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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 8 Picks

Matt John checks out a decade’s worth of No. 8 overall picks in the NBA Draft.

Matt John

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If you’ve been tuning in, Basketball Insiders has been looking into how each lottery pick has fared in the league since 2009. We’ve categorized each player as a hit, miss, in between or a role player. We started at the top with the first overall pick and we’ve been making our way down since. At the top of the draft, the criteria for what makes a pick a hit was tougher. Being picked at the top or near the top means you’re supposed to be the face of a new era of basketball for your franchise. Now that we’re going lower and lower in the draft, the bar starts to lower. In short, the lower the pick, the lower the expectation.

That brings us to who we’re looking at today — the eighth overall pick. Midway through the lottery, the eighth overall pick is expected to be good, but the likelihood nor the ceiling is nearly as high as those taken earlier. And that couldn’t be more apparent when taking a gander at how the eighth overall picks have fared since 2009.

In short, it’s far from impressive.

This particular group of players had some who were out of the league at one point but have since either found their place in the league or look they are about to. There are others who were on an upward trajectory then came crashing down. The eighth overall picks really are something to behold when you put them all together. Let’s take a look.

The Hits

Terrence Ross – Toronto Raptors – 2012

If the standards were higher, Ross probably wouldn’t be considered a hit as much of an in-between type — more proof of how mediocre this group has been. Anyway, Ross came into the league as an explosive athlete, which made for some very entertaining highlight reels. But, as fun as it was to watch him jump out of the building, it seemed at first as if that’s all he was good for. And being described as “fun” is not always the same as being described as “good.”

But, while he was the former with Toronto, Ross could be described as both since being traded to Orlando.

A fair amount of guys fold when they have more opportunities with the ball in their hand. But Ross hasn’t been one of them. Over the last two years, he’s put up career numbers with the Magic, averaging nearly 15 points per game. While he’s not one of the league’s premier go-to scorers, Ross has shown that he can alter the game by himself when he’s feeling it.

The shame of it all is that Orlando puts the middle in “middle-of-the-pack”. So, while his contributions have been strong, they’re not going into a particularly special product right now. If he were on a better team, his numbers probably wouldn’t be as good, but he’s done enough to prove that he could change a team’s chances.

It’s good to see Ross find his niche in the NBA. Reading it again, however, his claim to fame as a hit from this group is that he’s evolved into one of the league’s better sixth men. Good for him. Bad for pretty much everyone else this list.

Collin Sexton – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2018

No matter how well this group had turned out, Sexton would be labeled a hit no matter what. He hasn’t taken the league by storm since coming in, but he has done his part since arriving in Cleveland. This season alone, Sexton is averaging nearly 21 points on 47/38/86 splits. Factoring in the turmoil the Cavs went through this season, it’s hard not to be impressed by his progress.

It also makes you wonder how the issues going on behind the scenes affected Sexton’s production on the court. Did the internal tension between the players and John Beilein hinder Sexton from being better or are his stats just another example of good-stats/bad-team numbers? The more we see from the Cavaliers post-Beilein, the better picture we’ll get.

Sexton came into the NBA with a good amount of excitement centered around both his speed and his scoring abilities. He’s proven that he can definitely score at an NBA level. It’s the rest of his game that needs some fine-tuning. His assist-to-turnover ratio is horrid, while his defense, much improved in his first two seasons, is still going to need significant work.

Those issues aside, Sexton’s biggest task ahead is simply winning games. Cleveland had seen some good stretches this season, even more post-Beilein, but they need to see it on more of a consistent basis. And that starts with Sexton.

And hey, all things considered, at least something good came from the Kyrie trade.

The Misses

Jordan Hill – New York Knicks – 2009

Was Hill a miss or more of a role player? He had an eight-year career in the NBA, which is solid. But, as the eighth overall pick though, he never played good enough to justify the selection. It doesn’t help that he was taken one spot ahead of DeMar DeRozan, either.

