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Bruce Brown trade is about getting younger, betting on Dzanan Musa’s upside

Musa is three years younger than Brown, and that seems to be the key to understanding this deal

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Everyone expected change to hit the Detroit Pistons roster once Troy Weaver was hired as the team’s new general manager. Not many, however, would have guessed his first significant move would be to trade fan favorite Bruce Brown for a disappointing draft pick and a future second-rounder destined to land in the 50s.

But that’s exactly what we got when news hit that tenacious defender and second-round surprise Brown was headed to Brooklyn in exchange for Dzanan Musa and a 2021 second-round pick by way of Toronto.

It promises to be the first of what appears likely to be several moves as Weaver looks to reshape a sad and depleted Detroit roster.

At first blush the move doesn’t make much sense. Not from a talent perspective and not from a financial one, either. Brown seems destined to be a long-term rotation player in the NBA while the jury is still out on whether Musa belongs in this league. Musa also makes roughly $400,00 more this season courtesy of being the No. 29 overall pick in 2018.

If it’s not about talent and not about money then what it is about? It’s about Weaver rebuilding the Pistons and trying desperately to unearth some upside wherever he can find it. It’s a talent downgrade, yes, but it balances the roster with a young player at a position of need where there is an expectations Musa can compete for a steady stream of minutes.

Brown seemed locked into a starting role on the wing, but joined young players Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas as shooting guards at heart. Musa is more of a legit small forward at 6-foot-9.

Perhaps most importantly is Musa is only 21 years old, nearly a full three years younger than Brown. I think that says a lot about where Weaver sees Detroit’s timeline toward relevance and competitiveness.

It also tips his hand about how aggressive he might be as this week, the first of a truncated NBA season, unfolds. If I was 24-year-old Luke Kennard or one of the team’s veterans, I would be wondering what my future was on the Pistons.

So what does Detroit have in Musa? Some meme-worthy shot-chucking that’s already been memorialized by Nets fans.

Musa is a chucker of the highest order, and never sees a shot he shouldn’t take. As Zach Lowe mused during the season:

Hypothesis: Musa has the largest ambition-to-talent ratio of any current player. One of the unexpected pleasures in Brooklyn’s wave of injuries has been watching Musa, thrust into duty, attempting acts of brazen individualism usually reserved for superstars. My man will go 1-on-3 in transition even if all three defenders are taller and more athletic than he is.

Going 7-of-40 from deep (17.5%!) has not sapped Musa’s bravado. Open catch-and-shoot 3s from just beyond the arc bore him. Musa lives for 28-footers.

The best part of Musa flying too close to the sun is the aftermath. He seems legitimately astonished that any act of derring-do has failed.

I’m not even mad. I’m kind of impressed. I like to think Musa approaches the New York dating scene with the same unflappable confidence.

None of this is meant to render final judgment. Musa is only 20. He shot 36% on 3s in the G League. He has some craft to his game. Bravery will serve him well.

Pressed into action on a depleted Nets roster, Musa did not do much to win supporters. He shot 37.2% from the floor and 24.4% from 3, finishing with a sub-50 true shooting percentage, and thanks to poor decision-making and a loose handle turned it over nearly as often as he assisted.

So what, if any, upside is there for Musa? His mechanics are a bit of a mess so Weaver and company might see something from a shot or biomechanical angle that can help him improve on the kinds of things he loves to do — drive to the basket and hoist 3s. Musa is a light 215 pounds and relied on floaters and awkard finger rolls. He seems like has potential with his touch, but getting stronger will help him get by players and finish through contact. That’s the hope, anyway.

If you plumb the depths of the G League, you see where Musa’s promise lies. He was one of the more effective offensive players. Whether that means he’s an NBA player that needs to be built up or destined to be a AAAA prospect — too good for the minors not good enough for The Show, remains to be seen.

In 12 games with the Long Island Nets, Musa averaged 19.5 points per game shooting better than 50% from the floor and 40% from 3 while converting 75% at the line and snaring more than eight rebounds per game.

You might say, well, yeah, that’s just the G League, but those are numbers rarely seen among the young players in the G League, and Musa did it as a 21-year-old.

In the 13 years of G League stats available, the number of players who played more than 10 games and shot 3s at volume (at least three per game) to hit the 50/40/75 threshold while collecting eight rebounds is only one other player — Lazar Hayward as a 26-year-old in 2012-13.

That might say something about Musa, or it might only say something about artificial filters, but it’s an indication of the skillset the Pistons are playing with here as it looks to add the 21-year-old prospect into its player development program.

This move also brings to mind the old Reggie Bullock trade. Pistons fans were pretty livid at the paltry return for Bullock when he was sent to the Lakers. They received who was at the time thought to be a fringe prospect and disappointing second-rounder in Svi Mykhailiuk and a marginal second round selection.

Now, Mykhailiuk is 22-year-old sharpshooting mainstay in the Pistons lineup and likely to be a player who survives a roster makeover. I have more faith in Svi as a prospect than I do Dzanan and there was a much clearer understanding that Bullock wasn’t part of Detroit’s future than the younger Brown.

But banking on upside and acquiring assets is often a smart play, and it’s clear that Weaver is looking to collect as many assets as he can for whatever actually has value on Detroit’s roster. Keep your eyes peeled, because it seems more moves are coming, and they are coming soon.