Bruce Brown Might Save The Pistons.
The Detroit Pistons season is not dead, it isn’t even dying yet, but it is not thriving. How the Pistons got here, with a pair of deserving all-stars in the front-court and not enough talent anywhere else to win games in a terrible Eastern Conference, is multi-faceted. But one of the main reasons that the Pistons are in the spot they are in, is because of their inability to develop their draft picks. This thought process was started by this tweet from the lovely Sham.
That’s a good and also terrifying question. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a starter for the Pistons but has fallen out of the starting lineup with the Lakers by now, Greg Monroe was a 6th man with the Bucks before they decided they didn’t want him anymore, Brandon Knight was good for a couple of years as well before injuries derailed him.
Still, the last guy to not only become a starter, but become a starting caliber player into his second contract with the Pistons (other than Drummond)? Probably Rodney Stuckey? It’s not good. A staple of many good teams is developing their own guys and the Pistons have been terrible at it.
When the Pistons selected Bruce Brown with the 42nd overall pick he was seen, largely, as a project player. Good potential, but very raw. However, he has vaulted his way into the starting lineup and it has mostly worked.
All season Dwane Casey has struggled to find a starting lineup that could consistently produce, while the sample size is still not that large, the starting lineup with Brown is eye-popping. In 116 minutes, the lineup with Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond has been spectacular. Scoring 111.1 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 98.7 points per 100 possessions for a excellent net rating of +12.4. These numbers stand out even further when compared with the Pistons overall numbers this season. As a team the Pistons offensive efficiency is just 105.8 and defensive efficiency of 107.9.
Some of the larger numbers for Brown here remain not pretty. Overall the Pistons are -4.3 per 100 possessions with Brown on the floo, worst among all regular rotation players other than Glenn Robinson, and many of his other lineups have been terrible. Top that off with that his individual numbers remain abysmal overall, 39% from the field and just 24% from deep and not a high assist rate, there is good reason to be skeptical of Brown’s long-term staying power as a starter this season.
That is not the point here however. Brown’s long-term viability as a starter is another conversation. The point here is that he’s much better than expected, and is showing quick improvements to his game. So even if he ends up not being ready this season, he may be ready sooner rather than later.
Isn’t it a bit over the top to suggest that him becoming a starting caliber player would save the Pistons though?
The Pistons are comically weak on the wing, especially in two-way guys. And their best current wing, Reggie Bullock, is a free agent after this season and may cost too much for them to retain even if he wants to stay. Stanley Johnson is also a free agent (though restricted) but he’s started his annual mid-season flame-out. There is a very good chance that both Johnson and Bullock are off the team next season, and the Pistons only real options for a pair of starting spots on the wing will be someone already on the roster, a veteran making the minimum, or the mid-level exception. And remember that they also need to pay a point guard since Ish Smith is a free agent as well.
The truly scariest scenario for this Pistons crew is the fact that, as much as the team around Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond has failed this season, it could very easily get much worse next season and the Pistons salary situation could make them almost powerless to avoid total disaster. Therefore, Brown (or Khyri Thomas, or whoever they draft next season) becoming a starting-caliber player could well end up saving the Pistons.
Ok that’s fair. So what are the improvements you see?
Lets start with the obvious. Brown’s defense is already at a very good level, I’m not going to spend too much time on this because it’s talked about plenty. He is strong, fast, bouncy, and fearless.
In particular, the explosiveness of his jumps, the speed at which he reaches peak height, is totally absurd.
Blocks like that are not ones you see very often, but Brown has done it fairly regularly and makes it look so routine that it is easy to forget that no one does that. Andre Drummond does that to people occasionally, but no one else. Brown is an absolute freak athlete.
That said, he does still have rookie issues on defense, he fouls a ton, currently comiting 4.9 fouls per 36 minutes, the highest non-Zaza rate on the team and an absurd rate for a perimeter player. He also sometimes gets lost on defense, switching when he shouldn’t, losing his man off the ball, basic stuff. He does need to iron these things out in his game to really become a high-level defender, but all rookies struggle with these things. It is more than fair to assume that Brown will improve in those areas and will at least be a very good defender, even if he never reaches his potential as all-destroyer on defense.
