DETROIT — Bruce Brown went from not playing at the start of the season to indispensable. And the Nets went from struggling to streaking.
Small wonder, with Brown 33-9 as a Nets starter coming into Friday’s game against his former Pistons team.
“We knew Bruce would be back playing,” head coach Steve Nash said at Friday morning’s shootaround. “We know what we get from Bruce. Training camp was short, and we wanted to get more information and more looks with the big lineup, with different guys, give them some more minutes to start so we could see more of how they fit and how they look. But we knew we’d get back to Bruce.
“It’s just in a sense we were approaching those first two games as an extended camp to see what we have because camp was so quick, so short, immediate. The preseason games, we didn’t play everyone every night, so it’s tricky. We know what Bruce does. Bruce plays with energy, passion, heart, defense, different positions. And offensively he’s got a knack for rolling and causing problems.”
With 10 new faces on the roster and a huge one missing (Kyrie Irving, who is out indefinitely), the Nets spent the preseason experimenting. That trial-and-error session stretched right into the regular season.
With Nash using the first two games as tuneups, Brown logged just 3:45 total through both. But Nash assured Brown he just needed to stay patient, told the defensive sparkplug that he was a sure thing and the Nets just needed to sort out a bunch of unknowns.
“Yeah, he did,” Brown said of Nash. “I knew just the way I play and with what I bring to the floor that my time would come. I wasn’t worried about it at all.”
Nash was as good as his word. And Brown has been as good as his defensive rep.
After returning to the rotation in the third game of the season, he joined the starting lineup a day later against Washington, sliding into Irving’s vacated spot. He has started every game since, guarding the top opposing perimeter threat in every one.
“I just try and make it tough,” Brown said with a shrug. “My role on this team is to play defense on the best offensive player every night. I’m just going to be tough about it.”
It has worked, with Brown’s impact clear. He has been solid on defense, and his hustle has helped to create looks for the likes of James Harden and Joe Harris or to get wide-open shots when teams rotate to Harden and Kevin Durant.
“Really [I’ve helped] our pace at the offensive end, really getting us easy shots and slips in transition with me, and James and Joe are getting the open 3s,” Brown said. “Teams are starting to help off me again, which is fine. I’m just going to screen for Joe in the corner or Kevin in the corner. I’m just playing basketball.”
And he’s playing it with a feistiness that the Nets need.
After being 29-8 as a starter last season, there was a feeling around the league that Brown would bolt Brooklyn for a sizeable raise. But the Nets managed to keep him for the $4 million qualifying offer, and it has proven to be a steal.
Brown came back and will face his former Pistons team 4-1 as a starter this season.
“[I’m] not amazed. I remember when I was here, coach [Dwane] Casey used to say I wasn’t a point guard when I was a point guard. I’m just a basketball player,” Brown said. “You put me on the floor and I’m going to make plays regardless of what position I’m in. So I’m just a hooper.”
Nash has used him hooping alongside fellow defenders DeAndre’ Bembry and Jevon Carter as a disruptive trio.
“Well, of course you put more defenders on the floor, you’re going to be a better defensive team,” Nash said.
“We get stops,” Carter said. “We get stops and we’re able to play fast, play in transition and that makes the game easier for us. We don’t really have to think on the offensive end. We can just play free.”
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