Hill put up solid numbers for a couple of seasons here and there, his best coming with the Los Angeles Lakers between 2012 and 2015. But, at arguably the lowest point in the history of the franchise, does that production really count for anything? Or were his numbers simply inflated because somebody (read: anybody) had to go out there and play.

The only good teams he played a somewhat prominent role were with the Lakers and the Indiana Pacers, and they didn’t really play him that much when the stakes were higher. It was tough to label him as a miss, but he just didn’t really leave much of a legacy on the NBA.

Nik Stauskas – Sacramento Kings – 2014

We already dove into why Stauskas busted in Sacramento. So, without trying to repeat what’s already been said, let’s start with this: the Kings taking Stauskas made absolutely no sense back in 2014, while the pick has looked even worse in hindsight. Not only had Sacramento taken a sharpshooter the draft prior in Ben McLemore, but, looking back, Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson or Bogdan Bogdanovic (whose rights they already owned), would have been better choices at shooting guard.

Getting back to Stauskas, it’s safe to say that he basically became Jimmer Fredette 2.0 in Sacramento, if not worse. A sharpshooter that proved to not really have the sharpest NBA shot. Unlike Jimmer, Stauskas was only with the Kings for one season, and he never really got his game going even when the opportunity to prove himself came with other teams.

Much like Jimmer, you have to wonder if maybe Stauskus’ career turns out differently if it didn’t start with the Kings period.

Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons – 2015

Johnson is another example of why entrusting a young prospect with raw potential is never a foolproof plan. No one had any qualms with Detroit taking Johnson when they did in 2015. He even looked like his career had a fair amount of promise following an okay rookie campaign. That predicated from his excellent defense, which was on full display when he matched up against LeBron in the playoffs that same year.

“If he could just learn to shoot” was always what followed any discussion around Johnson — and he had the potential to play an elite 3-and-D role. Sadly, his rookie year was as good as it got for him. The complete lack of any progress in his offense saw Johnson’s numbers stagnate. Soon enough, it had him shipped out of Detroit entirely.

Johnson now resides at the end of the Toronto Raptors’ bench. And, while getting another go-round in the NBA next season isn’t completely out of the question for him, the odds wouldn’t appear to be in his favor for sticking it out longterm.

Frank Ntilikina – New York Knicks – 2017

Frank Ntilikina is to Knicks fans what Dante Exum was to Jazz fans. Those who believe in him believe that he has the potential to be special but he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to prove himself. Those who don’t believe in him think that the lackluster numbers he’s put up speak for themselves.

The similarities between the two are quite stunning, actually. Both are good defenders whose question marks specifically come from the offensive side of the ball. Both occasionally flash on that side of the ball, but their inconsistency has prevented their teams from trusting them completely.

The difference between them — aside from Exum’s demonstrably higher expectations — is that Exum played for a franchise that knows what it’s doing and has always had a good direction. The Knicks, suffice it to say, do not know what they’re doing. Of course, there is nowhere to go but up; if their next head coach can chart a new course and elevate the team’s play Ntilikina just might turn it around.

The Middle of the Road

Brandon Knight – Detroit Pistons – 2011

Knight’s career, to some degree, is a tragedy that doesn’t get talked about enough. When his name was brought up in his early days as a pro, he was usually the butt of the joke because of how often he was involved in several rather unfortunate plays. Not too long after that, injuries took him off the court for what seemed like an eternity. He’s since gotten past that, but now he is barely still in the NBA. All of that has overshadowed the fact that, at one point, Knight’s potential career looked promising.

Before Giannis Antetokounmpo became the MVP we see today, it could be argued that Knight was the Milwaukee Bucks’ best player. Not only that, but he was the best player on a playoff team, a team that regressed after they traded him to Phoenix for Michael Carter-Williams and used the money saved to sign Greg Monroe.

