Even Steve Nash has admitted his Nets have been desperate for more toughness and defense. And that’s exactly what Bruce Brown has given them in spades.
Offensively limited on a team loaded with offense, Brown will never have Kobe Bryant’s talent. But that doesn’t mean he can’t emulate the late star’s tenaciousness, giving the Nets (13-8) some much-needed grit to go with all their glamour.
“He was a dog and didn’t care about anything out there. There was no friends out there,” Brown said of Bryant. “He went out and played hard, so that’s what I try to do every night: Go out there and be a dog and don’t care who I’m guarding or guard the best player every night on the offensive end and try to stop them.”
After going from starter in Detroit to forgotten man in Brooklyn, Brown forced himself into the rotation the old-fashioned way: He’s earned it, with physicality and energy that’s made life easier on star guards Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Going into Sunday’s game at Washington, the Nets are 10-2 when Brown logs at least 13:09 but just 3-6 when he doesn’t.
“Some of these guys that we have are starters, so they know how to play the game very well. When I was going against Detroit last year, Bruce was the starting point guard. He was able to still find ways to be effective,” Irving said. “With this group you’re going to get open shots, and being in the right spots when we collapse the defense, it creates opportunities.
“We just want guys to stay aggressive and make the right plays. Even if it doesn’t go our way, just be in the right spots, and Bruce happens to be in the right spots. He’s one of those guys that can just sniff out the ball and put himself in position. Having a huge impact on our team, so I’m proud of him.”
It took Brown a while to get to make that impact.
After Brown started 99 games in his first two seasons, the Nets pried him from Detroit as part of a three-team deal that included Landry Shamet.
For the cost of a first-round pick and disappointing Dzanan Musa — already waived by Detroit — it’s proved shrewd business.
After logging just 13:01 over three cameos in a shaky 3-4 start, Bruce finally got a spot start on Jan. 5 against Utah. He finished a plus-20 in Brooklyn’s 130-96 rout and has played every game since with the Nets going on a 10-4 stretch.
Brown is coming off a season-high 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting in Oklahoma City, getting deep in the paint and scoring off floaters.
“I’m not shooting it well right now,” Brown admits. “I’m a slasher. If someone’s going to leave me, I know where to find holes. [Irving] does a great job getting downhill, [Harden] does a great job getting downhill, so I just find the cracks and seams, and if they find me, I could just go right up to my floater.
“I can do a little of everything out there, so if this is what the team needs me to do, I will. I’m just getting to my floater. It’s a shot that I love to take so it’s pretty easy to me.”
Nash even used him as a screener the past couple of wins, so he not only guarded Atlanta’s Trae Young and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander but made both expend valuable energy on the defensive end.
“Just smart basketball. … We wanted to get [Young] in some actions and make him guard a little. Bruce did an unbelievable job of being a screener, finishing around the rim, making the right plays,” Harden said.
“Bruce was huge,” Nash said. “He kind of played a center, picking-and-rolling and not allowing them to muck off him as a shooter. We put him in the pick-and-roll, and he did a great job of getting down the lane, finishing and keeping the floor spaced and enabling us to get the right matchup. His energy, his defense and rebounding was huge.”
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