How concerned should NBA teams be about Troy Brown’s defense?


Troy Brown of Oregon became one of the many freshmen to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, which is a surprise to few. The Oregon wing was a top recruit coming out of high school and had a productive season in Eugene, averaging 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in a down year for the Ducks. He was Oregon’s main attraction in terms of NBA potential, and he showed enough to maintain his lottery projection from the beginning of the season. Brown is currently ranked 12th on the Step Back’s latest Big Board because many think he has the potential to be a very high-level role player in the NBA.

Brown’s projection to the NBA makes a lot of sense on paper. He’s a 6-foot-7 wing with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and while he shot just 29.1 percent from 3-point range, he has strong shooting mechanics. Combine that with his 1.6 steals per game and ability to create off the dribble, and the recipe is there for a 3-and-D wing.

Brown certainly looks the part, right down to his jumper, which is one of the more fluid in the class, particularly off the bounce.

Brown wasn’t efficient as a shooter at Oregon, either from the perimeter or from the midrange, where he hit just 34.6 percent on 2-point jumpers, per hoop-math. He has never been a productive shooter, but his mechanics lend to him continuing to develop. His confidence off the catch is excellent, and there’s plenty of room for him to grow in this regard.

Brown’s value as an offensive player is likely much higher than what he showed at Oregon this year because of his handle and ability to attack off the dribble. Brown has good shake off the dribble, and while he doesn’t have above-average strength, he can dislodge defenders and get to the rim pretty well.

His 63.4 percent conversion rate at the basket is solid, and most of his looks there are unassisted. He can get bottled up inside by true rim protectors.

However, his craft is advanced for his age, and he’s a treat to watch when he beats his defender, meets the rim protector and either swoops up an up-and-over shot or changes hands to softly lay it in.

Brown looks like he’ll be a useful secondary pick-and-roll handler some day because of his touch at the rim and his playmaking ability. His right hand is very strong at this point, and he can consistently get an edge out of pick-and-roll sets because of his quickness.

To fully realize that talent, he needs to improve his left hand, which he rarely uses outside of straight-line drives on cuts. This limits him likely to only secondary actions out of specific sets because a good perimeter defender will likely be able to deny his dominant hand. This also limits his playmaking, as he will try to force passes if he gets cut off because of his lack of strength with his off-hand.

This is a vital piece of Brown’s game to work on because he’s actually a very strong passer when he has open space. He averaged 4.1 assists per 40 minutes, and his combination of vision and touch are exciting.

Brown easily can become a good offensive player in the right situation. He was effective at Oregon despite his poor shooting and high turnover rate (18.8 percent), and there’s a definite role for him offensively if he can become more consistent off the catch and develop his left hand. He has the ceiling of a quality starter in the league, a two that can handle a small load of creation responsibility and can comfortably space the floor and create for others.

The other half of the 3-and-D projection for Brown is more suspect. On the surface, Brown certainly looks the part, with his frame, agility and quick hands. He wasn’t a lockdown guy one-on-one (few freshmen are), but he definitely appears to have the tools to be a great defender.

That’s coupled with his rebounding, which is a legitimate strength. Brown finished second on Oregon in total rebounds and third in total rebound rate among rotation players, and he showcases a hustle and motor that hopefully will translate to other aspects of his defensive game. He uses his length well here and showcases decent low-body strength to secure box-outs against bigger players.

However, there is a long road for Brown to get to be a positive defender. Unlike Luka Doncic and Mikal Bridges — the two wings that figure to be ahead of him in this class — Brown hasn’t shown the same potential as a team defender. Brown has some bad habits he will need to work through, and that may not be easily identifiable through cursory glances at how Oregon’s defense ran.

The Ducks played primarily in a 2-3 matchup zone, with Brown most commonly operating at one of the wing positions. This put him in a good position to rotate well between players on the weakside, and he showed decent recognition of when off-ball actions were coming and adapting to them. He sometimes lost track of where the ball was, though, because he was so focused on what was happening close to him, and you can even often see him just staring straight ahead at the top of the key, even though there’s a clear rotation responsibility coming at him on the other side of the court.

Watch here as Brown is dozing off, and the entire Oregon defense collapses on this play, except him:

Brown also isn’t the most disciplined player and his effort level isn’t consistent. This is surprising given his rebounding prowess, but it often puts his teammates in bad spots. Most commonly this comes in transition, where Brown will give up on plays and not hustle back.

He also has effort issues defending on-ball against the pick-and-roll, as he struggles to fight through screens. Many times this year he would be put in a high pick-and-roll, get over the screen, recognize that his opponent had beaten him and just stop short instead of trailing.

His closeouts are also inconsistent, and, again, this has to do with effort level. This sequence from the Arizona game (the turnover and closeout on the other end) might be the worst two-possession sequence of the year from Brown, but they’re indicative of how undisciplined he can be:

Now, this isn’t to say that Brown is James Harden or anything. He does have his moments and games where he’s locked in, and you can see the potential ooze from when he’s actively making reads.

His issues aren’t really related to awareness, like you can see in players like DeAndre Ayton. He’s simply a lax off-ball defender at this point, and it’s his motor that comes into question. If he can become more focused on this end, he has a high probability of reaching his ceiling.

Those bad habits on defense swing Brown’s draft stock quite a bit. If he can’t be relied on off-ball, it’s going to be difficult for him to become the level of defender that a team will probably expect from him in the NBA. This also likely swings his potential role quite a bit, depending on what he can reliably be asked to do on defense. At his ceiling, Brown becomes a matchup nightmare, a true swingman that can defend two-through-four and handle the ball for stretches on offense, putting the opponent in a bind for how he’s accounted for on both ends.

But if these off-ball issues stay consistent, it turns him into a J.R. Smith-type defender — someone who has to defend on-ball to bring value on that end and will get lost in more complex actions because he isn’t always giving his full attention to the complexities of NBA offenses off-ball. In a way, his defense likely influences the importance of his handle, as that’s his biggest swing skill. If he has to defend on-ball a higher percentage of the time, it might be better to focus on developing him as a playmaker and turning him into more of a full-time guard than the positionless prospect he is being billed as.

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Brown’s defensive potential is high, and when you combine his skill set with his youth, it’s easy to see why many consider him a lock for the lottery in June. But this is a unique draft for wings, in that his cohort is much more polished defensively as a whole. Brown’s ceiling might be higher than Jacob Evans of Cincinnati, but guys like Evans and Bridges are much more consistent on that end when it comes to team defense at this point. Brown’s upside is enticing, but he has a much higher likelihood of being less valuable than some of the other available wings in this class if his team defense doesn’t improve.