Since then he’s been a ghost. He was brought onto a dysfunctional Phoenix Suns organization, suffered a slew of injuries, and has been a journeyman over the last year and a half, going from the Houston Rockets to Cleveland and back to Detroit. At every stop, he made minimal impact. It just doesn’t sound possible for a man’s career to fall this far at 28-years-old.

Had he stayed healthy, Knight could have been the best pick in this group. Of course, there’s still time for him to reclaim the title. Since returning to Detroit, he’s started to look like his former self, so that’s something. Unfortunately, it’s Detroit.

Marquese Chriss – Phoenix Suns – 2016

For a while there, it looked like Chriss was the worst-case scenario for a boom-or-bust prospect. His potential impressed enough scouts at the combine that he could have been picked third overall in 2016. Unfortunately, that potential never came to fruition — he bounced from Phoenix to Houston and Cleveland, playing so poorly that he appeared to be quick flameout.

Since the Golden State Warriors brought him in, however, optimism surrounding Chriss has been revived.

The Warriors brought in Chriss as a no-harm, no-foul experiment, one that could’ve gone in any direction. For Chriss, it has been a rebirth. Before the league’s hiatus, he’d put up arguably the best numbers of his career, averaging 9.3 points, 1.9 assists and 6.2 rebounds a game. He’s also been incredibly efficient from the field, shooting 54.5 percent.

If you at his play at more of a game-by-game basis, there’s even more progress from Chriss. Since Jan. 20, he’s come along quite nicely, having averaged 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds and shot 61 percent from the field.

What’s led to the uptick in production? It could be a number of different factors. Perhaps the move from power forward to center full-time, where Chriss rarely played in his earlier years, has something to do with it. And, for both Chriss and the Warriors, the best could be yet to come; Chriss has yet to play with Klay Thompson yet, while sharing minimal time with Stephen Curry. Next season, we might begin to see what Chriss truly is made of.

Jaxson Hayes – New Orleans Pelicans – 2019

Speaking of ultra-athletes, New Orleans definitely got two in the 2019 draft. We all know how good one of them is going to be, or, if we’re being fair, how good he already is. Then there’s Hayes.

There’s a lot to like about Hayes physically. He is long, athletic and can jump out of the gym. There may not be a player in the league who has made dunking look as effortless as Hayes has, though his own teammate Zion Williamson certainly could make a case.

Speaking of Williamson, prior to his return from injury, Hayes played a much more prominent role with the Pelicans. Since, however, Hayes has, for the most part, been riding the pine behind Williamson and Derrick Favors. As time goes on, we should see more and more of what Hayes is capable of. But the Pelicans, justifiably so, are playing the more talented rookie and the more dependable veteran.

That’s not a shot at Hayes. He’s young and oozes potential. Anyone with eyes can see that. There’s only one question. Can he and Zion mesh in the long-term if neither develop into floor spacers? If they don’t, New Orleans will have to make some changes, but that’s thinking way down the line.

The Role Players

Al-Farouq Aminu – Los Angeles Clippers – 2010

Aminu was another one of those players that had some trouble finding himself in the league. It didn’t help that in that time, Paul George, who was taken after him in their draft, had blossomed into one of the league’s best wings.

We know Aminu’s never going to justify that decision by the Los Angeles Clippers. But, eventually, he was able to prove his worth as a defensive specialist. His breakthrough with the Dallas Mavericks in 2014 led to a nice payday the following summer with the Portland Trail Blazers.

His defense, along with a freshly developed three-pointer, played a part in stabilizing the Blazers after they had lost everyone that made them a pseudo-contender the previous two seasons. And, considering the crazy contracts Portland handed out the next summer, Aminu was definitely worth his price.

Aminu fits with the modern NBA. What he does helps his team. Let’s just hope that next season, Aminu can continue to do so after a knee injury cut his most recent season short.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Detroit Pistons – 2013

Want to know something strange? Look at Caldwell-Pope’s numbers over the course of his career. They were better when he was in Detroit, and his scoring numbers were better his first two years with the Lakers than this year. Yet, everything would seem to indicate that the 2019-20 season was when he figured it all out.

