It’s been a tough season for the Detroit Pistons. Injuries have ruined any chance at reaching the potential this squad seemed to possess before the season. Detroit has dealt with injuries to Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard occasionally, and now Christian Wood. The first two have the possibility of being career-altering injuries.
And at 11-19, there isn’t much to be happy about with the Pistons season thus far. The development of Bruce Brown, however, is one of the few bright spots in the Motor City.
A Good First Impression
Brown started 56 games for the Pistons last year, but many would say that had more to do with injuries and lack of depth than Brown’s talent. There is some truth to that, but that doesn’t mean Brown didn’t show flashes of what he could become. Brown’s collection of elite athleticism, raw playmaking ability, and elite on-ball defense caught the eye of many Pistons fans.
It also left an impression on head coach Dwane Casey right off the bat. That early career assessment of Brown triggered just as much skepticism as intrigue among Pistons fans. It sounded awfully familiar after all - exactly what people said about the disappointing Stanley Johnson.
The Stanley Johnson Experience
Brown and Johnson both played a lot their rookie season. Johnson played 23.1 minutes as a sixth man on a playoff team, and Brown played 19.6 minutes as a starter on a playoff team.
Both players were elite defenders who got playing time due to their hustle and defensive tenacity. However, both struggled to shoot the ball and finish at the rim on offense, while also flashing some serious playmaking ability.
Pistons fans know how Johnson’s story ended up with Detroit, and it wasn’t a happy ending. After four seasons, the Pistons moved on from Johnson and traded the 22-year-old to the Milwaukee Bucks for Thon Maker. Johnson simply could never improve on the offensive end of the floor, and although the defense remained elite, his offense was so poor he remained a net negative player, and the team felt it was time to move on.
Following the Stanley Johnson experience, many fans were hesitant to be hyped about Brown’s potential, because they didn’t want to get burned all over again.
Adding a Little Spice to His Game
In Brown’s second season, he isn’t reminding Coach Casey of Johnson. Instead, he’s reminded him of another young player who struggled on the offensive end at a young age, but has blossomed into a legitimate, spicy superstar:
“I’m not saying Bruce Brown can be Pascal Siakam, but it’s the same trajectory,” Casey said after the Pistons recent 112-99 loss to Siakam’s Toronto Raptors. Casey is right about the trajectory of their improvements being very close.
As a rookie, Siakam shot only seven threes in 55 games, 38 of which he started. The following season, Siakam played 81 games, and he started taking 1.6 attempts per game. Through these two seasons, Siakam shot only 21.6% from deep. Likewise, Brown shot 25.8% on 1.3 attempts from deep per game in his rookie season, and is currently sitting at 34% on 1.7 attempts per game.
Last season, the NBA saw Siakam take home the Most Improved Player award and win an NBA Championship as the third-best player on his team. Spicy P ended last year shooting 36.9% from deep on 2.7 attempts per game.
Once you dig deeper into those numbers, however, you start to see more similarities.
Unlocking Potential at the Corner
Unlike Johnson, Siakam and Brown both have improved their shooting after their first season. But, part of that has to be attributed to coaching.
Siakam was a nice shooter from deep last year, but from only a specific spot on the court and a specific type of shot. 2.5 of Siakam’s 2.7 three-point attempts per game came on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Rarely ever did you see the reigning Most Improved Player dribble into threes, or even take contested three’s, as 2.1 of his attempts were considered “Wide Open” shots (nearest defender 6+ feet away).
What matters more, though, is where these shots were coming from. 68% of Siakam’s attempts came from the corners, where he shot an excellent 41.1%. The corner has been religiously preached as easiest three-point shot to take, as it’s closer to the rim than any other three-point attempt.
This is where you’ll see most coaches put developing shooters, because it gives them the best chance to make the shot while also somewhat spacing the floor.
This season is almost the exact same situation for Brown.
Brown has raised his three-point percentage from 25.8% his rookie season to 34.0% this season.
Guess where the majority of his attempts are coming from. The corner! 53.2% of Brown’s three-point attempts are coming from the corner, where he’s shooting an even better percentage than Siakam ever has: 48%.
Brown has already taken a step that Johnson was never able to make. While Johnson never shot more than 40% of his attempts from the corner, he never made a higher percentage than 37.8%.
Coincidentally, both of those career-highs for Johnson came his rookie year, as his shooting got worse the more the team drifted him away from the corner; going from 40% of his threes coming from the corner his rookie season, to 25.3% sophomore year, 30.2% his third year, and 32.1% his final year in Detroit.
Maybe the coaching staff should’ve continued to raise Johnson’s attempts from the corner and HE’D STILL BE HERE AS A GOOD PLAYE...
My apologies, Stanley Island has gotten lonely, and it causes me to lose control from time to time when talking about him. Anyways, where was I? Oh, yeah: Brown’s development trajectory has already clearly eclipsed Johnson’s.
“An Elite Three-point Shooter”
“His next step, maybe not this year but two years from now, is to become an elite three-point shooter,” Casey said of Brown. Remember, Casey was Siakam’s head coach during his developmental years. So, let’s take a look at this. Casey is saying two years from now, now being the point in which Brown is shooting more at least 1.5 attempts from deep, he expects Brown to be an elite three-point shooter.
Let’s compare that to when Siakam started this same development, in the exact same career-year (sophomore season). Siakam shot 22.0% on 1.6 attempts from deep as a sophomore. Fast-forward two years, as Casey suggests.
Oh, look at that. We’re at the current season. What is Siakam shooting now?
Oh, 39.2% on 6.3(!) attempts from deep, you say? And only 23.4% of his threes are coming from the corner now? Siakam went from where Brown is now from the corner, to becoming elite shooter from anywhere beyond the arc.
Laying the Groundwork
Casey has laid the groundwork for Brown, and it is almost completely identical to the groundwork he laid for Siakam as a rookie. Siakam made the step to shooting well from the corners, and Brown has made the same step and actually doing a better job of it than Siakam did.
“When Pascal was starting 38 games, he was just like Bruce. If he made a three-point shot everybody was excited,” Casey said.
“But now, that’s who (Siakam) is. But, he worked on that, he developed that game, and that’s the type of three-point shooting were trying developing here.”
There’s no need to worry about Brown becoming the next Johnson (God, that hurts my heart to say). The former Miami player has already separated himself and taken the necessary step Johnson could never make in Detroit. Instead, he’s on the same “trajectory” a superstar was once on not so long ago; just ask the coach who developed both of them.
“Bruce can be that way, because Bruce is just like Pascal was as a young kid.”