With the 2019-2020 season currently postponed, and the likelihood of it being canceled altogether, it’s time to reflect on the events that took place this past season. The Detroit Pistons started this season with hopes of improving upon their eighth-seed finish the past year.
Instead, they ended the season entering a rebuild and thudded toward the top of the draft lottery.
So, with the season likely over and the playoffs missed, what is the biggest takeaway from this season?
You could go the negative route and talk about how it’s time to enter a full rebuild. Also could talk about taking the risk on injury prone players blew up in the Pistons face this season.
However, that’s not the route that’ll be taken here. We’re going to look at the development of one of the Pistons younger players.
Sorry Christian Wood fans, he’s not who is being referenced here.
It’s Bruce Brown.
Brown finished last year as a starter on a playoff team. That said more about the ineptitude of the Pistons wing rotation last season than it did about Brown, but it still signaled something. Brown was Detroit’s best defender on the wing last year but was a major hole on the offensive side of the ball.
There were flashes, however. Dwane Casey said early on that point guard was in the University of Miami alum’s future. Brown flashed playmaking ability and passing vision during his rookie season, but it was unclear if his offensive game was going to develop into anything more than a black hole entering this season.
Well, he did.
In the summer league, Brown was the point guard and primary ball handler for the Pistons. He was in conversations to win the Summer League MVP due to his incredible play on both sides of the ball. Brown averaged 13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.3 assists in summer league.
The potential he flashed only sparingly as a point guard in his rookie season was on full display for extended periods during the summer.
Brown’s skillset developed in ways that looked like it would translate from summer league to the NBA; reading a defense and making the correct read quickly out of pick-and-rolls and drives to the rim. Only time would tell, however, if this would translate at all.
Casey and the Pistons likely weren’t even considering testing out if it would translate this season. Ed Stefanski had just signed Derrick Rose, a high-usage player, to back up Reggie Jackson, another high-usage player. Not to mention their superstar Blake Griffin, who had just put up arguably the best season of his career.
Due to (not unexpected) injury to all three of those players, Brown was thrown into the fire as a main playmaker/ball handler in the Pistons’ offense.
This is the same player who just finished the prior season with a true shooting percentage of just 46.9. The same player who averaged 4.3 points and 1.2 assists per game. The same player who finished the previous season with an Offensive Box Plus Minus (a box score estimate of the offensive points per-100 possessions a player contributed above a league average player) of -4.4, 464th worst in the entire NBA.
It seemed like a potential train wreck waiting to happen.
If Brown was only the player he was last season, the team’s offense would be a floundering mess, and Brown might have even taken a step back in his development as he was overmatched and uncertain how to execute in his expanded role.
This did not happen, though.
Yes, the Pistons didn’t win many games. Yes, the Pistons offense was a struggle at times this season. Detroit finished this season with an offensive rating of 108.8, the 21st ranked offense in the league. So yeah, the offense wasn’t the greatest this season.
But, what every Pistons fans should really be paying attention to was the play of their second-year player.
Far from taking a step back, Brown took a leap forward. If you gave any other player with Brown’s resume his rookie season an increased role that featured them as the main ball-handler, they’d absolutely fall flat on their face.
Never in a million years did anyone expect Brown to take a major step forward with what was put upon his shoulders, but that’s exactly what he did.
Brown had career-highs across the board in his traditional stats. He averaged 8.9 points (more than double his average the previous season), 4.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists (more than three times his average last season) per game.
“Well Ku, if you give anyone increased role their traditional number are likely to get better; that doesn’t mean he actually got better.”
Yes, that’s true. So forget his traditional stats, they are pretty bogus to look at anyways.
Again, expecting any player to get better in these circumstances would be criminal. 30 out of 30 teams would take the tiniest amount of improvement of their second rounder from year one to year two.
What’s about to be listed is not a tiny improvement, it’s a major leap forward.
Remember that true shooting percentage of 46.9 Brown’s rookie season? Yeah, that was increased to 51.8 percent; 4.9 percentage point better than his rookie season. Brown improved his long distance shooting, going from a 25.8% shooter his rookie season to 34.4% this season; 8.6 percentage points higher.
Brown went from having an Offensive Box Plus/Minus of -4.4 last season to -2.0 this season; going from 464th ranked in the league to 312th. His Box Plus/Minus (a box score estimate of the points per-100 possessions a player contributed above a league average player) his rookie season was -3.3, 395th worst in the NBA. This season it was -1.1, 2.2 points better than last year and ranked 256th in the league.
Lastly, Brown had a VORP (value over replacement player) of -0.5 his rookie season, 505th worst in the NBA. This season it was 0.3, ranking 189th in the NBA. I’m not saying he’s an All-Star, but he is obviously progressing nicely as a second-round pick.
In literally every statistic that matters, Brown has gotten better. Not just a little bit better, he didn’t go from 505th in the league in VORP to 498th worst; he jumped up over 300 spots!
It’s gonna sound like a broken record, but you seriously have to realize this fact; any other player with the resume of Brown’s rookie season who was thrown into this situation would absolutely fail.
Not only did Brown avoid failure, he improved in literally every aspect of his game. Not just a tiny bit either, he took leaps in every statistical category that matters.
Combine this with Brown’s work ethic and tremendous athleticism, it quite possibly makes him the most intriguing prospect the Pistons have. Throughout the season, Brown also showed off moves that no one thought he had in his bag.
This could be attributed to learning under Rose, who is one of the craftier finishers the NBA has ever seen.
Brown’s inability to shoot off the dribble makes it hard to have an in-between game on offense, but he has countered with a pretty reliable floater. This makes sense, as Brown’s athleticism and length allows him to get this shot off over any defender.
His improvements on the offensive side of the ball couldn’t be displayed anymore than they were in the February 20th game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Pistons lost this game by 20 points. They had 25 assists but committed 21 turnovers as a team, 1.1-1 assist to turnover ratio.
Guess who led the Pistons in assists this game? Against what could be considered the best defensive team in the league?
Bruce Brown did with eight assists. Out of the 21 turnovers committed in this game by Detroit, take a guess how many Brown contributed?
A big, fat, whopping ZERO.
Routinely, Brown found open teammates and made correct reads against a long and aggressive Milwaukee defense; something none of his teammates were capable of doing.
A legitimate argument could be made that Brown was Detroit’s best playmaker this season.
Along with his playmaking, Brown pitched in 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The floater mentioned earlier was in full effect this game.
Due to defenses playing off of him and daring him to shoot, this allows Brown to get in the lane rather easily. Brown, over and over again, used his strength, athleticism, and length to finish floaters over Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
Brown also pitched in 10 rebounds this game. After the Pistons traded Andre Drummond on February 6th, Detroit needed someone to help make up for what they lost in the rebounding battle.
Bruce Brown has 10 rebounds, for the 4th straight game, the first #Pistons guard to do that.— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) February 24, 2020
No big deal, Brown just promptly became the first Pistons guard to grab 10 rebounds in four straight games after their February 23rd game against the Portland Trailblazers.
Quite literally, Brown has answered every challenge you could have put in front of him this season. He’s gotten better in every single facet of his game, despite the insane amount of pressure put onto him this season.
Fans love Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard is loved by the entire fanbase, and Christian Wood has a sizable and still growing cult following in Detroit.
However, Ku Khahil is here to tell you that Bruce Brown could be the most intriguing youngster of them all and is just as, if not more, deserving of praise than all three listed above.
Bruce told me on Dec. 26, “I just work my ass off. I know what I need to improve, hopefully they get better.”
They got better Bruce, indeed they did.