“It’s just great to have a kid like that.” I flinched a little when Darvin Ham said this about Troy Brown Jr following the Lakers’ win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
Between his low-profile persona, rugged play and occupying a thankless role that is often designated for those many years his senior, it’s easy to forget that Brown is indeed still a kid.
Only 23, Brown is actually the youngest non-rookie on the Lakers despite playing in what is already his fifth season in the league. A former McDonald’s All-American and eventual 15th-overall pick in the 2018 draft, Brown was once seen as the type of prospect a team could build around.
While that level of stardom hasn't yet come to fruition, Brown has instead turned heads this season by carving out an important — and selfless — role through sheerly being malleable. Whatever hole the Lakers need filling on a per possession basis, it’s been Brown who has shown up on the scene with a cement truck.
“We have a few guys who are Swiss army knives,” Ham said. “They play in that two-four position and they’re able to do a little of everything from different areas of the rotation. And Troy, he’s at the top of that list.”
For Brown and his new team, versatility has been the crux of his success this year as rarely do players earning the minimum have the capability to check multiple boxes at once.
What he lacks in speciality, he makes up for in competence and grit. A jack of all trades, a master of none, Brown’s impact doesn't always show up in the boxscore, but rather, is best gauged by how many of his fingerprints can be found on the court.
“I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” Austin Reaves, a similarly multi-faceted player, said of Brown following the 23-year-old’s recent 14 point, eight rebound and two assist outing.
The combination of the Lakers’ injuries, faulty roster construction and limitations due to their cap sheet, has in a roundabout way allowed a player with Brown’s exact adaptability to flourish in opportunity.
Prior to the trade deadline for example, the Lakers were riddled with small guards and struggled mightily to hang against a league that is trending more and more toward size.
As one of the few 6’6” or taller players on the roster, Brown was consequentially thrust into the fire and rotation immediately. His biggest ask from the coaching staff has arguably come on the defensive end as he’s been assigned various matchups ranging from both big and small and on-and-off ball.
Against Golden State on Sunday, Brown was given the lamentable responsibility of chasing the Warriors’ shooters around screens for 48 minutes. But like he has all season, Brown showed up, punched his time card and went to work regardless of the duties.
“He played 41 minutes tonight, but we needed him out there all 41 tonight,” Ham said. “The job he did on Klay, when he got cross-matched on different guys, he earned his weight in gold tonight...He’s been a pleasure to coach this season.”
As his 1,433 minutes can attest (the third most on the team), it’s been evident how much trust Ham and his coaching staff have in Brown’s defense throughout the team’s roller-coaster of a season. And although his overall advanced numbers are not as favorable in terms of impact, Brown has graded out exceptionally well in two specific areas the team sorely needs.
According to the BBall-Index, Brown currently ranks in the 82nd percentile in their site’s “on-ball” defensive metric and in the 84th percentile when it comes to “off-ball chasing.” Two critical elements of any worthwhile defense that Brown has shown to be more than serviceable in both.
“To be honest, I didn’t know I had played that many minutes,” Brown said. “I had no idea. Obviously with the rotations, I thought I was coming out and then going back in, but I wasn’t looking at stat sheets. It’s a blessing, honestly, just to get that opportunity, especially right now playing with time and with us playing for something and being able to be out there with those guys and make big plays. I’m grateful for it.”
Given LeBron James’ expected lengthy absence during this pivotal final stretch, opportunity will continue to knock on Brown’s door as the team will once again turn to his pliability to shore up the holes.
Beyond his steady hand on defense, the Lakers will also need contributions up and down their roster to replace James’ scoring output, Brown being no exception. Fortunately, he’s also stepped up on that end of late, specifically through his shooting.
On the season, Brown has not only already made the most threes of his career, but is also shooting his highest frequency (57%) and efficiency (37%) from behind the arc.
His ability to space the floor at a respectable clip has been a boon for a squad who has struggled in the regard for a majority of the season. And with James now out, and the defense packing the paint against Anthony Davis, the team will continue to look to the likes of Brown to make them pay.
Since the start of February, Brown is more than doing his part as he is shooting 43% from deep, and posting an eFG% of 60.4% according to Cleaning the Glass.
While his shooting will continue to be central source of his offense, Brown has also shown to be more than just a stereotypical 3-and-D player.
This was highlighted in the team’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, where Brown logged four assists, but also, made several impressive passes overall that exemplified his playmaking feel and ability to execute higher-level reads.
His continued glimpses of being able to hit a one-handed skip to the opposite wing, find an open man on the move or simply make the extra pass, are what has made him such an intriguing connector next to the team’s stars.
He doesn't need the ball, nor will it stick if it comes his way, but he will make damn sure it gets to the necessary target.
Although being okay to good at multiple things is a positive, there are of course limitations to possessing this type of universality as there is a ceiling to Brown’s growth.
While he still has plenty of time to do so, it’s uncertain to what degree Brown ever lives up to the lofty expectations that come with being a former highly touted prospect. Perhaps that path isn't the one for him, but instead a quieter role is his route to success.
Regardless of what his future holds in Los Angeles or elsewhere, what Brown has shown this season is that he belongs. Not because of a singular skill, but a myriad of helpful attributes that every team needs which Brown could offer. There is no ego that typically comes with youth, only a willingness and hunger for a chance.
The grizzled veteran bound within a young man’s body, and with a shovel draped over his shoulder, he’s ready to fill whatever pothole arises next.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.