Lakers’ fans didn’t take to Caldwell-Pope because of his salary and his questionable shot selection — his continued employment with the team was viewed as a sunk cost because of their affiliation with Rich Paul via LeBron James. Of course, if that’s what it cost to bring in James in the first place, it’s worth it, but that’s neither here nor there.

And, even if it once was the reason they kept him despite the price tag, it would no longer seem to be so. Efficiency wise, the 2019-20 season was the best of Caldwell-Pope’s career. The 47/39/78 splits, combined with the much-improved shot selection, have allowed him to play a role with the team. On the other end, he’s certainly been a factor for the Lakers and the league’s top defense.

As James and Anthony Davis gear up for a postseason run, they’re going to need every other hand on deck. And, so far, Caldwell-Pope has done his part.

The eighth overall picks have underwhelmed as a whole since 2009 —  they haven’t done themselves any favors, either. Most of the players either didn’t start out well, haven’t done well or have been strictly average. You wouldn’t expect that from a lottery selection, but that’s where we are.

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NBA Daily: 6 G League Players Deserving of NBA Call-Ups

With teams around the league signing players to 10-day contracts, Tristan Tucker takes a look at some of the G League players most deserving of a call-up.

Tristan Tucker

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With most teams in the NBA G-League bubble having around 10 games under their belts, fans are getting a clearer look at which teams have a legitimate shot at winning the G-League championship and which players are stepping up. Recently, the NBA saw a flurry of action after teams became eligible to sign players to 10-day contracts, with G-League players like Justin Patton, Brodric Thomas, Tyler Cook and Donta Hall getting new opportunities.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the top performers from the G-League that deserve NBA call-ups sooner rather than later.

Henry Ellenson, Raptors 805

Ellenson, drafted 18th overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2016, is one of the feature pieces on a 7-3 Raptors 905 team that has very real title aspirations. In just over 30 minutes a night, Ellenson is averaging 19.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. One of the things that makes Ellenson so enticing as a prospect is the fact that, at 6-foot-10, he isn’t scared to unload the clip from downtown.

This season, the big man out of Marquette is shooting 37.5 percent from deep on eight attempts per night. For reference, one of the best shooters in the NBA in Duncan Robinson shoots at a 39.8 percent clip on nearly the same amount of attempts. For any team looking for immediate bench reinforcements with a refined offensive game, Ellenson is a great place to start.

Tyrone Wallace, Agua Caliente Clippers

Tyrone Wallace gets buckets. Wallace originally joined the Los Angeles Clippers on a two-way contract in the 2017-18 season, then a scrappy team that saw major contributions from Wallace and fellow two-way guard C.J. Williams en route to a 42-40 record. After averaging 9.7 points per game as an undrafted two-way contract rookie, Wallace was curiously left out to dry, bouncing around the NBA landscape before coming back to the Clippers’ G League affiliate.

This season, Wallace is averaging 18.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and, while his three-point shooting could use some refinement, Wallace is bound to earn another call-up sooner or later.

Jordan Bell, Erie Bayhawks

Bell was a draft favorite for many after being acquired in the 2017 NBA Draft in the second round by the Golden State Warriors. Bell joined the Warriors as the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and it seemed as if he and Draymond Green were a frontcourt match made in heaven.

Ultimately, Bell’s stint with the Warriors and subsequent trip around the NBA didn’t work out, but the forward out of Oregon is proving that he deserves another shot. Look no further than the hilariously efficient rate at which he’s hit shots, 80.6 percent on just under 10 attempts, for proof of that.

Picking up his offensive game was always going to be integral for Bell to be a complete NBA player, something he’s done very well as of late while averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. However, it’s still impressive to note that Bell is hitting such a high rate of shots and is averaging 2 blocks per game at just 6-foot-8 it isn’t like he’s reaching over everyone in the paint to hit these shots.

