The Detroit Pistons were without a first-round draft pick in 2018, forfeiting what would’ve been a mid-teens selection to the Los Angeles Clippers as one of the main assets in the Blake Griffin trade. Thus, they were left with their lone second-round selection, which the team ultimately decided to use on University of Miami wing Bruce Brown. Brown was viewed as a potential lottery pick prior to his sophomore season, but a foot injury derailed his second season with the Canes – allowing him to fall to Detroit at 42nd overall.
His strengths were evident at the collegiate level. Brown was known as a powerful athlete, stronger than most at his size – proven by his absurd rebounding numbers as a 6’5 guard (7.1 RPG in 2017-18). He was also a sneaky-good playmaker, possibly foreshadowing a future as a secondary or tertiary ballhandler in the NBA. However, it was noted that those strengths likely wouldn’t be able to outweigh his weaknesses enough to warrant playing time in his rookie campaign.
Brown was expected to be a project player in his first year despite being a ripe 22 years old; most were expecting him to see extensive time in the G League. Instead, Detroit’s embarrassingly empty cupboard of available wing players proved to be too glaring of an issue to leave Brown with the Grand Rapids Drive for long. This, alongside newcomer Glenn Robinson III’s flop of an introductory campaign with the Pistons paved the way for Brown to become the team’s primary starting option at small forward.
This goes without saying, but no player 6-foot-5 should be your starting small forward, no matter how high their defensive abilities are touted. However, with no other suitable options, Brown was thrust into that role early in the year and went on to start 56 of the 74 games he appeared in during the regular season.
Oftentimes, a starting opportunity proved to be too much too early on for Brown. He was forced to consistently take on bigger and stronger players on the wings, a genetic disadvantage that made things especially difficult for him on the offensive end. His struggles finishing at the rim were concerning, even for a rookie, as he was completed just 46.1 percent of his shot attempts within 10 feet. His three-point shot, as we already knew, is a work in progress, as he knocked down a similar percentage (25.8) of his triples as the last Piston to wear number six…
Eventually, with a couple more seasons to polish his raw offensive game, Brown may be able to have more nights like he did in a mid-January contest against the Sacramento Kings:
Now that basically everything that can be said about an inefficient four-point per game scorer has been, we can get into what kept Brown in the rotation all season – defense.
Following Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson’s departures at this season’s trade deadline, Detroit’s guard corps was without basically any perimeter defense outside of Brown. With defensive liabilities in Reggie Jackson and Wayne Ellington starting alongside him in the backcourt, Brown was routinely relied on to guard the opposing team’s best player. At times, he got a little too excited when guarding elite ballhandlers and would frequently bite on pump fakes. But this was his rookie season, let’s cut him some slack. Overall, Brown did an excellent job as a rookie, providing the Pistons with what was oftentimes their only form of perimeter defense
In a late December interview with the Detroit News’ Rod Beard, Brown spoke on the confidence he has in himself on the less flashy side of the court, even against the league’s top talents:
“I thought I would be able to do that. Coming into the league, I knew my defense would get me on the floor. I look forward to (the challenge). My whole life, I’ve played defense. That’s something I’ve always had, so it’s nothing new for me.”
“I’m just confident in myself. I watch a lot of film and work hard every day. I’m getting more comfortable out there on the floor,” Brown said. “The guys are helping me by talking to me and making it easier for me.”
It’s one thing when a player has confidence in himself, but it’s another story when a player receives similarly high praise from their All-Star teammate – in this case being Blake Griffin:
“He does a great job every night, especially being a rookie. Every night, I tell him there’s no other rookie who can guard like he can guard — and I firmly believe that,” Blake Griffin said. “You look at all the different guys he’s been thrown at in his first year, and he’s done a great job on all of them.”
Brown was thrown into an unexpected situation for the majority of his rookie campaign, and certainly had his fair share of exciting moments alongside his consistently solid defense. With experience and playing under a head coach known for developing talent in Dwane Casey, we should only be seeing more improvement from someone who could be a gem of a second-rounder.
With that said, I do feel that Brown would be much better suited as a backup next season, capable of locking down any bench guard. Hopefully, he will be returning in his second go-round with an improved jump shot – in any capacity. If all goes well, Brown could become a valuable three-and-D option – with a side of playmaking ability – in Detroit for years to come.
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