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Troy Brown Jr. shows room for improvement in first start as point guard

Troy Brown Jr. shows room for improvement in first start as point guard

The Wizards' time in the Orlando bubble without Bradley Beal, John Wall and Davis Bertans has created some room for head coach Scott Brooks to try some things he would never otherwise be able to try, at least not in a game that counts. On Tuesday, he experimented with Troy Brown Jr. as his starting point guard for the first time.

Brown had played some point guard already in the seeding games, most notably against the Pacers when he closed out the fourth quarter running the show. After that game, Brooks indicated Brown would get a start at the position. Tuesday was the night.

It wasn't exactly a great showing. Brown struggled by shooting 3-for-15. He had nine points, six rebounds and three assists, a far cry from the 16.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists he averaged in the team's previous six games in Orlando.

Brown was off and it didn't help that as he began the game running the offense, the Wizards missed their first nine shots. 

"He got a learning experience. Sometimes it happens that way," Brooks said. "Didn't play well. We didn't have a good start. I'm not throwing it all on him, we just didn't have a good rhythm."

Brooks added that he won't judge Brown off of one game, but he also made it seem like there won't be a ton of opportunities for him to play point guard moving forward. They only have one more game before this season is over and next season five-time All-Star John Wall will return.

If Brown is auditioning for a larger share of the point guard duties, there are only so many that could go around long-term. Still, it didn't hurt to give him a look.

"This is time that we can experiment with that. Next year, he's probably not going to get those opportunities where he's going to be really the only playmaker on the floor," Brooks said.

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Tuesday was mostly just a reminder that Brown is young and still has a lot of work to do if he wants to play more point guard in his future. Brown was drafted in the first round of 2018 as a wing, but has said he feels most comfortable running point.

He has the ball-handling and passing skills to suggest he could someday do just that. But it takes time to find consistent success at the NBA level and point guard is a demanding position.

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"Troy is special, man," point guard Ish Smith said. 'He can make plays. He's got a lot of tools. It's crazy, he's just 21. When I was 21, I was on a college campus running around trying to skip study hall. I don't know how some of these guys do it."

Brown, 21, has now had the bar set for himself. He has a better idea of how much more work is required to achieve his goal of playing point guard more often.

It will be something he can keep in mind this offseason as he works towards the 2020-21 campaign.

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Troy Brown Jr. starting at point guard for first time in his career against Bucks

Troy Brown Jr. starting at point guard for first time in his career against Bucks

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks had indicated Troy Brown Jr. would start at least one game at point guard before their season came to a close in Orlando and it turns out Tuesday will be that game. 

Brown will start against the Milwaukee Bucks alongside Jerome Robinson, Isaac Bonga, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. They will face off against the top team in the East and the NBA's best defense, but Milwaukee will be missing several key players, including point guard Eric Bledsoe.

Still, it is a good test for Brown, who is in his second season after joining the Wizards as a first round pick.

"He's going to be running the show. I'm looking forward to it. He's excited about it," Brooks said. "He's been prepping for it a little bit with the point forward role that he's had down here. It's another good reason why we're fortunate to be down here."

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Brooks expounded on that last point. This is a perfect example, he says, of the value the Wizards see in being involved in the NBA's restart. They were the final team of the 22 invited by the league based on record.

"It has given us an opportunity to explore and experiment and otherwise during the season it would be hard to do that," Brooks said.

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Brooks added that next year will be different with John Wall back from his long rehab from Achilles surgery. But there is no question this is a good chance for Brown to show what he can do at a position he says he feels most comfortable playing.

And since Wall will likely be limited at first from back-to-backs and playing entire games, there is reason to believe they will need three point guards next season. Brown could at the very least be a wing most of the time and slide over to the point guard spot when needed.

On Tuesday, he will get to audition for that role.

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Troy Brown Jr.'s role as a playmaker doesn't have to change when John Wall returns

Troy Brown Jr.'s role as a playmaker doesn't have to change when John Wall returns

One way the Wizards have shrewdly utilized their time inside the NBA bubble has been giving second-year wing Troy Brown Jr. more time with the ball in his hands. 

