The following article comes to you courtesy of Ashwin Ramnath.
What if I told you there was a guard with elite defensive pedigree, who was a monster on the glass, and had shown play-making chops out of drive-and-kick and pick-and-roll situations who may be on the board when the Knicks’ pick in the second round? Is that something you might be interested in?
Bruce Brown, a sophomore out of the University of Miami, is just that type of player. A leg injury which sidelined him for the 2nd half of the season and a decline in his offensive performance after a promising freshman season have seen Brown’s stock decline. It’s precisely for those reasons he may even be available so late in the draft.
There’s no sugarcoating how ugly the drop-off is in his shooting numbers across the board. That’s the complete opposite of the type of year-to-year progression you hope to see for any player. But there are mitigating circumstances which provide some context for such a stark decline.
Brown was thrust into a more ball dominant role this season than expected. The departure of Davon Reed to the NBA, Lonnie Walker’s injury which saw him come off the bench for most of the games Brown played in, and the struggles of Ja’Quan Newton and Chris Lykes meant that Brown was often forced to operate as a primary creator for the ‘Canes.
To his credit, Miami’s offensive rating actually ticked up slightly to 107.9 this season from 106.3 the previous year. Brown, while not the most gifted passer or ball handler, did an admirable job of keeping the Miami offense respectable throughout the season.
Brown’s quality as a ball handler in using the pick-and-roll is a major component of his game. He uses screen to get a step on his man and to penetrate into the lane. From there he’s equally capable of kicking out to open shooters after collapsing the defense or hitting the roll man for an easy finish at the rim.
Brown doesn’t have an advanced handle, but he’s able to use basic crossovers, hesitations and in-and-out dribbles to attack the big to get to the rim in these situations.
Brown can also create separation to get to the bucket without the use of a pick. His quick first step, speed, athleticism and length make him a threat to blow past anybody.
For as explosive of an athlete as he is, Brown isn’t a particularly gifted finisher. He shot just 58.5% at the rim this past season. A major issue he has at times is his predictability.
Brown is extremely right hand dominant and almost always drives in that direction. When forced to his left he doesn’t show great touch or feel to finish with his off hand.
There are times where even when he drives to his left he’ll attempt a difficult right hand finish with the angle against him.
He gets bailed out with a foul call here, but the lack of confidence he has going driving and finish with his off hand is something he must improve upon going forward.
Perhaps Brown’s biggest deficiency as a scoring threat off the dribble is his poor pull up shooting. In his freshman year, he shot just 4-34 on pull up jumpers overall per DraftExpress.
Brown struggles to create space for his jumper and rushes under pressure. There wasn’t much improvement this season as he connected on just 30.4% of the two point jumpers he attempted. On long mid-range attempts he shot a ghastly 27.8% on 18 attempts.
While he has shown very little promise as pull up shooter, there is hope for Brown as an off ball spot up shooter. His freshman year he posted a 1.59 PPP on open jump shots. His release is slower — likely a significant reason for his off the dribble shooting struggles — but his form is solid.
Obviously, given his struggles this past season from the perimeter, it’s difficult to say with any certainty he can turn this into a strength. With his ability as a penetrator and playmaker though, he just needs it not to be such a glaring weakness.
For all of his offensive struggles, Brown played under control. He stayed disciplined within the team’s offensive structure and rarely forced the issue to the team’s detriment — his career 1.67 AST/TO ratio is representative of that. Brown often eschewed opportunities to put up a shot himself to, instead, make an extra pass to a teammate for a higher quality shot.
Although questions remain about his overall offensive potential, there is virtually no doubt over his effectiveness on the other side of the ball. Standing 6’5” with a 6’9” wingspan, Brown makes his presence felt defensively by using every inch of his frame to terrorize opposition ball handlers.
An excellent on-ball defender, Brown’s lateral quickness allows him to prevent penetration and his length enables him to contest shots effectively.
Brown combines excellent on-ball defense with the versatility to defend multiple positions. He’s very comfortable switching onto both guards and wings in equal measure.
On this one possession alone Brown switches onto three different players, cuts off multiple drives, and forces his opponent into a difficult contested shot which he promptly sends into the first row.
Brown also proved to be a capable thief in his time at Miami. Over 2 seasons he averaged 1.7 steals per 40 minutes.
He occasionally turns his proclivity for forcing turnovers into transition offense, as he does here, to go coast-to-coast. Brown also showed a willingness not just to attack the basket himself in the open floor, but also to create easy looks for his teammates.
Here he stops Duke in transition by stripping the ball, then pushes it forward himself to create a wide open 3.
Brown is also excellent as an off-ball defender. He stays focused, doesn’t get caught napping or ball-watching, and capably chases opponents over screens. He understands the finer points of executing team defensive schemes, takes proper angles to dig down on drives without giving up easy kick outs and makes the correct reads when forced to rotate.
As mentioned above, Brown is an excellent rebounding guard evidenced by an elite 20.0 DRB% last season. As good as his defense is, the knack he has for finishing possessions is perhaps an even bigger plus, particularly as a backcourt player.
As far as the Knicks are concerned his fit seems clear. The pairing of him and Frank Ntilikina would be a nightmare for opposing offenses. Both have the fluidity to switch ball screens without conceding an advantage to their opponents, with the length and lateral quickness to stay in front of and disrupt ball handlers. His elite defensive rebounding for a backcourt player also figures to fit nicely in lineups featuring Kristaps Porzingis — a poor rebounder — at the 5.
Offensively, like Lonnie Walker, his fellow Miami teammate in this draft, Brown projects as a combo guard. Unlike Walker he has shown far superior instincts and production as a passer, but is far more of a wild card as a scorer. Can Brown become a proficient catch-and-shoot player able to spread the floor as he showed the potential to do as a freshman or is he a major project in that area as he looked throughout his sophomore campaign?
Brown is, essentially, what the Knicks hope (hoped?) Ron Baker can turn into, but with significantly more potential. He’s a far superior athlete and more productive rebounder than Baker. As a combo guard he has shown more potential to attack rotating defenses and run pick-and-roll, albeit his jumper is much shakier. Like Baker he projects to operate best alongside a primary ball handler and he’s similarly unselfish, competitive, tough and physical.
Brown’s floor is high and incredibly safe for a player being taken this late in the draft. His defense, rebounding and secondary play-making are skills which should translate well to the next level.
At worst he projects as a rotation guard who can stick as a versatile defensive specialist. In the best case scenario, where he develops into an average or better 3 point shooter, he’s a player who can provide invaluable lineup flexibility and fits like a glove next to the Knicks’ two foundational pieces, Porzingis and Ntilikina. With the 36th pick in the draft if the Knicks can land a prospect like Brown they will have done very nicely.