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Bruce Brown is the most unique player in the NBA

Harrison Wind Avatar
October 13, 2022

Bruce Brown, the golfer, was born in 2020. The pandemic hit, the NBA suspended the season, and Brown decided to hit the driving range with some friends. The next day he bought a set of clubs. 24 hours later he was on a course. Brown was hooked.

When he’s back home in Boston during the summer, Brown plays golf 2-3 times per week. He’s a member of TPC Boston, a private club in Nortan, Massachusetts. Brown’s handicap is 14 after only playing for two years. He eventually wants to get it down to a 1 or a 2.

Golf is one of the reasons why Brown already loves life as a Denver Nugget. The thin Mile High air carries the golf ball just a little bit further. In Colorado, Brown’s driving 320 yards with regularity.

“I hit bombs here,” Brown told DVNVR at training camp earlier this month. “I hit absolute bombs.”

Brown is maybe the most unique player in the NBA, on and off the court. Not a lot of NBA players have a handicap in the low teens. Not a lot of NBA players love country music either. Brown’s a country boy at heart. Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen, Dan + Shay, Dustin Lynch, and Jordan Davis are featured heavily in his Spotify rotation. Combs’ tour doesn’t stop in Denver this year, much to Brown’s chagrin, but he’s already planning to rock out at his concert in Massachusetts next summer.

“I don’t think anyone on this team is into country. Luke Kennard, my teammate in Detroit, was into it, but that’s about it,” Brown said. “Definitely no one in New York.”

He’s also one-of-a-kind between the lines. Brown came into the league as a 6-4 point guard and bulldog defender for the Pistons, but over the last two seasons in Brooklyn, Brown played as more of a “rover” instead of an actual position. With the Nets, he shuffled between shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center in an offense designed to get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving shots.

In pick-and-rolls last season, Brown logged more total possessions than Aaron Gordon as the roll man and fewer possessions than Bryn Forbes as the ball-handler. He registered just one fewer screen assist than Pascal Siakam and Jaren Jackson Jr. In Brooklyn, only 15% of Brown’s shots came from 3-point range, which placed him in the bottom-5 percentile among all forwards, and 68% of his field goal attempts came in the paint. He was a guard masquerading as a 7-footer.

Brown was asked this preseason if he would rather be the ball handler or screener in the pick-and-roll with Nikola Jokic. His answer wasn’t typical of a 6-foot-4 guard.

“Me screening for Joker,” he said. “Easy.”

With the Nets, Brown guarded every position on the floor and earned the reputation as one of the most dependable defenders in the league. Brown has a rock-solid frame, quick feet, and packs a 6-9 wingspan. He rarely gets hurt. He lives to defend and wants the toughest defensive assignments every night.

Offense never came easy to Brown. He remembers routinely blowing easy layups when he was younger. It just was never his thing, so he naturally gravitated toward defense. If the Nuggets want to achieve their lofty goal of finishing the season as a top-5 defense, Brown will have to be front-and-center all year.

When he was available in free agency this summer, Michael Malone phoned general manager Calvin Booth.

“Hey man, this is a guy that we need,” Malone said.

Brown had options, but picking Denver and signing a two-year, $13.3 million deal was an easy choice he says. He looked at it as the perfect setting for the next chapter of his career. He can contend for a championship and be relied upon defensively to set the tone. That’s what Brown wants. He wants that responsibility. He wants the pressure of guarding All-NBA offensive players. He wants that burden resting on his shoulders.

“I know why I’m here,” Brown said. “I’m here to play defense.”

In the Nuggets’ preseason win over the Suns, Brown guarded Devin Booker and held the Suns’ guard to 20 points on 5-17 shooting. It earned him the Nuggets’ first Defensive Player of the Game chain of the season.

“I knew Devin Booker was going to come out and be really aggressive,” Brown said while wearing a baby blue hat emblazoned with a yellow and green Masters golf tournament logo. “I played him for the last five years, so I knew what I was getting myself into tonight.”

