Troy Brown has a path to being useful but didn’t show much in year one. That’s where the Wizards are as a team, too.
Last year was a painful one for the Washington Wizards. John Wall tore his Achilles tendon midway through the season before his mega extension kicked in, sidelining the franchise player in a way that could see him never return to his pre-injury level of play. The team was dead in the water by January, and despite a career year from Bradley Beal in his absence, the team finished with their worst record since 2012-13, fired their front office, and then sat adrift while the NBA landscape was overhauled around them, waiting a full three months to install Tommy Sheppard’s new regime.
Last season was also not kind to the Wizards’ 2018 first-round pick, Troy Brown. The No. 15 overall pick, Brown was somewhat set adrift by the situation around him, and his results were predictably pretty poor. He finished the year averaging just 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game while posting a very ugly 48.7 true shooting percentage. He floated between the Capital City Go-Go and the Wizards’ bench until the trade deadline, when the dealing of Otto Porter opened a roster spot for him. While he did have a positive stretch of play in March, it mostly came with him scoring off stationary spot-up 3s and cuts. For the most part, Brown spent his rookie year playing as a fringe offensive option, and didn’t show much in the way of future promise.
The biggest positive for Brown has been and continues to be his combination of size and passing ability. Brown was billed as potential playmaking wing after averaging 3.2 assists per game at Oregon, and some of the most impressive highlights from his rookie season are nice halfcourt reads coming out of simple pick-and-rolls.
Brown has a pretty decent handle at this stage in his development. He can turn the corner against a bigger defender and shows some ability to create space off the dribble. The long-term hope is that as he continues to grow, his eventual role is as a secondary or tertiary handler, who can make reads out of the pick-and-roll while being fairly conservative with the ball.
But right now, Brown isn’t at the level to utilize that skill by virtue of the rest of his offensive production. Many college players who are good passers struggle to put that to use at the next level because they don’t have the gravity as an on-ball weapon to make defenses help onto them when they have the ball (Nik Stauskas is a great example of this). Without a reliable pull-up jumper or elite finishing, Brown likely falls into this category. He shot just 32.1 percent on pull-up jumpers, per NBA.com, and while his actual shooting mechanics are promising, his transition into the jumper can be incredibly sloppy.
He’s also not a good finisher in traffic, which is a prerequisite to on-ball capability. Brown lacks the strength to push off contact, and with his thin frame, it’s a question of whether he ever will.
Brown can get better. His finishing can improve, as can his shooting (it would be hard for his pull-up shooting NOT to). And if those things happen, his growth should be exponential because of how it will unlock the use of his playmaking. But like the Wizards, he sits somewhere in the ether of mediocrity right now. It’s not like Brown is an abject failure — he did show mild improvement late in the season and has positive traits on both ends, even if he was incredibly bad overall on defense — but he certainly wasn’t good last year, and he is far behind in terms of the physical development and fluidity that are required to actually make use of the skills he has demonstrated to this point. And even if he does, the ceiling available to him appears to be something like Alec Burks — a decent, but purely complementary, player.
And that’s a good metaphor for where his team is, too. The Wizards aren’t going to be at the level of last year’s Knicks, because they do have talent. Bradley Beal, if he’s around, is too good to let the team bottom out. Functional supporting players like Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant will also help keep them afloat. But there’s also not a ceiling that is good enough for what the team wants to be with the current roster. This is far from a playoff team. There aren’t any enticing young players on the roster, given how bad Brown was this past year, and how much of a reach Rui Hachimura appears to have been with the No. 9 overall pick this past year. And with Wall’s gigantic contract looming, and what appears to have been a chaotic and disappointing search for a new general manager, it’s not like there’s the hope of future cap flexibility to fall back on. Even if some things start moving in the right direction — like a good haul for Beal or a sudden breakout from one of their young players — there seems to be a certain cap on any upside for the immediate future based on how many things are malfunctioning at the same time.
So both Brown and his team enter 2019-20 with similar goals and limitations. Incremental progress in any way is going to be a victory for both, especially since an improved Brown is one of the few reasons for hope on the current roster. Meanwhile, the team is just looking to start the fight out of their current situational mess, which is by far the direst in the league. Sheppard was left with one of the least enticing cap situations in the league, a radioactive locker room in terms of personalities, and little in terms of positive assets, and he has to now prove himself after two months of scrambling decisions behind the scenes of the GM search. This is going to be a multi-year, slow-burning rebuild, and that probably negatively impacts the ability of Brown to develop, as well.
Brown and the Wizards had a very bad year last year, and it’s hard to see either of those things improving much this season.