How Troy Brown Jr.'s versatility can lift Bulls after NBA trade deadline

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Rob Schaefer
·7 min read
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Why Brown's versatility makes him intriguing deadline pickup originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Troy Brown Jr. entered his third season with the Washington Wizards promised a role as the team’s backup point guard. By the time he was traded to the Bulls at Thursday’s deadline, he’d played more minutes at the power forward spot and was eventually phased out of Scott Brooks’ rotation altogether.

While Brown called that experience difficult, embedded in it is a reminder of what could make the 21-year-old wing the most intriguing non-Nikola Vučević acquisition of the Bulls’ active deadline day.

“Versatility is my biggest thing,” Brown said on a Zoom call with reporters Sunday night following his first full practice as a Bull. “Just being able to do everything on the court. Being able to defend, knock down shots, get to the basket, create plays. I’m just a basketball player.”

In writings as a contributor for Basketball News, Brown said in November 2020 that he studies and models his game after a number of current players, including CJ McCollum, Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum — again, telling of the wide-ranging skill set to which he aspires. He comes to Chicago with a reputation as a dogged multi-positional defender and high-potential playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Those traits, which in his 6-foot-6 frame are highly sought after in this day and age, helped make Brown the 15th overall pick in the 2018 draft after one season at Oregon and a lauded high-school career. They’ve led to flashes in the NBA, too, including an eight-game stretch in last season’s restart bubble in which he averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals.

That stint featured increased opportunity — 32.9 minutes per game — and an aggressive approach. Empowered to grab the reins with Bradley Beal and Dāvis Bertāns opted out, Brown said his focus on driving downhill and spraying to open teammates yielded positive results.

Overall, I feel like coach Donovan lets us play, and he gives us a pretty wide range of plays to run and stuff to give us freedom and let us be who we are,” Brown said. “So I definitely feel like how I played in the bubble, I'm able to replicate that over here.”

That doesn’t mean Brown will be running dozens of pick-and-rolls per game with impunity, especially early in his Bulls tenure. After falling out of favor with the Wizards due, in some part, to their drafting of Deni Avdija and desire to surround Russell Westbrook with more surefire outside shooting, he has something to prove. Spots in Billy Donovan's rotation can be fluid and matchup-dependent.

Brown’s path to a consistent role will come on the defensive end, where his reported 6-11 wingspan and high motor have the potential to make him an impact contributor.

“[Coach Donovan] was just like, ‘Right now, we need defense. We just need a defensive presence,’” Brown said. “I feel like with my length and size and being able to guard 1-3 (point guards, shooting guards and small forwards) and being able to absorb like that four position (power forwards) a little bit, I feel like it definitely helps.”

It certainly couldn’t hurt a Bulls team that is coming off one of its most listless performances of the season on that end (which is saying something) on Saturday. The Spurs shot 54.1 percent, operated their offense with little resistance at any level and led by as many as 36 points en route to a 120-104 win.

Brown, who fell behind Garrett Temple, Denzel Valentine and Al-Farouq Aminu in the early-game rotation, debuted late in the third quarter with the team already down 28 points, but played the final 14 minutes and notched 8 points and 3 assists as the Bulls shaved that 36-point second-half deficit to as few as nine.

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“I thought I played pretty decent,” Brown said. “Definitely some things I've got to work on, getting used to the coverages. I felt like a couple times DeMar (DeRozan) caught me with pump fakes and I jumped and got off the floor, and definitely gotta stay down on that. Just more so me watching film and getting in the lab and correcting the little things.”

Indeed, one of Brown’s two personal fouls granted DeRozan a 3-point play after the veteran pump-faked — then drained  a midrange jumper to draw him off his feet. In that vein, Brown cited lateral quickness (i.e. defending guards) as an area he hopes to improve. But for the most part, he was rangy and active. As with all the new Bulls' new additions, comfort will come with time.

“When we played Washington, he always guarded me and I always respected him taking the challenge,” Zach LaVine said of Brown. “He’s somebody that doesn’t back down.”

Brown also calmly drained a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer on his first offensive possession after checking in for his debut. Though Brown is just 33.2 percent for his career from behind the arc, and shot 30.4 percent with the Wizards before the trade this season, he shot 34.1 percent (39.2 percent on catch-and-shoots) in 69 games as a second-year. He's also shot over 40 percent from the corners in every season of his career -- 7-for-17 (41.2 percent) as a rookie, 24-for-51 (47.1 percent) in his second season and 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) so far in 2020-21.

Add it all together, and Brown is a fascinating change of scenery candidate in Chicago.

“I think like a lot of young players, you see the inconsistency shooting the ball. He’s got a good enough stroke that I think over time he’ll continue to get better. I think he’s got a good feel of how to play in terms of putting the ball on the floor and passing. I think he can defend on the perimeter pretty well,” Donovan said before the game. “I am excited about him as a player in the little bit of time I’ve spent with him in just our conversations. I think he’s eager to be here, eager to get to work and eager to figure things out.”

Life outside the NBA

Brown’s versatility spans well outside the lines of the court as well. As mentioned above, he’s a contributor to Basketball News’ written vertical, where he’s expounded on his aspirations as a player and the Wizards’ COVID-19 outbreak experience early in the 2020-21 season. In a vlog series titled “Life Outside the NBA,” Brown has taken fans behind the scenes of the Disney World bubble and his offseason training regimen.

“When I grew up I always wanted to be a sports broadcaster,” Brown said. “As I got older, I kind of just realized I can branch out into different parts of that in a different way that kind of replicates who I am… That’s just one of my interests and just something I love to do.”

With the media landscape ever-changing, Brown hopes to stay ahead of the curve.

“The biggest thing is me being able to take advantage of the platform I have right now and just trying to make the most of it, that's definitely the biggest thing,” he said. “Based on my generation and my age group, I feel like I'm pretty up to date with stuff right now. I feel like when I get older though, that's when it's going to be kind of like ‘OK, now we've got to stay more relevant.’”

Same, Troy. Same.

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