I was walking my dog Wallace, thinking about how I wanted to start this piece. I knew I wanted to write about Bruce Brown, who’s been key in the Detroit Pistons’ two victories in the Las Vegas Summer League. I knew I wanted to write about his passing, which has been the biggest revelation in his play. And then, this joker showed up:
Really? Wasn’t he supposed to shoot threes? That’s been priority number one in his offseason training so far. He’s been passing on them in SL so far. That won’t fly in the NBA, where they’ll simply sag off and dare him to shoot.— generallylight (@generallylight) July 7, 2019
I couldn’t have asked for a better strawman argument to knock down. Thanks @generallylight, for being an idiot.
Bruce Brown has dominated Summer League as a passer. With 17 assists to only four turnovers in two games so far, he’s been insanely effective:
Bruce Brown was absolutely ridiculous against the Blazers. Best game I've seen in SL thus far. Just a complete passing clinic flaming Portland creating 3 looks with drive-and-kicks, precision skips, great decision-making and had some great defensive stints on Simons. Whew.— Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker) July 7, 2019
(Cole Zwicker? Not a joker.)
17 assists in two games is not a massive number, but these are two SUMMER LEAGUE games. The games in Vegas are shorter than NBA games by eight full minutes, and, as a general rule, feature offense derived from either first or second-year players or veterans who haven’t established themselves at an NBA level yet. Offense is usually hard to come by, but it hasn’t been for the Pistons.
Yes, Bruce Brown emphasized his shot, specifically his perimeter shooting, in pre-summer league interviews:
I think if I come back next year shooting the ball well – better than last year – it’s going to make the game easier for Blake (Griffin). They’re not going to be able to double him as much. They left me all last year. Come back, shoot the ball well and he’ll be better.
And it would be nice to see that part of Bruce’s game progress.
However, perimeter shooting is not the ONLY way to force a defense to account for you. Being a quick decision-maker and a guy who can read the floor also compels a defense into at least paying attention to you.
This shouldn’t be a foreign concept - Draymond Green has made a career out of this.
Green, a career 32 percent three-point shooter, makes his offensive living through his passing acumen. Often, Green gets the opportunity to survey the defense cleanly BECAUSE teams play so far off of him. Without the threat of a consistent perimeter shot, defenses don’t pressure him, allotting Green the space to move quickly and break them.
Let me let Draymond explain:
Draymond Green, very confident he’ll bust out of his offensive slump: “Don’t worry about my defender. My defender going to pay.” Here’s the full, entertaining quote. pic.twitter.com/EPUOrVCQl0— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 27, 2018
Bruce Brown isn’t Draymond Green - I want to be very clear about that. But Brown can apply same principle of using the space he is given to be effective as a driver and passer.
The reason we know that Brown can be that type of player, though, is because the Pistons coaching staff has him playing the point guard position in Vegas. Brown flashed passing chops as a rookie:
But nothing as consistently as he has in Vegas the last few days. Putting the ball in Bruce Brown’s hands a lot of the time, surrounding him with shooters, and empowering him to make decisions with the ball has resulted in some of the best play of his NBA career. Yes, it’s just summer league, but we’ve literally never seen anything like this from Brown as a Piston. Brown has thrown every kind of pass you’d like any guard on the floor to throw.
The Pistons have put the ball in his hands, and he’s made everyone else on the summer league team better for it.
Will this playmaking translate when Brown is not the “point guard?” It’s a good question. Brown presumably will not be bringing the ball up the floor and operating this often with the ball alongside Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin. But the variety of passes thrown, and the sets those passes are thrown out of, say “Yes.” Brown isn’t always the “point guard,” not even in some of the above clips. But as everyone who has clamored for Luke Kennard to play point guard knows, the “point guard” doesn’t have to be the only player who can initiate offense on the floor. In fact, the more players who can create open shots for themselves and others on the floor at the same time, the better.
Last year, Bruce Brown was fifth on the Pistons in minutes played, and was a complete non-factor offensively for the bulk of those minutes. With this passing ability, if he’s fifth on the team in minutes again, I personally feel much better about his ability to contribute to effective offense for Detroit. With the Pistons not playing 4-on-5 when Brown is on the court, they become a much more interesting and dangerous team in an Eastern Conference that currently appears up for grabs.