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NBA Daily: Pistons Rookies Adjusting to the NBA

Detroit has had an up-and-down season, but may have found two second-round steals in the 2018 draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

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It’s been a bit of an up and down season for the Detroit Pistons thus far. While they currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, their record is 29-31 and only a game and half up on the ninth-seeded Orlando Magic.

At times, the Pistons have struggled to find consistency. But regardless of how this season turns out, they may have managed to find a couple of diamonds in the rough in the draft this past summer.

Most players selected in the second round aren’t expected to amount to much, much less make meaningful contributions on the court. However, each year there are always players who buck the trend and end up outplaying their draft selection. The Pistons are hoping they have that with Bruce Brown Jr. and Khyri Thomas.

Thomas and Brown were selected four picks apart (38th and 42nd, respectively). Brown was initially selected by the Philadelphia 76ers but was traded to the Pistons. In the months leading up to the draft, Brown was sometimes projected as a first-round pick, but a foot injury that caused him to miss the NCAA Tournament could’ve played a role in him dropping.

Brown has since recovered, and not only that, he’s managed to work his way into the Pistons starting lineup as a rookie.

“It feels good, it’s just a credit to my hard work,” Brown told Basketball Insiders. “I worked my ass off all summer to get back and get healthy. I’m going to continue to work.”

To date, Brown has only scored in double figures six times this season. He’s only shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from the three-point line. But it’s not his offense that’s earned him his place in the starting lineup.

Even as a rookie, Brown has emerged as one of the better perimeter defenders on the team. He’s already been tested by having to guard some of the best perimeter scorers the NBA has to offer. In a league where high powered offenses have become the norm, and defense sometimes falls by the wayside, Brown takes pride in his craft.

“I knew coming onto this team that I wasn’t going to score the ball much. We’ve got bigtime scorers,” Brown told Basketball Insiders. “So my role was to play defense hard. I knew I could play at an elite level and try to stop some of the elite players in this league. I go out there and try to stop the best offensive player on the opposite team.”

That’s not to say he can’t score if needed. It’s just not what’s required of him at the moment. When he does find the opportunity to get a bucket here or there, it’s his ability to move without the ball that stands out.

There are a lot of players in the league who need the basketball in their hands to be effective offensively. Brown picks and finds his spots, and knows he’ll be rewarded for it.

“My role is also as an opportunity scorer,” Brown told Basketball Insiders. “I go out there and make cuts, try to make it easy on Blake [Griffin] when they double team and get easy buckets around the rim.”

It’s been a bit of a different transition to the NBA for fellow rookie Thomas. He’s only suited up in 18 games this season, spending most of his time collecting DNP’s or playing for the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons G-League affiliate.

He has shown flashes at times though of being a player that could eventually emerge as a combo guard off the Pistons bench. He’s shooting 34.5 percent from the three-point line, and he was a great outside shooter during his time at Creighton. He’s also a solid ball-handler and defender.

While he also appeared as a first-round pick at times in mock drafts, he knew that entering the league as a second-rounder was going to require a little bit more to prove that he belongs in the league. And although he hasn’t much playing time, he hasn’t let it get to him at all. He keeps himself ready should the time come.

“I don’t want to speak for everyone in the second round, but everyone wants to go high. Whatever position you do go, you’re still going to have to prove yourself. Whether you’re first or sixtieth, you still have to prove yourself,” Thomas told Basketball Insiders. “To me it feels normal, to be out there with your teammates having fun. I really don’t think about it much, just when the opportunity comes, to be ready for it. ”

Thomas had his best game of the season back on Jan. 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks when he came off the bench to score 13 points on 50 percent shooting including a perfect 2-2 from three-point range. He’s been very good in the G League, averaging 19.9 points per game and shooting 50.5 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from distance.

It’s that ability to be a great shooter that can eventually earn him some minutes with the Pistons. When that time should arrive, Thomas is confident that he’ll be able to take advantage of it and make meaningful contributions on the court.

“It’s whatever coach needs me to do,” Thomas told Basketball Insiders. “Whether that’s going out there for a minute and defend, or whether that’s going out there and knocking down shots, run the point guard, whatever I can do to help out the team to win.”

While both players have had different welcomes to the NBA, they’ve both been able to find something meaningful to take away from their rookie seasons.

For Brown, he’s grateful that a team was willing to take a chance on him despite the injury he had suffered that season.

“It feels good, it’s just a credit to my hard work,” Brown told Basketball Insiders. “I worked my ass off all summer to get back and get healthy. I’m going to continue to work.”

And for Thomas, he’s paying attention as best he can while being on the bench. He’s listening to the guys around him and hoping that one day, he too can impart a little knowledge on a fresh-faced rookie.

“That’s probably one thing I always do, I just listen a lot. Listen to what the vets say whether they’re talking to me or not,” Thomas told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just a lot of knowledge and trying to put that all in my head. Hopefully, when I’m a vet, I can say the same thing to another rookie.”

David Yapkowitz has been a staff writer for Basketball Insiders since 2017. Based in Los Angeles, he focuses on the Pacific Division as well as the NBA at large.

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