Bruce Brown feeling secure in his new role with the Denver Nuggets

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Players across throughout the NBA will attest to a common slogan
for long-term staying power: Know Your Role.

For Bruce Brown, that catchphrase has challenged him, helped him
thrive and led him to Denver.

In his four-year NBA run to date, Brown has shapeshifted into
all sorts of roles and archetypes while playing for the Detroit
Pistons and Brooklyn Nets. He opened his career playing as a
shooting guard, shifted to point guard in his second season,
reinvented himself as a jack-of-all-trades wing in
Brooklyn
and even logged meaningful time as a small-ball center
while solidifying himself as a critical piece for the
Nets. 

This summer, the 25-year-old finally received some control of
his destiny as an unrestricted free agent. As Brown negotiated with
multiple prospective franchises, he wanted to know his role — not
just in terms of playing time, but also in his own stylistic fit.
When Brown signed a two-year, $13.2 million contract with the
Denver Nuggets, he asserted that Denver would provide a fruitful
on-court marriage of scheme and talent.

“[Knowing my role] was huge, because you don’t want to go to a
team where it just won’t work, right?” Brown told Basketball News
in a phone interview. “So I knew coming to Denver — the way they
play, it’s a lot of cuts, slips [and] corner threes. And then, they
got a lot of guys who know how to play the game of basketball, so
the game would be a lot easier.”

Of course, Denver also rosters an off-ball cutter’s dream in
Nikola Jokic. Brown expects easy on-court chemistry with the
back-to-back reigning MVP.

“I feel like I’m one of the best cutters in the league,” he
said. “So I can find open spots. make the game easier for him,
knock down corner threes [and] just take some pressure off.”

Those cuts, slips and corner threes became pillars of Brown’s
game after he joined the Nets. With Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and
James Harden in the fold, Brooklyn didn’t have room for another
lead guard. To stay on the court, Brown’s usage underwent a
dramatic overhaul. Just look at this play-type data from
Synergy:

Year PnR Ball-Handler
Play Freq.
PnR Roll-Man
Play Freq.
Cut
Freq.
2018-19 15.8% N/A  11.7%
2019-20 29.5% N/A 10.3%
2020-21 3.6% 12.1% 26.2%
2021-22 4.4% 9.3% 23.7%

(Scroll right to view full table
on mobile. Note that N/A means Synergy tracked less than 10 total
possessions of a play type)

“My first year, I was more of a 2, and the second year moving to
the 1 [was] just a learning experience,” Brown said. “That was the
first time I’ve ever played the 1, so [I’m] knowing every position,
knowing where players are supposed to go; I’m knowing every single
play from every position.

“And then when I get to Brooklyn, it was a completely different
situation where they already have their starting guards. Second
season, I was like, I need to do something to fit in to get on the
floor. Defensively, I can get on the floor that way. But on the
offensive end, I need to do something to stay on the floor to at
least help the guys out there on the floor. And then that’s when I
just started being a little rover. They were helping off me, so I
would cut and get easy layups just to keep them honest.”

Brown credited former Nets director of player development Adam
Harrington for helping him make the change in his first year with
Brooklyn. Entering his second season with the Nets, Brown wanted to
incorporate more perimeter skills back into his role, so he spent
time with Brooklyn assistant coach Royal Ivey (a.k.a. “Coach
Smoke”) developing his three-point shot. The work led to a 40.4%
long-range clip in 2021-22, by far a career-high.

But Brown’s past experience as a playmaking guard didn’t just
fall by the wayside. In fact, he believes it gives him extra
advantages when he slips screens, cuts or rolls to the basket.
Brown knows what he should be looking for in defensive rotations
from his time as a primary ball-handler, and that opens up extra
passing lanes and scoring opportunities.

“Me being the 1, I know if I hit the big in the pocket, I know
where the help’s coming from [and] what I wanted to do,” Brown
said. “So it just made it a lot easier — like, I knew the low man
is always gonna help off the corner, so either the corner pass or
the man up top is gonna go. But if I don’t roll too far to the rim,
the floater’s always open.”

The floater is a gold mine if Brown can
level up his efficiency with the shot
. But the below clips
demonstrate his unique wiring as a cutting and rolling
playmaker.

Brown needs a mere split-second to diagnose where defenses will
help, and from there, he can throw lobs, hit bigs for layups or
send the ball out to the corners. Rarely can players make passing
reads with such little time on the ball. It’s easy to picture him
in a two-man action with Jamal Murray that results in a quality
assist, or him cutting off of Jokic and making the extra pass to a
shooter. 

Over the summer, Brown has continued to refine the three-ball,
and wants to add consistency shooting above the break in addition
to his sweet spots in the corners. When the Nuggets laid out their
vision for Brown, they pitched that he wouldn’t need to completely
reshape his game again. The tools Brown added in Brooklyn can
easily work alongside Denver’s stars.

“Come in, basically play the same role [with cuts, slips],”
Brown said of what the Nuggets asked of him. “I mean, the ball’s
gonna be in Jokic and Jamal’s hands the majority of the game. So
really, just play off them like I was doing in Brooklyn with KD and
Kyrie, so, basically the same thing.”



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