Bruce Brown is a unique player. When the Denver Nuggets signed him for a portion of the MLE this past offseason, it looked like he was going to be pigeonholed into the 3-and-D wing role but through three games, his versatility as a basketball player is on full display.
This season, he’s averaging 11 points per game with three assists and shooting 52 percent from the floor and 44 percent from the 3-point line. All excellent numbers and while it’s only a small sample size, his interconnectivity on offense has impressed.
Brown played what became known as the ‘Biggie Smalls’ position the past few seasons with the Brooklyn Nets. His lack of a consistent outside shot forced him inside the 3-point line and he spent much of his time setting screens for ball-dominant stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. His experience as a guard helped him when a teammate would pass it to him on the short roll and he could make a quick decision.
He was superfluous after the Nets traded for Ben Simmons, a player who fills a very similar role, and Brown moved to Denver in the offseason.
We’re only scratching the surface of what Bruce Brown can be with the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic, arguably the greatest passing big man in NBA history, can slide in and around almost every player in the league. It has been interested seeing Jokic and Brown run around each other at the top of the 3-point line before eventually finding an open cut, leading to a basket or a hockey assist.
Harrison Wind, DNVR noted how much Brown was involved in plays as the roll man last season:
"“In pick-and-rolls last season, Brown logged more total possessions than Aaron Gordon as the roll man and fewer possessions than Bryn Forbes as the ball-handler. He registered just one fewer screen assist than Pascal Siakam and Jaren Jackson Jr. In Brooklyn, only 15 percent of Brown’s shots came from 3-point range.”"
And outside of his excellence in the screen-and-roll game, there’s the game-clinching play where Jokic found a Brown wide-open under the basket to make it a two-possession game. Since trading away Gary Harris, the Nuggets have struggled to find a player who can consistently find easy baskets like these.
Brown finished the game against the Golden State Warriors with 20 points, five assists, a steal, and 3-4 shooting from behind the arc. He played just over 30 minutes and while he wasn’t perfect when defending against Golden State’s shooters, defenders rarely are, and his team got the win.
Entering the season, Bruce Brown was projected to be a 3-and-D wing off the bench and his individualism would shine in some moments. I was down on the Monte Morris trade because, while it did net a perfect fit in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, it put a lot of pressure on Bones Hyland to run an efficient bench offense.
If Brown can create some of the bench offense with his short rolls, dribble handoffs, and smart cutting, it goes a long way in making things easier for Hyland. On top of that, the bench doesn’t have to pass it to the scoring guard and hope they score, Bones can play in more of a spot-up roll in spurts.
Alongside Bruce Brown’s playmaking, it’s looking like Michael Malone is trusting Christian Braun from the get-go. In the past two games (he only touched the court for garbage time against the Utah Jazz), the 21st overall pick in the 2022 Draft is averaging nearly 20 minutes a night, hitting 1.5 3-pointers, and playing excellent positional defense. This takes a lot of the defensive load off Bruce (and DeAndre Jordan, but that’s a different issue) and just adds to the second unit’s viability.
We’re very early in the season but the returns on the Denver Nuggets’ offseason are promising. The role players are fitting in perfectly and after Jamal Murray gets 20 games under his belt of being “really bad”, we’ll start to see this team in its final form.