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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