It wasn’t the ideal ending to what appeared to be a fruitful fresh start.
After being traded from the Wizards to the Chicago Bulls at the 2021 trade deadline, then carving out a burgeoning rotational role predicated on physical defensive play, Troy Brown Jr.’s third NBA season ended early due to a serious ankle sprain that sidelined him for the final 12 games of 2020-21.
The mental strain of the injury didn’t fully melt until August, Brown said after the Bulls’ Thursday’s practice. But now the versatile, 22-year-old wing is back, “100 percent” healthy and settling into his station on a revamped roster.
“We've got a whole new team this year, so it kind of gave me a clean slate to show who I am and really just come out here and play,” Brown said. “I'm more comfortable now and they're (the Bulls) more comfortable with me too.”
That’s a far cry from the end of Brown’s tenure with Washington, which selected him 15th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.
By the time of his trade to the Bulls in March, Brown had fully fallen from Scott Brooks’ rotation, and upon arriving in Chicago, often spoke about the refreshingly direct nature of his role-related dialogue with Billy Donovan.
“I feel like me and Coach (Donovan) have a good dynamic in the sense of me being like a Swiss Army Knife,” Brown said. “Whatever he needs on the court, that's what I go do — whether it's playmaking, rebounding, playing defense, hitting 3s. I feel like that's my job on the team, and I just try to accept that role and do it as best as I can.”
That well-rounded skill set projects to mesh well with the new-look Bulls’ multi-faceted, high-IQ identity. And Brown certainly looked the part in the team’s preseason-opening win over the Cavaliers, logging 14 minutes off the bench and scoring 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting.
That shooting line contained a 3-for-7 mark from 3-point range, with two of those makes coming from the right corner. Brown is a 33 percent 3-point shooter for his career, but a 43.2 percent (41-for-95) marksman from the corners.
“I feel like for me they're unfair,” Brown said of questions regarding the consistency of his outside shot. “But I feel like you gotta go prove yourself first before people are gonna give you the benefit of the doubt. So I've just been working on it, taking it day by day, just trying to make sure I'm being consistent with it and just putting up a lot of shots.
“I feel really comfortable with it. I feel like my teammates believe in me. So I just shoot 'em when I'm open.”
That, along with active defense, is what Donovan is looking for from Brown, who said his “3-and-D” role in 2020-21 allowed him to laser in on improvement areas for this season.
“He's gotta know when to shoot, when to drive, when to pass. He's gotta be really reliable on defense. He may have to guard multiple positions,” Donovan added. “I think he's had a real good mental understanding of how he can take what he does well and inject it into complementing the other four guys.
“I've got a lot of confidence in Troy… I don't think there's any question that there's an important role for Troy on this team.”
With the Bulls likely to face a size deficit on a near-nightly basis, efforts akin to the team’s 13-steal, 11-block, 26-points-off-turnovers performance against the Cavaliers will be crucial. Brown originally won Donovan’s favor with sharp defensive play, and with reserve wing minutes up for grabs, is now looking to do so again.
“We understand the situation at hand. We don't have a lot of bigs on our team,” Brown said of the Bulls’ defensive identity. “So our thing is, our backcourt guys have to kinda make up for that.
“Guys like Javonte, Derrick, Ayo plays defense, me, Lonzo. We got a lot of guys that can move their feet. And so I feel like for us we make that a priority night in night out. And we understand if we play defense we can get out and run and that's something that Coach has really been instilling in us.”
Brown’s contract expires after this season, which adds external intrigue to his fourth year given the up-and-down nature of the previous three. But he centered his focus on making the most of his opportunity, and continuing to learn from the veterans on the team.
“I'm just happy for the opportunity, man. Just after last year, that was a lot for me, it was really hard for me,” Brown said. “Just to be able to get an opportunity to come back out here and be able to play my game and have somebody believe in me, it's definitely been great.”