Are the Nets Ready to Move on From Bruce Brown?

On Nov. 19, 2020, the Nets acquired Bruce Brown from the Pistons. At the time, Brooklyn fans were not quite sure what to expect out of the scrappy guard-turned-forward. Little did they know that he would become an integral part of a Nets team that went 48-24 and was one Kevin Durant toe from advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.

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However, the following season has been a much different story for Brown. To understand how Brown has gotten here, it is necessary to start at the beginning of his Nets journey.

Bruce Brown’s Rise to Success

As the 2020-21 season got underway, Steve Nash was in his first year as coach for Brooklyn. With an inexperienced coach in a brand new system, it took him time to figure out which players should be on the court—and when. Early on, Brown did not see many minutes, staying in the background.

His first breakthrough performance came against the Nuggets on Jan. 12, 2021. In 26 minutes, Brown scored 16 points on 72.7% shooting from the field while racking up six rebounds, three assists and three blocks. The role player proved that he could bring more than just defense, scoring at a high level and providing Brooklyn with a unique set of playmaking abilities.

The next day, he had an opportunity to showcase his skills during a primetime ESPN matchup against the Knicks. Brown did not disappoint, scoring 15 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a 116-109 victory. 

As the season continued, Brown settled into his starting role. His aggressiveness on defense, paired with his knack for rebounding and finishing at the rim, turned out to be valuable assets for a Nets team trying to find its identity. 

Career-High vs. Sacramento

On a night when he was firing on all cylinders, Brown scored a career-high 29 points against Sacramento as the Nets won 127-118. Brown left his mark throughout the game, scoring at will on the undersized Kings squad.

After watching the film, it is clear to see what Brown does best: Chase down rebounds, create second-chance opportunities and have a savvy ability to cherry-pick unaware defenses. James Harden joining the team only made Brown better, as The Beard created countless open looks for him at the rim. Through the rest of the season, Brown continued to contribute at a high level and seemed poised to make an impact in the playoffs.

Semifinals Game Three Error

During Brooklyn’s seven-game series against the Bucks, Brown held his own. He joined the starting lineup after Harden went down with a hamstring injury and performed relatively well. Everything was going smoothly… until it wasn’t. 

Brown put up decent numbers in Game 3 of the series, scoring 16 points on 47.1% shooting and adding 11 rebounds. Without Brown’s efforts, Brooklyn would not have been in a position to win the game in the first place. That being said, the final possession was about as bad as it could get.

With 11 seconds left, an errant inbound pass left Brooklyn in a scramble in an attempt to recover the loose ball. Irving grabbed it and proceeded to pass the ball to Brown with nine seconds left. At this point, Brown decided to drive on Brook Lopez, shooting a wild attempt with his left hand that was not close. The Bucks secured the rebound, essentially sealing the game. 

Ever since this moment, things have not been the same for Brown in Brooklyn. 

The Drop-Off

Fast forward to the beginning of the 2021-22 season, the scene is a bit different. During the offseason, Brooklyn added some pieces to improve its defense, signing James Johnson and DeAndre Bembry. Additionally, they drafted rookies Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe, who have settled into their respective roles on an injury-riddled team. 

Brown started the season without a starting role, often being left out of the rotation altogether. Brown switched between being a starter and a second unit player in the previous season, but this was different. His role seems to have held less value this season.

“Really they came to me and said I was off of the rotation,” Brown told the media in October. “They said they were trying to figure things out. It’s nothing I did so I was just staying ready. I was in this position before last year. It’s nothing new. I’ll be ready when my times called.”

First, his strengths are not being utilized in the way they previously had been. Brown hovers in the midrange area quite often, allowing him to quickly set screens for fellow teammates while providing a chance at a short floater if both defenders collapse on the ball handler. Additionally, off-ball movements contributed to much of his scoring, finding open seams and cutting to his spots quickly. Most of these instances can be seen in highlights from his 23-point game against the Spurs last season.

With the recent lineups that the Nets have been running, Brown has had fewer opportunities with injuries having played a part. Considering Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, Harden, and others have all missed time this season, the Nets have struggled to find proper spacing on a consistent basis. When Brown is not surrounded by shooters, it becomes difficult for the young forward to create his own shot. This leads to more errors, turnovers and sloppy offensive play. If Brooklyn’s rotations would have been more concrete from the get-go, odds are Brown would be having a better season than he is—but those are not the cards that have been dealt.

Secondly, the role that Brown plays is now being performed at a higher level by other members of the team. The additions of Bembry and Edwards have proved this notion, as both play solid defense while providing increased length and scoring abilities. Though Nash has never said that he prefers Bembry and Edwards over Brown, it seems that those players fit his current scheme more effectively than Brown. 

What The Stats Say

According to Cleaning The Glass, Brown’s numbers are down by a decent margin in key areas. His points per shot attempt (total points per 100 shot attempts) was 120.0 last season, a stat that had him in the top 20 among forwards. His PSA this year? 103.5, not even cracking the top 50 among forwards. 

By now, it is well-known that unconventional floaters from short-range are a Brown favorite; last season, he shot those at 48%. This year, that number has dropped to 34%. His two-point percentage has also fallen from 59.3 to 50.3%, largely due to the lack of a consistent floater.

His three-pointer has not seen much improvement, either, as his percentage has remained at 30%. Rebounding, one of his major assets, has also dropped in multiple categories. Finally, his efficiency on both ends of the floor has decreased, leading to fewer minutes played for the forward this year. 

Time To Move On?

Brown is still capable of scoring and defending well. He proved his value to the team last season and was a key member of Brooklyn’s playoff run. The problem is that: that was then, and this is now. The team has gone in a different direction: leaning on rookies Edwards and Sharpe, along with Bembry and Johnson being a part of the rotation, without Brown as a centerpiece. 

The Nets have lacked firepower both offensively and defensively this season. With the trade deadline approaching, Brooklyn has an opportunity to acquire someone who can help contribute to a title run. Considering Paul Millsap has agreed to be relocated, it could make sense for Sean Marks to offer a Brown and Millsap package, with the potential addition of Jevon Carter, as well, for a more properly equipped player. And who knows if Harden will be dealt as well.

Brown still has the ability to be a valuable asset. The return of Durant and Harris could improve Brown’s numbers as they provide a level of spacing and playmaking that the current unit does not possess. Ultimately, it will come down to whether or not Marks can make a move before the trade deadline hits. Fans will have to wait and see what the future holds for Brown and the rest of Brooklyn’s season, but as the Nets’ losses mount, a shakeup would not be surprising.