Brown plays with a level of effort, energy and tenacity that we haven’t seen in Denver in a long time. He covers so much ground on defense in such a little amount of time. He has incredible closeout speed. He’s a multiple-effort player who gets out and contests shots on the perimeter that he has no business contesting. Brown floats into passing lanes on just feel and instincts.

He was one of only five players (Matisse Thybulle, De’Anthony Melton, Gary Payton II, Killian Hayes) to record at least 160 deflections in 1800 or fewer minutes last year. Brown gets skinny, stays with his matchup, and slips around the same screens that so many recent Nuggets defenders routinely died on over the last several seasons. Brown’s defensive IQ is through the roof.

He’s the exact type of defender that the Nuggets have desperately needed for years.

“That guy is a pro. He’s a five-year pro who carries himself like a 10-year pro. He knows exactly who he is as a player,” Malone said. “He doesn’t work on things that are not in his wheelhouse. I have a feeling that Bruce Brown will close a lot of big games for us.”

Brown is now on the right side of the matchup that gave him so many headaches over the last couple of years. Playing in the Eastern Conference for his entire four-year career, Brown only faced off against the Nuggets twice per season. He’s had some standout games versus Denver too. Brown went for 19 points on 7-10 shooting, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in a 2020 Nets win over the Nuggets. He tallied 16 points on 8-11 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks in a 2021 Brooklyn victory.

But he always hated trying to craft a defensive scheme to stop the back-to-back MVP. He hated playing against the Nuggets.

“Nikola was a fucking beast to play against,” said Brown. “Every time I played against him it seemed like he had 40.”

Now, the two have joined forces. One of Brown’s principal qualities is his ability to fit with any lineup and alongside any group of players. He can play on and off the ball. He started at point guard Wednesday vs. the Clippers and don’t be surprised when Brown is handling the ball at times alongside Bones Hyland on the Nuggets’ second unit. Denver wants to move him back to more of his natural position on the perimeter. It’s a transition Brown has said he’s more than OK with.

Brown is a masterful cutter and off-ball mover too. The prospect of him playing alongside Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. is enticing because of Brown’s ability to find creases in the defense that few others can. It’s a skill set that was built up partly due to Brown’s sky-high on-court awareness, but also after playing alongside high-caliber offensive talent the last couple of seasons. He finds a way to make stuff happen without having any plays called for him.

The University of Miami product comes to Denver with big-game experience and 20 career playoff games under his belt. Last postseason, his first-round assignment was Jayson Tatum in a series and matchup that Malone has studied closely since Denver inked Brown to a contract. Brown already has the trust of his coach and teammates, especially the ones he’s gone to war with before.

“He’s battle-tested,” said Jeff Green, who spent the 2020-21 season with Brown in Brooklyn.

Brown has only been in town for a few months but already feels at home. The 26-year-old from Boston is a low-key guy. In Denver, he can live downtown and close to Ball Arena but still enjoy his peace and quiet. It’s more his speed than his old borough, Brooklyn.

“Obviously, New York gets a lot of attention, a lot of media attention,” Brown said. “That wasn’t for me.”

“I’m more laid back. I chill.”

He’s especially close with Green and DeAndre Jordan, who also played for the Nets during the 2020-21 season. At Nuggets training camp in San Diego, Brown and Jordan found a free afternoon to hit the golf course. The two also have a pregame handshake where Brown acts like he’s swinging an iron from the fairway while Jordan putts from an imaginary green.

He’ll have to wait until the offseason to trim his handicap though. Brown’s here to help the Nuggets win a championship this year. If Denver does break through, it’s going to be because the Nuggets defend at a championship level. Brown knows he can play a big role in Denver being that last team standing.

“Everybody in this locker room knows what we want,” Brown told DNVR. “Everybody knows where we want to be at the end of the year.”

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