Myles Powell, Westchester Knicks

After entering the draft out of Seton Hall, Powell was a fan favorite for his scoring antics and many New York Knicks fans wanted to see Powell get a roster spot after he signed as an undrafted free agent. That ultimately didn’t happen, but Powell is tearing it up for Westchester.

One of the things that scared general managers from taking Powell was his efficiency and consistency, both of which he has improved in the G League. Powell scored 21 points per game as a senior in college but shot 39.8 percent from the floor and 30.6 from three on well over nine attempts per game. Adversely, Powell is averaging 17.1 points a night on a 43.2/46.4/82.4 shooting split in the G-League. After seeing such a vast improvement in such little time, it would only make sense for an NBA team to take a shot on Powell, he seems to have good intangibles and is clearly committed to improving himself.

Alize Johnson, Raptors 905

Basketball Insiders took a look at Johnson earlier this season — and he’s meeting expectations while being a key part of a winning 905 team. Johnson is averaging a very impressive 13.3 points and 12.8 rebounds while dishing out 3.6 assists per game. Recently, Johnson scored 22 points with 20 rebounds and 7 assists. He followed that up with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists

There’s no reason for Johnson not to get another NBA chance this season.

Justin Wright-Foreman, Erie Bayhawks

Wright-Foreman was drafted in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, joining the team on a two-way contract. While the Jazz let him go, it’s easy to see that the 6-foot guard still has a future in the NBA after his showings in the G League bubble. Wright-Foreman had a legendary college career at Hofstra, breaking the school’s record for points in a game with 48 and scoring 27.1 points per game as a senior.

While Wright-Foreman’s box score production is somewhat hampered by the sheer amount of talent on the Bayhawks, his impact is still clear to see. The guard is averaging 11.6 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent from deep on over five attempts per game. If Wright-Foreman can improve his stamina he averages 14.5 points with one day of rest as opposed to 5.7 points on the second night of back-to-backs — he’ll have a bright future in the league.

It’s easy to be impressed with the sheer production fans see from players in the G-League on a daily basis and so many more players deserve opportunities than one article can name. One thing is certain though, NBA teams are re-tooling their rosters which will be sure to lead the way to more young players getting chances. Be sure to stay tuned to Basketball Insiders to keep up with all the latest news and rumors.

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NBA PM: What Brooklyn Needs At The Deadline

The Brooklyn Nets are rightfully among the favorites to win the NBA championship. Garrett Brooks takes a look at what the Nets need at the deadline to give themselves the best chance to win it all.

Garrett Brooks

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As they’ve acclimated to one another, the Brooklyn Nets are finding their groove on both ends of the floor recently. While that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA, there are still things the Nets need to address before making their eventual playoff run.

Winning regular-season games is one thing, winning playoff series is a whole different animal. We know the Nets have offensive firepower like few teams in the history of the NBA. Their big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving can carry them to regular-season success.

If they want to maximize their chances to win a title, though, they have more moves to make to fill out the roster.

Another Frontcourt Option

The Nets have to be pleased with what they’re getting from Jeff Green in small ball lineups at the five, as well as the recent emergence of Bruce Brown too. That’s going to be a trend for this team moving forward, as it should be.

Still, there’s a lack of depth on the roster in terms of capable defensive big men that needs to be addressed before an eventual run at an NBA Championship. This is especially true because of the teams they could face on their way to a title, such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Lakers. Simply put, beating those teams four out of seven games with a big man rotation consisting of DeAndre Jordan and Jeff Green is just highly unlikely.

Green is a great weapon to use at the five but is far too undersized to be counted on in any given playoff series. He’ll get picked on by opposing bigs with offensive skillsets if he’s asked to play all the minutes that Jordan isn’t on the floor. While Brown has been great in his own right, asking him to defend Nikola Jokic, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol and beyond is just too big an ask.

