Hawks draft prospect watch: Bruce Brown Jr., U. Miami

The Hawks could have as many as three first-round picks in the 2018 draft. Their own pick almost certainly will be in the lottery. Barring collapses by the Rockets and Timberwolves, the Hawks also will own the lottery-protected, first-round picks for those two teams via trades. This is the second of my occasional reports on prospects expected to be selected in the first round of the draft.

Bruce Brown Jr.

College: Miami (Fla.)

Hometown: Boston

Class: Sophomore

Height/weight: 6-5, 190

Age: 21 (Aug. 15, 1996)

ESPN draft projection : 15th

No University of Miami player has ever been selected in the NBA draft lottery. This year the Hurricanes could have two: Lonnie Walker IV and Bruce Brown Jr. I was at McCamish Pavilion on Wednesday night (along with 13 NBA scouts) to get a look at the duo. ( Here’s my report on Walker .)

Brown played a team-high 37 minutes against Tech while operating as a ball-handling wing. He produced nine points on 12 shots (1-for-3 on three-pointers), nine rebounds, two assists, three steals, four blocks and four turnovers.

Brown didn’t have a very good game and, like teammate Walker, was very self-critical after the loss. Yet Brown’s potential as an NBA combo guard is obvious. He’ll have to improve his spot-up shooting and finishing around the basket, and he’s old for his class. But Brown could provide an immediate NBA impact with his defense while developing into a play-making wing or point guard in certain alignments.

Brown wasn’t considered a top NBA prospect when he arrived at Miami but is considered a first-round prospect after a promising freshman season. He hasn’t been as productive or efficient offensively so far this season.

“On the court, I don’t think (the improvement) is showing right now,” Brown said. “I’ve been playing terrible. I think I’ve got to step up and be more of a vocal leader right now, and make shots.”

Brown’s activity and intensity stood out against the Jackets. In contrast to teammate Walker, Brown was engaged and involved at both ends of the floor.

Offensively, some of that was because he had the ball in his hands more than Walker, but Brown also moved well without the ball. Defensively, Brown seemed to wear down late in the game but for the most part he tenaciously fought through screens and had little trouble staying in front of ballhandlers.

Brown is a strong defender on a very good defensive team: The Hurricanes rank sixth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Brown had four blocked shots against the Hurricanes, and two of them were spectacular chase-down stuffs. He’s a quick jumper with long arms and good timing. Brown’s 2.1 block percentage is fourth-best among ACC wings, according to Pomeroy.

Brown is an excellent rebounder for his position: 8.7 total rebounds per 40 minutes and a 19.2 defensive rebounding percentage that ranks 17th among all ACC players, according to Pomeroy. Brown rebounded the ball authoritatively against the Hurricanes while showing good positioning and strong hands.

But Brown’s scoring struggles continued against Tech. He had no trouble getting to the basket but missed five of eight shots in that range against a Tech team that defends very well around the basket (0.963 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology, ranking in the 93rd percentile among Division I teams). For the season Brown is scoring 1.1 PPP at the basket, which Synergy rates as average efficiency.

Brown’s shooting efficiency has declined sharply in his sophomore season: 47.3 effective field-goal percentage this season compared to 51.5 as a freshman. He’s also getting the free-throw line much less frequently, posting a 29.7 free-throw attempt rate compared to 41.4 in 2016-17. Brown’s true shooting percentage has fallen from 55.9 to 48.6.

Brown still has managed to be a very good play-maker on a team without many good scorers. Brown is producing five assists per 40 minutes this season, compared to four last season, while holding his turnovers to 2.5 per 40. His 21.7 assist rate ranks 18th among ACC players, according to Pomeroy.

Brown’s lead guard potential shows in his screen-roll production. He’s produced 1.88 points per possession on 114 possessions resulting from pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy , ranking in the 88th percentile among DI players. Brown’s passes out of pick-and-rolls have resulted in 1.31 PPP on 59 possessions, ranking in the 91st percentile.

Shooting appears to be the biggest hole in Brown's game right now, and that's no small thing in the NBA. But Brown's defense, rebounding and play-making all make him a good prospect, though he wasn't hearing that after the Hurricanes lost to the Jackets.

“Right now, I’m playing terrible, so I shouldn’t be thinking about the draft,” he said.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.