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Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet young players ESPN thinks could make playoff difference

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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It happens every year, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz writes. A young player who’s contributed during the regular season explodes in the post-season, Like the Heat’s Tyler Herro last year, the player (or players) rise to the occasion and help get their team to the Finals ... or the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

So, this year, Schmitz tries to pinpoint who among the contenders’ young players will be that guy when post-season opens a week from Saturday. And among the three young players he thinks are most likely to succeed in the playoffs are two Nets, Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet, both aged 24 ... and both picked up in what people thought was a minor trade on Draft day.

Along with Mikal Bridges of the Warriors, the two have the requisite skill set and creativity to break out, Schmitz writes. In fact, Schmitz spoke to the three to “break down film and discuss the keys to playing off of superstars, adjusting their individual games and filling a role that could make a difference in a deep playoff run.”

Brown, who described himself to Schmitz as a “point center,” was someone who wasn’t even in the rotation early in the season, but reinvented himself. Schmitz explains.

Brown struggled to find his rhythm from beyond the arc early this season, shooting just 17.4% from 3-point range through Feb. 18. He started searching for other ways to add value off the ball, predominantly as a diver in Harden pick-and-rolls. With the opponent’s weakest defender generally on Brown, the 24-year-old turned himself into a screener to generate mismatches for Harden on switches. If the defense blitzed or trapped the former MVP, Brown served as a decision-maker in 4-on-3 situations, similar to the role Draymond Green so often played as the safety valve for Steph Curry blitzes.

Brown credits James Harden with a lot of his success in that new role.

“I’ll catch it in the pocket and I’m a really good finisher around the rim so I’ll either finish or make the right read,” Brown told Schmitz. “James will lead me toward the rim and I’ll take one dribble and make a play.”

How well has that worked? And what about Kyrie Irving?

On the 146 screens Brown set with Harden as the ball handler, the Nets scored 1.207 points per possession, which would rank first in the NBA...

While he’s been most in sync with Harden, Brown is also effective screening for Kyrie Irving, generating 1.1 points per possession on 81 direct screens. Getting out of the screen quickly is key when paired with Harden, while patience is imperative with Irving as the ball handler.

Schmitz also writes about Brown’s “D,” calling him an “agitator,” willing to pick up Steph Curry 94 feet away and close on Paul George.

With Shamet, Schmitz writes it’s all about the angles, particularly on pick-and-pops, complementing or filling in for Joe Harris like he did vs. the Spurs when the Nets best shooter (ever) was resting. As Schmitz writes...

Harris is Brooklyn’s most dangerous pick-and-pop screener, setting 5.4 per game while shooting a remarkable 47% from distance, but Shamet gives Brooklyn’s offense that same dimension when Harris is on the bench. He ranks in the top 35 in the NBA, averaging 1.09 points per possession on direct screens.

Shamet. unlike Brown, played with superstars before, teaming up with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick in Philadelphia then Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers.

“I was like little JJ in Philly, that was my role,” Shamet told ESPN. “Come in and try to do some of the things that he could do. It was good practice. It was great for me. He was great. Just getting to work with him every day in Philly. He took me under his wing.”

Schmitz expects Shamet to have a big role as a result of his playoff experience and his experience playing off superstars.

With that as his baseline, Shamet has no problem talking through the chemistry that goes along with playing off elite ball handlers when the defense is all eyes on the headliners. With the game slowing down in the playoffs, along with the fact that the Nets have three of the best isolation players in the NBA on their roster, Shamet, Brown and Harris become valuable screeners to create mismatches.

“When all three of them are on the floor it’s going to be time for everybody else to eat because [the opposing defense is] going to have to double somebody,” Brown said.