Troy Brown has seldom heard his name called by Scott Brooks this season, but he played on Sunday afternoon against the Toronto Raptors.
In 10 minutes, including a few in the fourth quarter, Brown flashed his basketball IQ — one of the main reasons Washington’s brass became enamored with him as a prospect during the pre-draft process. Brown moved fluidly without the ball, as if he’s been a part of the rotation for months, finding himself open both inside and out.
Brooks, stubbornly so, has failed to find adequate minutes for Brown with the Wizards and the 15th pick has spent most of his time in the G-League.
Brown’s talent, though, is undeniable. With John Wall out, Brooks has to take pressure off Bradley Beal. At 6-7, Brown has the makings of a point-forward — someone who doesn’t need the ball to create, but can run an offense when called upon.
Given Washington’s position in the standings and lack of depth, there’s no real reason Brown hasn’t consistently been in Brooks’ rotation. Going forward, especially after the burst he had against Toronto, Brown could get regular minutes.
Waiting for his chance will be Devin Robinson — the other half of the Go-Go’s one-two punch.
Robinson, like Brown, has rarely gotten his number called by the Wizards this season. In fact, he’s only played 32 minutes.
But in the G-League, Robinson has dominated. Robinson has averaged 19.9 points and 8.4 rebounds with the Go-Go, and he’s done so in exciting fashion. In front of the roughly 1,000 fans that attend Go-Go games, Robinson has made Sports Center-worthy highlight plays countless times this season. He’s become a regular on ESPN for his ridiculous dunks, but it hasn’t caught the attention of Brooks and the rest of his coaching staff.
Robinson is one of the most impressive leapers in the league, but he’s more than just a dunker.
Last season, Robinson shot 38 percent from three on 155 attempts in the G-League. This year, his percentage has dipped to about 31 percent. Since he’s been a focal point of the Go-Go’s offense, it’s made it more difficult for him to get clean looks from deep — which wouldn’t be an issue with the Wizards, where he would almost have no pressure to score.
Washington, with Dwight Howard out, has gotten a serious lift from Thomas Bryant, who played a game with Robinson on the Go-Go before securing his spot in the Wizards’ rotation. He’s been one of the most pleasant surprises in the NBA and continues to be a bright spot for the Wizards during an otherwise ugly season.
Brooks gave Bryant the nod in late November and the rookie almost immediately infused the team with his energy. He looks to dunk every time he gets the ball inside and has been valuable on the pick-and-roll. Bryant hasn’t hesitated to pop out behind the 3-point arc when the shot is available, either. Robinson can provide similar contributions.
Sam Dekker, who’s earned playing time with his grit and hustle, is ahead of Robinson in the rotation. Dekker is not incapable of contributing, but the Wizards, like every team that’s likely headed to the lottery, has to test the talent on their roster with upside. Dekker, while solid, doesn’t have the upside of Robinson, whose length and athleticism is almost unmatched by anyone else on the team. In the last two games versus Toronto and Milwaukee, Dekker went scoreless in 26 minutes and didn’t have much of an impact on the outcome.
The Wizards invested millions of dollars into the event center/practice facility and have used the G-League to their advantage. But at some point, the players that are developing in the G-League who have a real shot at helping out the NBA team will have to grow their skill-sets where it counts.
Robinson, along with Jordan McRae (who’s also going bonkers in the G-League), is on a two-way contract with the Wizards, which complicates the situation. If he spends over 45 days with the Wizards, the team will have to convert his two-way deal to a standard NBA contract. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. The Wizards have room on the roster — but they’re over the luxury tax and probably don’t want to go deeper across the line.
Washington created the luxury tax issue for themselves, and if there’s one thing the front office is good at, it’s figuring out how to clean up the mess it made. The Wizards have completed multiple minor moves (like trading Jason Smith to Milwaukee for Dekker) to lessen the tax burden and they must do more to ease the financial pressure on the franchise, otherwise talents like Robinson will continue to toil in obscurity. Self-inflicted errors, particularly ones that are purely financial, are no excuse not to allow young players with upside to contribute.
Instead of going all-in on possibly finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards should turn their attention to the young players on the roster who have the potential to contribute in the not-too-distant future. Bryant showed he was a hidden gem and the Wizards’ front office deserves credit for bringing him on board. Robinson could be another one — but he needs a shot at proving it.