So what about the offense? You’ve said yourself the numbers are ugly.
Yes. And the numbers are very ugly. And for all the positives I’m about to point out lets be abundantly clear, Brown is still a net negative on offense. Like, no amount of smart cutting is making up for this.
That said, let’s get into the positives.
First off, as stated before, Bruce is legitimately a A+ athlete. There are not a lot of dudes who can just do this:
But these are all things that we kind of expected. Browns physical tools were clearly there when the Pistons drafted him, the things that should give Pistons fans hope are the smaller intricacies that he is showing.
Early on, especially in Summer League, Brown’s aggression was often times too much. You want a young player, especially one of Brown’s athletic talents, to be aggressive, but there is a line between aggression and out of control. Brown has already started to walk that line.
It’s a bit awkward, but Brown busting out a nice floater is something he’s done a few times this season. He could’ve easily continued to fly full-steam and end up committing a charge, but instead he has his wits about him to hit a really tough floater. I’m not sure how his percentages would look if he started taking these with any regularity (by my unofficial count he’s only taken like three or four proper floaters off a drive) but young guys with his athletic talents, especially ones drafted well into the 2nd round, rarely show any signs of such tact and touch.
And this tact goes beyond just those floaters. He has shown good patience while looking to pass as well.
Look at that! He hesitates, probes into the lane, doesn’t force anything, finds Leuer for an easy push shot, and does it all while looking totally comfortable. But here’s the thing, despite being in control, he still isn’t playing slow. He’s still going fast, which is one of his best attributes. He plays at full speed all the time, and the game isn’t too fast for him.
He reads defenders excellently and already has certain defensive rotations completely figured out, check out this string of plays.
Those all look similar and they are not exactly complex or brilliant plays. But there are a lot of players who cannot make those reads at the required speed in the NBA. Those windows close quickly against NBA defenders, you have to see it coming before it opens and time it perfectly. He regularly see’s where the help is coming from and where the space for him to pass the ball is, and once again, he does it all at full speed.
The last thing to highlight are these two passes from the Pistons victory over the Grizzlies.
Once again, those skip passes are not some out of this world brilliant plays, they are some base-level competence if you want to play point guard in the NBA, but that’s the point. Not even half-way into his rookie campaign, and Brown is already showing some legitimate point guard skills. His comfort with the ball in his hands, the speed at which he makes decisions and reads defenses, and his own ferocious defensive effort can make him a capable player if he continues to develop.
But you are on record saying he wasn’t anywhere near ready for this?
In a basic sense I was obviously wrong. Some of the offensive stuff flashed here is stuff I didn’t think he had in him yet, and in my defense, he hadn’t really started showing any of these flashes until a couple of weeks ago. Even back to Summer League I don’t remember him making some of these plays.
The biggest thing I missed was his athleticism. From his college highlights it was clear he was a good athlete, but I didn’t realize he wasn’t just a good athlete, he’s a elite athlete even by NBA standards. The type of elite athlete that can get away with a lot of rookie mistakes since their athleticism lets them make plays other guys just can’t.
The best place to show this is in his offensive rebounding, Brown currently boasts an offensive rebounding percentage of 4.5%, meaning that when he’s on the floor he rebounds 4.5% of the Pistons misses. That is 4th on the team, behind Andre Drummond (duh), Zaza Pachulia, and only just behind Jon Leuer. Brown has been a better offensive rebounder than Blake Griffin, this season. For another reference Pistons fans can get, Tobias Harris posted a offensive rebounding percentage of 2.6% as a Piston. Part of that is of course that Brown is inside a lot because he can’t shoot, but he rebounds at an elite level for a guard.
So what does he top out as then?
Before the season I would’ve told you he had basically no shot to be a starting point guard in this league, I think that may now be his best case scenario. And to be clear, he still has a ton of work to do, enough work that it is still a long-shot and he won’t be ready for that kind of thing this season, but still. He has a very good chance to be a legit secondary ball-handler/bench mob point guard. That is a huge improvement from where I stood on his potential before the season.
I liked Brown since the draft because I love guys who play defense, which he obviously qualifies, but he’s winning me over by showing he truly has more in his bag than high-effort defense.