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Bruce Brown’s success an unexpected bonus from Nets ‘other’ trade this season

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Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Everyone knows about the Nets BIG trade of the 2020-21 season: the arrival of James Harden and the departure of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince and a slew of picks and swaps. But two months earlier, Sean Marks sent out the Nets first rounder in the 2020 Draft, Dzanan Musa, a second rounder and the rights to two late second round picks in a three-team deal for Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet and Reggie Perry.

Brown and Shamet, of course, were the key pieces. In the deal, the Nets thought they were getting a young 3-point shooter and a young on-ball defender.

As Alex Schiffer and Seth Partnow write Tuesday, they didn’t think they were getting a small-ball center but that’s what Bruce Brown has become ... and that’s been a very good thing.

Brown has emerged as a key contributor off the Nets bench as a 6-foot-4 short-rolling center, which has put him in position to get a raise this summer and, even more significantly, led others around basketball to wonder if he’s created a position.

Among those are his coach who back in February said of the 6’4” Brown, “Bruce is remarkable. He mostly played point guard last year, and now he’s what? Playing our center?”

Others have asked whether he should be called, a Rover? Center fielder on offense?

The transformation didn’t quite happen quite overnight. After a few DNP-CD’s back in December, Nash decided to experiment a bit.

“It kind of evolved in front of us,” Nash said in May, Schiffer and Partnow write. “It wasn’t, ‘Let’s put Bruce in and have him be a roller.’ We asked him to pick at times because he can bring up a defender that was more favorable, and then he became surprisingly such a good roller and adept at it that we encouraged it and pushed for it.”

Nash liked that Brown floater which he hits at a 48 percent rate.

As odd as it sounded, it worked, as Schiffer and Partnow note in a staggering stat line. Brown doesn’t play like a 5. He is one.

According to data supplied to The Athletic by NBA Advanced Stats, guards rolled hard to the rim only 15.7 percent of the time after setting a ball screen. On average, centers did so 55.7 percent of the time. Brown dove to the basket 219 times on the 326 screens he set, good for a whopping 67.2 percent. By comparison, Jarrett Allen finished the season at 66.2 percent playing for Brooklyn and Cleveland.

Brown used his strength, verticality (38”) and wingspan (6’9”) not to mention that floater to maximize his talents. Once Harden arrived, Brown’s job got easier.

And like so much with the Nets, there is an FOK connection. Two years ago, Kevin Durant took note of Brown, per The Athletic writers.

“Who is this kid?” Durant thought at the time, a reasonable enough conclusion regarding a former second-round pick whom the former MVP hadn’t seen play in college. Brown impressed enough to be invited to play with Durant during his offseason pickup games in Los Angeles last summer, where Kyrie Irving was also a participant. A few months later, he was a Net.

The Pistons were actually not that attached to Brown. They couldn’t see a role for him. In February 2020, just before the pandemic, Dwayne Casey basically dismissed the 23-year-old’s future as a point guard, the position he played in Detroit. (Brown actually assisted on Blake Griffin’s last dunk in Motor City.)

“Bruce, going forward, is probably not gonna be a point guard,” said Casey at the time. “That’s for free agency, draft and all that, but again the experience he’s getting there is going to help him to tread water and have to be a secondary ball-handler.”

Too bad the Pistons didn’t try him at center.