Without Bradley Beal and John Wall with the team, Brown has been playing most of his minutes as a primary ball-handler. He even closed out Washington's game on Monday at the point guard position, a role he said, "felt natural" to him. 

It's easy to understand why Brown enjoys dictating the action on the floor. He has a tight handle for a wing his age and displays excellent patience and vision in the pick and roll. He's at his best with the ball. The results speak for themselves, as he's averaging 15.7 points, six rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting over 46% from the field through Washington's first three games in Orlando. 

There's just an All-NBA-sized elephant in the room. Once the Wizards' bubble experience ends and Wall returns next season, what will that mean for the 21-year-old who's started to find an area in which he can excel?

Obviously he'll have to take a step back. As promising as Brown has been in the bubble, Wall and Beal are two of the best in the game at what they do. You defer to those players because they're All-Star level talents and Brown just isn't yet. But there's still a way for Brown to get minutes running the offense to alleviate Wall and Beal rather than take away from their contributions on the court. 

It all starts with head coach Scott Brooks staggering the young wing's minutes. If he's starting next to Wall and Beal, take Brown out in the first group of subs, maybe for Isaac Bonga or one of Rui Hachimura/Davis Bertans. Then when Wall and/or Beal need their rest, send Brown back out there -- whether it's with Ish Smith or by himself -- to lead the second unit. If he struggles at points as a young player often does, that's what a guy like Smith is there for.

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That way, Brooks can take his best players out of the game without worrying about the second unit collapsing in on itself, which has been a problem for the Wizards in the past. If Brown isn't a starter -- which should probably be the case -- simply sub him in for Wall or Beal. The key is to give Brown as many minutes as a ball-handler as possible. 

This isn't to say Brown can't develop into an off-ball threat and play beside Wall and Beal. As he improves his three-point stroke and gets more playing time with the team's franchise players, he'll find his spots to impact the offense without the ball in his hands. For now, however, it'd be wise for the Wizards to put Brown in a position where he's comfortable. 

Brown was a starter early in the 2019-20 season and struggled. He mostly stood in the corner as a third-or-fourth option while Beal and Isaiah Thomas ran the show. Once he moved to the bench and got more opportunities to handle the ball, we saw a noticeable uptick in production and efficiency. 

Starter: 8.1 PPG / 5.2 RPG / 2.6 APG / 38.4% FG / 28.1% 3P
Reserve: 10 PPG / 5.4 RPG / 2.4 APG / 47.9% FG / 38.5% 3P

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Wizards were a -9.9 per 100 possessions when Beal and Brown shared the court this season. When Brown was on and Beal was off, they were over six points per 100 better than that number. When Beal was on and Brown was off, they were over eight points better. This isn't exactly a coincidence. 

It's okay to have more than one playmaker on your team. It's okay to have more than three playmakers on your team. The best and most difficult offenses to stop are those that can come at you in a multitude of ways. Bradley Beal's development into an all-around first option will surely help Wall and Washington's offense become harder to stop, and utilizing Brown in a similar role could take them even further. 

Some of the best teams in the NBA have an abundance of ball-handlers on their roster. Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart all spend time as the lead ball-handler for Boston. The Thunder have three point guards -- Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Dennis Schroder -- that all play heavy minutes. The Clippers have Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams running the show at various points throughout games.

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Sure those players share the court a good amount and there's only one ball, but those teams stagger their minutes to put constant pressure on opposing teams. 

It'd be unfair to expect Brown to be a legitimate third fiddle to Wall and Beal like Schroder and Hayward are for their teams. But he's not going to get there any quicker if you stick him in the corner and tell him to be a spot-up shooter. Let the man cook.

I'm not one who's aware of the Wizards' plans or goals for next season, but if they want to develop their former first-round pick's strengths, maintain their bench production from this season and ease their best players' burdens to the point where they can be more rested for the playoffs, playing Brown as a primary ball-handler would be a step in that direction. 

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