Two seasons into his career, the selection of Troy Brown Jr. with the 15th pick of the 2018 draft feels like it’s taking the shape of a solid pick who leaves after five seasons and has his best years elsewhere. He seems to be doing his best to play how the coaches want him to, but his future remains muddled.
Still just 20 years old, Brown has his strengths. He’s a good ball handler and decent playmaker and he’s a solid defender despite some struggles with smaller, quicker guards. His shooting is a work in progress, but seemed to show improvement this season.
This season, he was the team’s best rebounding non-center — 10.0 per 100 team possessions (Rui Hachimura was next at 9.6).
He kept turnovers low, but his overall offensive efficiency was dragged down to slightly below average by poor shot selection. He shot .700 on at-rim attempts and .345 from three-point range, but 43.7% of his field goal attempts were crappy two-point jumpers...which he shot poorly — on his 221 two-point attempts from more than three feet, he shot just .367.
He’s not an elite athlete, but overall Brown has the skills, intelligence and physical attributes necessary to be a good NBA player. I continue to think his ideal role would be as the combo guard in a classic three-guard rotation. Theoretically, he could play some PG when John Wall is off the floor and SG when Beal sits.
I don’t even think his actual shooting needs to improve — just his shot selection. Cut out a lot of the midrange junk and his shooting was adequate. This season, he shot 39.3% on catch-and-shoot threes, not great but adequate.
Scott Brooks sees things differently, however. As his wont, Brooks decided in the first few days of Brown’s rookie training camp that he was best suited as a wing and that assessment has stuck. Brown doesn’t fit Brooks’ idea of a PG (Ish Smith) and hasn’t been able to show through his play that Brooks should reassess.
Another issue for Brown is teammate Bradley Beal. Brown spent much of his basketball life with the ball in his hands. When he shared the court with Beal, he was pushed to the side — logically in many ways — and asked to learn new skills. This has been bad for Brown and a disaster for the Wizards.
This season, Washington was -1.94 points per 100 possessions with Beal on the floor and Brown off. Reverse that (Brown on, Beal off) and the Wizards were -0.39. With both on the floor: -10.14.
In a lost season that began with management saying success would be measured in player development, some coaches might have designed a system that gave a promising youngster (he doesn’t turn 21 for another two months) opportunities to do the things he did well enough to be drafted by the team. Brooks chose to stand the youngster in the corner while the near-All-Star made plays.
Now, it could be that Brown is simply incapable of making plays at the NBA level. He’s not an elite athlete and he doesn’t explode of screens in pick-and-roll sets. And he’s still an inconsistent shooter.
I think Brooks and the Wizards blew an opportunity to learn more about what Brown can truly do. Maybe he can adequately fill this limited wing role. But, maybe he could do more if given the chance.
One thing Brooks appears to have gotten correct is that Brown was better coming off the bench this season. According to Player Production Average (my overall production metric — 100 is average and higher is better), Brown scored a below replacement level 33 in his 14 games as a starter. Half of his net negative PPA games came in a starting role. In half his starts, Brown was hurting the team, not helping.
As a reserve, Brown posted a 114 PPA — modestly better than average.
Entering his third season, Brown needs to continue working on his body and his game — especially his shooting and shot selection. Getting his three point shooting into a 38-40% range would make him a valuable 3&D wing and open opportunities for him to deploy his other skills.
And, the Wizards coaching staff needs to set some smart phone reminders during games so they’ll remember Brown is a skilled kid who needs the ball in his hands to maximize his professional potential.