of his second on Bradley Beal.

“He’s tenacious, he’s very adaptable and he’s a good ballhandler,” Casey said. “He does a good job of making sure everybody’s in the right place. He understands where everybody should be and that cuts him out to be that fourth point guard. I think in the future his role on the team will be a point guard in our league.”

The future – at least until the training room thins out a little – just happened to arrive sooner than the Pistons anticipated.

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