Jordan is not the player he once was but is still a difference-maker in the right situation. Additionally, it would be ideal to add another big that has a different skill set than Jordan in order to increase the options head coach Steve Nash has with his lineups.

With a rim runner in Jordan and small ball fives in Green and Brown, the Nets need to target a versatile big man to add to the mix. Floor spacing would be ideal but isn’t necessary if they bring in someone that can make a big enough impact on the defensive end.

The ideal target will bring two key attributes to the team: The first is rim protection when called upon. The Nets don’t have a long list of strong perimeter defenders, so extra help at the rim would be much-needed. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a shot-blocker as it can also be a smart defender that mainly relies on successfully contesting shots under the rim.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the center they target needs to be capable of switching on the defensive end. One way the Nets like to cover themselves defensively is by going switch-heavy for stretches. This allows them to play the passing lanes aggressively and often forces the opponent out of their offensive rhythm. The more capable their big men are when it comes to switching, the better this strategy will work.

Kevin Durant’s versatility on the defensive end allows the Nets to search for somebody that excels in defending multiple positions even if they may not be great as the last line of defense. Durant is a strong help defender and has the length to make things difficult at the rim. This ability is proven by the 1.8 blocks he averaged during the 2017-18 season with the Golden State Warriors.

Durant can be the help side defender when asked, but how often can he be asked to bang in the post defensively? The answer is not often.

It’s important that any addition to the frontcourt can hold their own in the post against players such as Joel Embiid or Bam Adebayo. But the harsh reality is that the Nets likely won’t have the luxury to be picky with the type of big man they add. It’ll be hard to find a player that can defend most bigs and switch on most positions throughout a game.

Given their lack of assets remaining, the Nets will need to target what they can afford on the market.

Names to keep an eye on: Thaddeus Young, Chicago Bulls; JaVale McGee, Cleveland Cavaliers; P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets.

Depth At The Point Guard Position

With James Harden leading the way as the point guard and Kyrie Irving very capable of handling the offensive load as well, this is an easy need to overlook. Unfortunately, the Nets can’t afford to do that as the trade deadline approaches. If they can’t acquire a traditional point guard for depth, they’ll need to address it on the buyout market.

After Harden, Irving and Durant, the Nets’ core rotation does very little in terms of playmaking. In fact, DeAndre Jordan ranks next among players in the rotation for assists per game. The big three can certainly carry the load when it comes to getting players involved, but the Nets could use another veteran that’ll get their offense good looks.

Most notably, this type of move would aid them in finishing the regular season without riding their stars too hard – which they’ve already done. That versatility would be a great asset to Nash and his coaching staff in both the regular season and playoffs.

That’s without mentioning the always-existent possibility of injury or potentially-required quarantine. It’s always best to have depth and options, and that’s truer than ever in the current NBA landscape. The ideal addition would be a natural distributor capable of knocking down an open shot and holding his own on the defensive end of the floor.

That may seem like a tough sell, but it’s certainly a skill set that will be available for the right price. The Nets would do well in targeting a player that is underperforming due to circumstance. It’s fair to assume a lot of players would benefit from playing in the kind of environment the Nets are currently constructing.

Names to keep an eye on: Austin Rivers, New York Knicks; Quinn Cook, Free Agent; George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Nets can address these two needs they’ll be as well-rounded as any team. The added versatility and flexibility would make them that much stronger come the playoffs. While they’re finding some excellent, wonderful regular season successes, the postseason is a different beast – and the Nets, plus a rookie head coach, will need to learn how to adapt on-the-fly.

General manager Sean Marks is never truly done molding his rosters – and Spencer Dinwiddie may even be available, according to Ian Begley of SNY – so what the Nets run with today certainly isn’t final.

We know what the big three are capable of – now it’s time for the roster to be rounded out for their best chance to succeed.

