WASHINGTON -- Sometimes with young players searching for their niche in the NBA, it helps to keep things simple. Find one or two things they are good at and play to those strengths. Rui Hachimura has found success fairly consistently in the midrange, for instance. Moe Wagner can make outside shots, take charges and foul the heck out of people. Thomas Bryant can set screens and score around the rim.
For Troy Brown Jr., it is not quite as defined. His outside shot is still developing, which makes it difficult for him to be effective off the ball. Though his best traits involve having the ball in his hands, that will only happen so often with the Wizards running much of their offense through Bradley Beal and point guards Isaiah Thomas and Ish Smith.
Brown has found himself as the odd-man-out in an offense that is otherwise booming on most nights. He shares a starting lineup with Thomas, Beal, Hachimura and Thomas Bryant, and those four are scoring plenty.
But after his scoreless game against the Kings on Sunday, Brown has failed to reach double-digits in seven of his last eight games. He has shot just 34.7 percent from the field during that stretch.
"I'm still trying to find my groove in the offense," Brown said. "When the ball comes to me, I try to make plays."
Brown, 20, played a bit under the weather on Sunday against Sacramento. He missed practice the day before with flu-like symptoms. He also has the built-in excuse of missing all of training camp and the preseason with a calf injury. Though he has now played 11 regular-season games since returning, he does not have the experience of a veteran player who may not need the preseason to get ready.
Beal can see why that has made matters tough for Brown.
"It's still early for him," Beal said. "He's alright. He's just gotta find his rhythm. We threw him into the starting lineup right when he came back. We've just gotta keep making him comfortable and keep him continuing to be aggressive to instill that confidence."
Brown's struggles on offense have led to him riding the bench late in recent games. Against the Kings, Brown started but only played 15 minutes as Jordan McRae got the closing minutes in his spot. The Wizards needed offense in that particular game and that is not Brown's strength at this juncture.
Brown, though, believes he can make a significant impact on defense. The Wizards are among the worst defensive teams in the NBA this season, but Brown has more upside than most of his teammates on that end of the floor. He is a disciplined player with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and good rebounding instincts.
Brooks has shown some trust in Brown defensively by giving him some of the toughest assignments Wizards opponents have offered. He has spent extensive time guarding guys like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan already this season.
Brown believes that role has been given to him in part to take pressure off of others.
"[I try to make] it easier on guys. Especially with Brad, he has a lot to take on so for me to be able to go and guard the best player and let him focus on making plays, I feel like that helps a lot," Brown said.
Those match-ups have provided some teaching moments. DeRozan, for instance, got Brown reaching on a classic 'hand caught in the cookie jar' move where he clamped Brown's hand with his arm to sell a foul. In hindsight, Brown said he needs to foul guys like DeRozan harder to ensure they don't earn and-ones.
It may take a long time before Brown can handle his own against scorers of that caliber, but he's embracing the responsibility.
"I just try to take pride in it and take the challenge of being an NBA player and guarding the best players in the league," Brown said. "Some of these guys, I watched growing up. So it's like 'I'm in the league, you're in the league; I want to see how good you really are.'"
For now, it appears the Wizards want Brown to guard the opposing team's best wing scorer on defense and on offense simply make sure the ball is moving and take what he can get within the flow of Brooks' system. So far this season, Brown hasn't been able to do those things consistently.
But he has a group of leaders in the Wizards' locker room who believe in him and say it is only a matter of time before it clicks.
"I always say the best players have the shortest memories; whether good or bad," Thomas said. "He just has to continue to work and continue to play hard and his shots will fall, for sure."
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