Player: Markel Brown.
Team: Oklahoma State.
Position: Shooting Guard
Expected Draft Position: Early-mid second-round
College career: Markel Brown did exactly what he was supposed to in his four years at Stillwater: he improved. It seems so trivial on the surface, but how many projected second-round picks can really say that about themselves in this draft class? He didn't peak as a junior or watched his production level off over time. He constantly improved, and that bodes well for the senior as he embarks on his NBA career.
He went from a perimeter-challenged freshman with elite athleticism to a very reliable jump shooter ... with elite athleticism. Nearly 66 percent of his attempts came in the form of jump shots in his final college season, and Brown connected on 40 percent of those attempts. He was a 40 percent shooter in spot-up situations and a 45 percent shooter in pull-up situations, courtesy of Draft Express.
He teamed with Marcus Smart to form one of the best one-two punches in the nation for two straight seasons. They took turns functioning as the lead-guard, allowing the other to flourish away from the ball. The two would combine for over 35 points and nearly eight assists per contest.
This two-pronged attack surged the Cowboys to a dominating start to the season. For three months, they maintained their spot in the top-25. That is, until the beginning of February, when all hell broke loose. Smart didn't look like the sure-fire top-5 pick that dazzled to start the year. His shooting percentages dipped, and he continued to hijack the offense in order to break out of his month-long slump. Coach Travis Ford looked helpless on the sideline, already undermanned due to a season-ending injury to Michael Cobbins and the dismissal of Stevie Clark from the team.
And on February 8, amid a three-game losing streak, Smart lost his cool, shoved a Texas Tech fan in the first row and got himself suspended for three games. Brown stepped up and averaged 23 points and nearly three assists per contest in Smart's absence, but the Cowboys still dropped all three games. They finished the year ranked eight in the conference, stumbled into the tournament and fell in the first round.
Offense: The big thing about Brown is he still has room to grow. He's not a particularly strong ball handler and he's not adept at creating his own shot, but he's shown flashes from time to time. I don't quite see the common knocks on his first step; he's extremely quick and has developed a nice hesitation move that gets him into the lane. Once he's there, he does a good job of drawing in help defenders and picking out shooters on the perimeter.
But problems do occur when defenders shade him to his left. He maintains good control of the ball, but he'll insist on tossing up awkward runners with his right rather than trying to finish with his off hand. It seemed like most of his forays into the lane came as he eluded a hard closeout or in trailer situations coming up the court. He didn't seem totally comfortable running the pick and roll against a set defense, and he had all sorts of trouble shaking free from his defender in an isolation setting.
And that's OK. He's not going to man the second unit or be asked to create up top with the floor spread out. I think he'll be fine if he focuses solely on developing his touch from outside and adapting to the NBA three-point line. He can get into the lane and make plays off the bounce as the ball is swung to him, and he's always a threat to finish above the rim.
He has a gorgeous stroke from outside when he can get his feet set. He gets good elevation on his shot and has the quick release and follow through. The Cowboys ran him off a lot of down-screens along the sidelines, and he'd simply rub off them, take one or two dribbles before elevating over his man. His shot selection was rarely a problem, and I have no doubts he'd adapt to a smaller role in the NBA.
Defense: As a 6'3" two-guard that clocks in at 185 pounds, naturally there will be some reservations about his potential on the defensive end. But size is becoming less and less of a concern in the NBA, especially for players that won't be seeing more than 20 minutes of game time at best. If you can find perimeter defenders that move well laterally and fight over screens, you'd be willing to take whatever tradeoff there is with him on the floor.
With Smart often defending down low due to his size, Brown was the one taking on the opposing team's best perimeter defender. He positions himself well between his man and the basket and he does an excellent job fighting over the top of screens to bother shooters and takes the proper angles to cut off drives to the basket. I'm more concerned with how he deals with screeners away from the ball, as he does have a tendency to run smack into them as he chases his mark around the floor, but there are ways to mitigate those concerns, namely switching.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: There's several factors at play here. If Trevor Ariza does get re-signed, it means more time for Martell Webster and Otto Porter at the 2 behind Bradley Beal. I don't think the front office knows what it has in Glen Rice Jr either, and I'm sure after Summer League they'll get a slightly better idea of it. Then there's one of Randy Wittman's favorites, Garrett Temple, who's up for a new contract this summer too.
But if they think Markel Brown is the best player on the board, I say they take him. He has the tools to defend and hit threes, and could thrive in an up-tempo setting. Sure there's needs all over the front court, but if they're able to find a long-term sub behind Bradley Beal, I say they roll the dice.