When former Miami Hurricanes guard Bruce Brown committed to Coach Larrañaga’s program in November 2015, many people knew how much he could bring to the table.
The No. 1 recruit in Massachusetts and the nation’s fourth-best combo guard in the class of 2016 was a five-star recruit out of Vermont Academy (Saxtons River, Vt.).
Brown came to Coral Gables, Fla. and played just as advertised for the two seasons he spent at The U. Averaging over 11 points, six rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game in his career, the 6-foot-5 guard lived up to his reputation as the program’s No. 3 historically-ranked recruit on 247 Sports.
Though he missed the remainder of his sophomore season in 2018 from left foot surgery, Brown heard his name called in the second round of the NBA Draft that June. The Detroit Pistons had selected him with the No. 42 pick, and he was prepared to turn heads with a chip on his shoulder, despite being a potential first rounder.
“Bruce Brown, Jr. of Miami is a triple-double guy, he’s had a couple of triple-doubles in his career,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said on draft night. “A very good defender and an excellent guard rebounder that’s got a very good passing feel. He’s versatile, he is physical, and he is very strong with a good basketball IQ.”
Proving the college hoops color commentator right was just what Brown did upon his arrival to the Motor City, starting 56 of the 74 games he played in the 2019 NBA season.
Since starting his first NBA game for the Pistons, the Boston native has developed a reputation for being one of the league’s top up-and-coming defensive guards. Though not the first or even the second option in Coach Dwane Casey’s offense, the former Preseason All-ACC Second Team honoree brings a dose of quickness, hustle, and lockdown defense to the historically hard-nosed organization.
From Casey’s viewpoint, it’s the little things that Brown brings, including speed and scoring, that have set him apart from backcourt teammate Luke Kennard, who played for Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
When asked about Brown’s improvements during his rookie season, Casey said that it was about “His speed running the floor, [and] his speed of cutting. And his shooting has improved. The young man is growing up in front of our eyes, and his attention to detail. He’s getting it done. The future is bright for him.”
Although the Pistons typically rely on a bigger starting lineup to pack the paint, involving Blake Griffin and Thon Maker, Brown acts as the needed missing piece for Casey.
“At the start of the game we have two big guys, so we’re probably not as fast as other teams at the start,” Casey said. “[Brown’s] speed, his quickness, his grind, his mental toughness kind of sets the tone for that first unit.”
While he had taken the reigns from Derrick Rose at the point guard slot prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, room for the combo guard to improve still exists, nonetheless.
Brown has refined his scoring and playmaking abilities, aspects that have become quite glorified in today’s NBA game. Yet what remains critical in order to maintain his starting role is to cut down on turnovers, something that he amassed more of in his second year.
That’s also not to mention the need to continue improving his consistency from beyond the arc, as Casey had emphasized mid-season.
“His next step, maybe not this year but two years from now, is to become an elite three-point shooter,” Casey said.
Brown’s three-point percentage has in fact risen after two seasons, shooting .344 from downtown this past year, just below the league average.
His hard work had looked like it was starting to pay dividends on the hardwood earlier this season. It was an early November game against Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets at Little Caesar’s Arena (Detroit) that saw Brown not only notch a career-high in points but assists, too.
And there was one more thing that the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year was pleased not to see—turnovers. 22 points, seven assists, and even two steals were impressive, but Casey was even more content regarding the latter.
“That was the key to the game was not letting them get out in transition,” Casey said in preventing turnovers. “He did an excellent job. Him being a point guard, that’s why the summer league was beneficial for him, to make sure that he learned to run pick-and-roll, to run the team. He did a good job.”
Irving may have put up a triple-double, but it was Brown’s production that helped carry the three-time NBA champions to victory that evening in his first NBA start at the one.
It may have been only one game, but Brown only looks to continue building in what will already be his third year in Detroit when the NBA actually jumpstarts its season this fall.
How many points will Bruce Brown average for the Pistons in his third year?
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He in fact did have thumb surgery in April, but has had chock-full of time to recover with Detroit not currently contending for a playoff spot in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“If the season was to start, I’d be back,” Brown said in May. The pain did not even widely hinder his performance during the season, the Associated Press had then reported.
The Pistons have not had a considerably deep postseason run since their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2008, when they lost to that year’s NBA champion Boston Celtics. The franchise’s roster had only been demolished shortly thereafter, coaches had been turned over multiple times, and the team has never advanced past the first round since.
The organization’s success drought may not be on the horizon in the near future considering their present rebuild, but the former ‘Cane may be able to develop into the starting point guard that Derrick Rose may not be able to remain for years to come.
One can only hope that Coach Larrañaga can continue churning out NBA potential, such as potential NBA guard Chris Lykes, for as long as possible. That would keep the so-called “Northeast to South Beach” pipeline alive and well, while capitalizing on opportunities for future ACC prominence and March Madness runs.