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Bruce Brown Thriving As Nets’ Small Ball Center

Brooklyn has thrived with Bruce Brown playing minutes as a small ball center – and what started out as an experiment may just change the Nets’ championship aspirations for the better.

Ariel Pacheco

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The Brooklyn Nets’ trade for James Harden has proven to be worth it so far. However, their depth and size were seriously hurt as a result of the deal – so the Nets have been forced to get creative with the limited options they have. 

Enter: Bruce Brown.

Standing at a meager 6-foot-4, Brown may be the Nets’ best option at center against certain matchups. DeAndre Jordan, the starting center now that Jarrett Allen is in Cleveland, has seen his defensive capabilities decline rather drastically since his time in Lob City. He is still an elite alley-oop threat but has some lapses with effort levels. Reggie Perry is a rookie who was the 57th overall pick isn’t ready for a heavy load of minutes just yet. Nic Claxton has shown promise but has played in just two games due to injury. 

In a win against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 13, Brown started at center with Jordan out to injury. He finished the game with 18 points and 7 rebounds. It wasn’t the first time this season Brown spent time at the center position, but it was reflective of his ever-changing role on this Nets team. 

Brown arrived this past offseason and came thought as more of a point guard. Now that the Nets have three of the best playmakers in the NBA, his role has shifted. He is practically never counted on to initiate the offense – instead, he has become the guy who does the dirty work. Think of him as the Nets’ version of Draymond Green. 

Now the small ball option at center, Brown’s strengths have been accentuated. Offensively, he has become a screen-setter and roll man, thus forming chemistry with James Harden, and has played his way into a crucial part of the rotation. Brown’s minutes at the beginning of the season were sporadic and included four DNP’s. Now he’s an invaluable piece to the Nets’ puzzle. 

When teams trap or double James Harden or Kyrie Irving, Brown is often the outlet. He catches the ball in the middle of the floor, turns and has options available to him. Able to attack the basket or make the right pass to an open guy, Brown’s decision-making has been a positive for Brooklyn. 

Defensively, Brown is one of the few Nets players who is a consistent positive on that end. He can guard multiple positions due to his strength and often defends the opposing team’s best players. While his height will never allow for him to be a full-time center, being an option for coach Steve Nash to plug in for small ball lineups is a game-changer. 

“Bruce is remarkable, I mean, I believe he mostly played point guard last year and he’s playing – what do you want to call him our center?” Said Steve Nash, per Newsday. “He’s picking and rolling and finishing with two bigs in the lane. His willingness and ability to do that is remarkable.”

Really, that’s what has been most impressive. Brown is playing a role he has never been asked to do in the NBA and thriving. He scored a career-high 29 points against the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 23. That night, he straight-up shared minutes with Jordan, which speaks to his versatility. Wherever the Nets have needed him this season, Brown has been willing and able. 

Brown’s counting stats won’t jump off a stat sheet. He’s averaging just 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting just 22.2 percent from the three-point line but he’s made a living around the basket. A look at his shot chart shows how little he operates from outside the restricted area – and due to the attention his superstar teammates garner, he usually gets open looks right near the rim.

 

He’s also often being guarded by opposing team’s big men. In a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, former defensive player of the year Marc Gasol guarded Brown to start the game. The role of the small ball center is not as rare as it used to be, but Bruce Brown may be the smallest guy in terms of height to fill the role. To wit, Draymond Green is 6-foot-6 and PJ Tucker is 6-foot-5. 

The Nets traded for Brown this past offseason in what looks to have been an absolute steal of a deal, giving up just Dzanan Musa and a second-round pick. Given that the inconsistent Musa is now playing overseas, it was a trade that is already providing dividends. 

But, at the end of the day, there are championship expectations in Brooklyn. While the Nets certainly have the star power to beat just about anybody, role-players who thrive in their role can often swing a game or a series come playoff time. So far, more so than nearly any other player outside of the big three, Brown’s ability to fit in wherever needed has changed the contender’s long-term outlook in a positive way.

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