Draft night is a fun night for sports fans. There’s a sense of excitement (when your team has a pick) and wonderment about which player is going to be joining your favorite team. Wizards fans went into this year’s draft waiting to see if the front office would draft for need (Robert Williams), upside (Zhaire Smith or Lonnie Walker IV), or see if a lottery talent fell into their laps (Michael Porter Jr).
To say the Wizards selection of Troy Brown Jr. was met with skepticism would be putting it kindly. “Who’s that?” was a common refrain as fans were confused how a player whom they never heard of before and had mixed results in his one season at the University of Oregon was pegged by the Wizards brass as their first-round pick.
The draft pundits seemed to agree as the Wizards garnered average grades for their selection. CBS Sports had this to say about the selection in their post-draft grades:
“The fit is weird. Can Brown, who can play both guard spots, ever join John Wall on the court? He’s not a good shooter yet, and he’ll be a longer-term project than some other players available, such as Khyri Thomas. But he’s also not as high-upside as Lonnie Walker IV. He’s a good player at the right value, but how will it work? Grade: C+”
We were left asking, how could they take a wing who is neither a great shooter nor an exceptional athlete? Why didn’t they draft one of the more heralded prospects who were mocked in their slotted range rather than select the third-youngest prospect in the draft, who will need time before being able to contribute to a veteran team that wants to win now?
All of these questions trace back to a lack of trust in one gentleman, Ernie Grunfeld. When you have a losing record over a 15-year span as the top decision-maker, all decisions will be met with skepticism.
Troy was likely oblivious to the noise. The young man was as excited as any 18-year-old would be when they reach their goal of becoming a first round NBA draft pick. He had the standard introductory press conference that first round draft picks have, then he went to work preparing for his first on-court experience as a professional basketball player, the Las Vegas Summer League.
The Wizards’ squad struggled, finishing with a 1-4 record. Troy, however, did not. He displayed an innate ability to handle the basketball and displayed an all-around game. He impacted the game as a scorer, facilitator, rebounder, and defender.
He had his weaknesses, like any rookie. His lack of high-end explosiveness created challenges when he tried to finish in traffic near the rim. His jump shot, especially in catch-and-shoot situations, also needs work (he shot 15.8 percent from 3-point range in Las Vegas).
You’d think, given his limitations, that he’d struggle getting to the hoop, but that’s not what happened. He used his exceptional playmaking skills—don’t forget 247Sports ranked him as the second-best point guard prospect in his high school class—to make up for his athletic shortcomings in Summer League.
Bottom-line: He looked like a basketball player and because of that, he produced like one.
It’s a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from Wizards draft picks in Ernie Grunfeld’s tenure. Washington has typically gone for the long-term, high-upside pick over the polished product. It’s worked in some instances (Tomas Satoransky), hasn’t in others (Jan Vesely, JaVale McGee), and is still to be determined in one notable case (Kelly Oubre Jr.).
Troy Brown Jr. doesn’t fit that mold. He already sees the game at an advanced level. In this first clip, you see Brown use the pick to get in the lane, then he shrewdly goes into the awaiting shot blocker with his body and changes his release angle to finish at the basket.
Compare that to the numerous times we’ve seen younger, more “athletic” players drive in a straight line to the basket and play small because they aren’t manipulating the defense with leverage and angles to finish around the rim.
In this next clip, Brown goes for the offensive rebound and hangs around to poke the ball loose. Instead of clearing the ball, or looking for his own shot, he keeps his eyes up and finds Thomas Bryant going to the basket for the easy score.
Here we see a little work on the defensive side of the floor. Brown is in position to guard both the wing and the corner shooter, which allows him to be in position to read the pass and break it up.
Lastly, I want to point out Brown’s footwork. As I mentioned before, he doesn’t have explosive athleticism, but he was able to overcome that and create separation with his innate footwork.
While it’s very early, Brown compares very favorably to the players picked around him in the draft. Among players drafted 11th through 21st in the draft, Brown ranked second in points per game, third in field goal percentage, second in rebounds, fourth in assists, and fourth in steals per game.
He also compares very favorably against the Wizards’ recent draft picks. He averaged more points per game as a rookie at Summer League than any rookie since John Wall and shot a better percentage from the floor than any of them.
His play in Vegas does not count towards any regular season statistic, it doesn’t guarantee future success (see Glen Rice Jr.), and it doesn’t assure him a meaningful role on this year’s team. It is what it is: A five game sample amidst a mix of NBA, G-League, and international talent. If nothing else, he showed he wasn’t in over his head.
Of course, any decision made by the organization is examined under the cloud of Ernie. Rightfully, his decisions are met with skepticism. That doesn’t mean that every decision is wrong. For every Vladimir Veremeenko and Jan Vesely, there’s a Tomas Satoransky and Otto Porter Jr.
Troy Brown Jr. gave those of us who thought he was the wrong pick a reason to reconsider why he might be the right pick. It’s time for the fanbase and Twitter GMs to set their egos aside and let it play out. Don’t judge Brown by who drafted him; judge him by what he does in a Wizards uniform.