Big Mo’sBig Opportunity
BY NICK GALLOBROADCAST REPORTER AND DIGITAL EDITORApril 4, 2021
A product of the Queens Village neighborhood in New York City, Moses Brown sprouted up through the concrete of the United States’ largest metropolis. He rose to 6-foot-8 stature by the time he was just a freshman in high school.
Brown attended Queen’s vaunted Archbishop Molloy High School, following in the footsteps of NBA phenoms like Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith. A five-star college recruit his senior year, the 7-foot-2 prospect traversed the entire country for his freshman season at UCLA, the storied university that has more National Championships than any other and is nestled in the country’s second-largest city.
After that one season in Westwood, Brown decided to go pro, but went undrafted. He started his NBA career just north up the Pacific coast, in Portland, Oregon with the Trail Blazers as a two-way player. Yet despite the young man’s journey westward, as it were, it took a call from the one NBA team that is located smack dab in the middle of the country for Brown to begin manifesting his destiny.
Though he played in 30 games in the G-League as a rookie, his NBA action amounted to just 33 total minutes with the Blazers. For a developing 20-year-old NBA hopeful, a lack of minutes can be like a lack of oxygen. In search of opportunity, Brown signed a two-way contract with the Thunder during the shortened 2020 offseason, with one clear need in front of him: playing time. Not only did Brown aim to find a place to spread his wings, he’d have to be 100 percent ready to capitalize on every chance he got upon arriving in OKC.
“Going through life playing basketball and being a young athlete, there’s going to be ups and downs,” Brown said. “You’re just going to have to find the mental capacity to be able to get through it and the mental toughness to say that you see the end in sight you see the end goal and no matter what’s in front of you, you just keep pushing through it.”
“Growing up with that mentality helped me a lot - getting me through situations that were unfavorable,” said Brown. “Staying on top and staying on task is the goal.”
“Take it one day at a time, do everything you’re supposed to do and everything in time will take care of itself.”–Moses Brown
In February of 2021, Brown got his engines revved in the G League bubble in Orlando with the Oklahoma City Blue, where racked up averages of 18.5 points, 13.9 rebounds (including 6.0 offensive rebounds) and 1.9 blocks per game. Those performances earned him slots on the All-NBA G-League First Team and G-League All-Defensive team.
“It's been good to see him kind of rock out a little bit,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault during Brown’s G-League rampage.
With that experience fresh in his rearview mirror, Brown has hit the ground running with the Thunder thanks to all of the on-court action he can soak up. Since joining the Thunder rotation fully after the All-Star Break, Brown is playing 27 precious minutes per night and racking up a double-double average – 11.5 points and 11.8 rebounds. In just his 16th game with the Thunder, against Boston, Brown matched his total minutes all year in Portland with 33 and put up a staggering 21-point, 23-rebound effort.
“I’m just a player that plays hard and does everything that is asked of me to do. I’m very into the game,” said Brown. “This is what I love to do. I can’t really see myself doing anything else. Not saying that I can’t, but I just don’t want to.”
That matter of fact, all about work approach is the reason Brown has popped during these last 11 games in Oklahoma City. That mindset was borne from the unique circumstance of watching his father – a single father – approach his job as a construction worker in New York City with dedication every day. With each practice rep attacked, weight hoisted, and film clip studied, Brown has his father Malcolm’s relentlessness in mind.
“My dad was just a great influence because he told me anything in life that I wanted, I had to work hard for it,” Brown said. “Just watching him do that, day in and day out, I realized that’s an actual fact because I’m seeing him do it every single day.”
“I just took that principal philosophy to my basketball and he’s definitely been my main influence and main inspiration as far as my game being the way it is right now,” said Brown. “Just hard working, and no excuses type of game.”
Brown’ basketball IQ as a player jumps off the floor and his brightness as a person carries through his voice. He speaks succinctly about pick-and-roll coverages, about understanding opposing personnel and his need to find openings on the floor on offense. His Queens accent barrels through the microphone like so many of his hard-charging rolls to the rim. Always a studious sort, Brown also flourished as a youngster when he picked up a basketball – giving himself two main outlets for his energy.
“For the most part my head was really in the books,” Brown grinned, “and just playing basketball.”
“It was just something that I just loved to do so much that it just took over video games, it took over reading, it took over playing in the house and stuff,” Brown said. “Everything that I was doing and watching and reflecting was just basketball. So, I fell in love with it like that.”
At the NBA level, that interest in the minutiae of the game manifests itself in attentiveness on the court, in huddles and with assistant coaches.
“He listens,” said fellow undrafted riser Kenrich Williams, who has noticed Brown soaking in lessons from teammates and coaches alike. “He takes their advice, and he uses it in the game. And that's the biggest, takeaway for any player like Mo who's trying to get established in the league – is just being able to be coachable.”
The results over the last three weeks have been the fruit of that labor, as Brown has been a dominant force on the offensive glass, a rim protector and a big target to help finish plays. He’s registered a double-double in 6 of the Thunder’s last 10 games and is sixth in the NBA in rebounds per game since the All-Star break.
“(Brown) does so many good things on the court – rebounds, plays with energy, block shots,” point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander listed. “I think he's getting better every game.”
There’s still a ton for Brown to learn about the NBA, including the opposition he’s going up against each night. In that 20-20 game of his against Boston, Brown lined up against four different centers – a small ball five in Robert Williams III, a well-rounded big in Mo Wagner, 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall and finally Luke Kornet – a pick-and-pop threat. Trying to keep all of those assignments, tendencies and coverages straight in one game is like a mountain of homework piling on Brown’s desk, but as he’s done since he was a kid – he’ll pick up each book and knock out his studies.
Fortunately, Brown has a development-minded coach in Daigneault focused on his growth, plus rock-solid veterans like Al Horford and Mike Muscala in his corner to not just give him pointers but to also lean on through the emotions of the game. With Brown now in the starting lineup and facing the likes of Jonas Valanciunas, Karl-Anthony Towns and Clint Capela on any given night, that institutional support is critical.
“You get a guy like him that's just trying to prove himself, he doesn't feel like he's on an island,” said Daigneault.
“He's playing with a lot of confidence. He understands what he needs to do,” said Horford. “The biggest thing for him is just to continue to establish himself.”
Brown’s efforts recently culminated in every young players’ dream – a full time NBA contract. Alongside him all season has been a player who charted the exact same route as Brown only last season – Lu Dort. Oklahoma City’s philosophy has always been about development – as players and as human beings.
In the 2019-20 season, Dort was the mentee, earning his way from two-way unknown to Thunder starter. Just one season later, Dort has become the mentor, helping Brown reap the benefits of the same feedback loop of getting experience, learning from it and improving each day.
“(Dort) just told me to take it one day at a time and do everything you’re supposed to do out there on the floor and everything in time will take care of itself,” Brown said.
Moses Brown: Big Man in the Middle