Three-quarters of the way through his rookie season, Troy Brown Jr. may finally have a role in the Wizards' rotation.
Surely this runs the risk of speaking too soon, but there are signs that suggest Brown may be here to stay in Washington. In Sunday's win over the Timberwolves, he logged 17 minutes. Now, for the first time in his young career, he has played at least 10 minutes in three straight games.
That may not sound like a major milestone for a guy who was taken 15th overall in June, but it's clearly progress for Brown. The 19-year-old has barely played this season compared to his 2018 NBA Draft peers. Thirty eight players from his rookie class have seen more minutes than him this season, including six who went undrafted.
All along this season, head coach Scott Brooks has opted to play others over Brown. That has included guys who were on 10-day contracts and those who had just landed with the team in trades.
But now, after these three games, Brooks is singing a noticeably different tune.
"I don't know about a larger role, but [he has] a role. He's definitely earned it. It's based on your play now," Brooks said Sunday.
Brooks remains matter-of-fact about Brown's place in the rotation, but there appears to be an opportunity opening up that had not been there before. Brooks went on to explain in general terms why he has been so slow to play Brown consistently.
"One thing with developing a player, you just don't give a player minutes. If you do that, you basically lose your team. These players have gotta earn it," he said.
"I've coached young players and your young players have to earn it and they have to earn it every day in practice. Troy has earned respect from the players by practicing every day and not saying a word, just keeping his head to the ground and keep charging ahead."
Brooks' suggestion that he could lose the team if he played Brown too much early on warranted a follow-up. The comments shed light on why Brown hasn't been playing for much of this season, despite him showing flashes previously when given the chance to play.
It turns out, Brown hasn't been playing solely because he doesn't have a consistent shot, turns the ball over or is overmatched defensively. Much of it apparently relates to the principle of paying your dues.
Brooks now believes Brown has taken his lumps enough to get some playing time.
"It's 60 games in. He's earned it. Players see young players and how they work. Players know the difference when you're giving guys minutes just because they were an early draft pick. You play a guy that earned it. As a player, that's what you want. You want to earn opportunities. And Troy has earned some minutes," Brooks said.
All of this should be noted moving forward, as it explains Brooks' philosophy on young players. Many assumed when he got to Washington he would rely more on rookies than his predecessor, Randy Wittman. That theory was based on the fact Brooks did such a good job developing young players in Oklahoma City.
But with the Thunder, he didn't really have a choice. He had to rely on top draft picks because those were often the best players he had. And many of the young players he developed were generational talents like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
How he has handled Brown should set expectations for future Wizards draft picks. Whomever they pick in the first round this summer may have to wait his turn as well.
Brown's teammate Bobby Portis feels like he can relate. As a rookie with the Bulls, he played in 62 games and averaged 17.8 minutes. That's plenty more than Brown has played this season (33 games, 7.8 mins per game), but it wasn't the starters minutes he's now used to.
Portis offered some perspective on Brown paying his dues.
"One thing that I can give to him as some advice is just to stick with it. My first couple years in the league were up and down. You're going to have to find your role and find your niche some way. Just gotta stick with it. Everything is not gonna be peaches and cream," Portis explained.
"Obviously, we're all coming in here and we were the best players on our team. So, it's kind of hard to wait your turn. But I think when you sit and wait your turn, you kind of cherish it that much more."
For Brown, the minutes he is now receiving present a great opportunity. But given how long he's worked to get here, he's not expecting anything to be permanent.
"As of late, yeah, I'm getting consistent minutes," he said. "It's big for me."
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