The Brooklyn Nets’ swap for James Harden has proven to be worth it so far. However, their depth and size were seriously affected as a result of the deal – so the Nets were forced to get creative with the limited options available to them.
Enter: Bruce Brown.
Standing at a skinny 6-foot-4, Brown may be the Nets’ best option down center against some clashes. DeAndre Jordan, the starting center now that Jarrett Allen is in Cleveland, has seen his defensive skills decline quite drastically since his time at Lob City. He’s still an elite alley-oop threat, but has a few shortcomings with effort levels. Reggie Perry is a rookie who was the 57th pick overall yet isn’t ready for a hefty minute load. Nic Claxton has shown promise but has only played two games due to injury.
In a victory over the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 13, Brown started center with Jordan injured. He finished the game with 18 points and 7 rebounds. It wasn’t the first time this season Brown had spent time at center, but it reflected his ever-evolving role on this Nets team.
Brown arrived in the past offseason and has become more of a point guard. Now that the Nets have three of the best playmakers in the NBA, his role has changed. He is hardly ever relied on to initiate the offense – instead, he has become the guy who does the dirty work. Think of him as the Nets’ version of Draymond Green.
Now the small ball option in the center, Brown’s forces have been accentuated. Offensively, he became a screen creator and roller man, forming chemistry with James Harden, and playing his part in a crucial part of the spin. Brown’s minutes at the start of the season were sporadic and included four DNPs. Now he’s an invaluable piece of the Nets puzzle.
When teams trap or overtake James Harden or Kyrie Irving, Brown is often the outlet. He catches the ball in the middle of the field, turns around and has options open to him. Able to attack the basket or pass the right pass to an open guy, Brown’s decision making was positive for Brooklyn.
Defensively, Brown is one of the few Nets players to be consistently positive on that side. He can hold multiple positions due to his strength and often defends the best players on the opposing team. While his size will never allow him to be a full-time center, being an option for coach Steve Nash to tune in for the small ball lineups is a game-changer.
“Bruce is remarkable, I mean I think he mostly played point guard last year and he plays – what do you call him our center? Said Steve Nash, by News day. “He chooses and rolls and finishes with two big ones in the lane. His willingness and ability to do so is remarkable.
Really, that’s what was most impressive. Brown is playing a role he has never been asked to play in the NBA and is thriving. He scored a career-high 29 points against the Sacramento Kings on February 23. That night, he directly shared minutes with Jordan, which is a testament to his versatility. Wherever the Nets have needed him this season, Brown has been willful and capable.
Brown’s count stats will not jump off a stat sheet. He averages just 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting just 22.2 percent from the three-point line, but he’s making a living around the basket. A glance at his shooting chart shows how little he operates outside of the restricted area – and due to the attention his superstar teammates garner, he usually gets open stares right off the rim.
He is also often guarded by the great men of the opposing team. In a clash against the Los Angeles Lakers, former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol kept Brown to start the game. The small center ball role isn’t as uncommon as it used to be, but Bruce Brown may be the smallest guy in terms of height to fill the role. Namely, Draymond Green is 6 feet 6 inches and PJ Tucker is 6 feet 5 inches.
The Nets traded for Brown in the last offseason in what appears to have been an absolute steal, dropping only Dzanan Musa and a second-round pick. Since inconsistent Musa is now playing overseas, it was a trade that is already paying dividends.
But, at the end of the day, there are championship expectations in Brooklyn. While the Nets certainly have the power to beat just about anyone, gamers who thrive in their role can often tip a game or streak around playoff time. So far, more than almost any player outside of the Big Three, Brown’s ability to fit in where it’s needed has changed the competitor’s long-term outlook in a positive way.