Bruce Brown: 2023-24 Season in Review (2024)

The following is part of Raptors Republic’s series of pieces reviewing the season for the Toronto Raptors. You can find all the pieces in the serieshere.

Prior to joining Toronto, Bruce Brown had a long history as a positive contributor in the NBA. And perhaps most impressively, he contributed in diverse ways. In Brooklyn, he was an undersized center, screening and finishing with slips and floaters. In Denver, he was a combo guard, even hitting a pull-up triple to seal a championship out of a pick and roll. And in Indiana, he was an impressive driver.

Few if any of those skills came to Toronto. Though Brown was playing through a knee injury virtually his entire time as a Raptor, his play was far from that of a positive contributor.

And perhaps worst of all, it seemed as though Brown was a perfect low-cost fit with Darko Rajakovic’s Raptors. He knew how to play off of a scoring hub in Nikola Jokic, and it seemed as though perhaps he could simulate that with Scottie Barnes. He was a timely cutter, solid finisher, and strong defender. Toronto needed all of the above. It didn’t happen.

There was a time when it seemed like it might work. In his very first game as a Raptor, he scored 15 efficient points and won his minutes (despite Toronto losing the game). He and Barnes especially showed nifty chemistry in the pick and roll, scoring six points in four such actions. That continued to be a point of success, as Barnes and Brown averaged 1.4 points per chance (!) in picks together. However, due to injury, they only got to run 20-odd picks. Still, it created juicy scoring chances.

That was the brightest bright spot. Brown’s own turns at initiation were quite poor, as his picks, drives, handoffs, isolations, and post-ups all yielded lower efficiency than they had for any of his previous teams. Every area was just about near the bottom of the league. He frequently freelanced out of the motion offense to go it himself, which led to poor shots and poor results. His drives in Indiana — wide lanes, scuttling all the way to the hoop — were stunted in Toronto, frequently ending in soft angles without paint touches.

His shooting was inefficient from every area of the court except for the rim. And yet Brown’s efficiency was only slightly below his career average. Which really showed the disparity in his scoring: when others created for him, it worked. When he did the heavy lifting, it did not work. Brown, perhaps more than any other Raptor, depends on a beneficial system. He can be a reaper of strength, not a creator of it.

Which is why I still believe Brown has a lot to give to help the Raptors. It didn’t work in 2023-24. It can going forward.

There were some indicators that Brown could succeed in Toronto yet. He was passable when playing alongside NBA-caliber players. Brown very nearly broke even when playing alongside Kelly Olynyk, Ochai Agbaji, and RJ Barrett, for example. Of course, that was only in 26 minutes total. NBA-caliber players weren’t always available during Brown’s time in Toronto — it’s not entirely his fault if he checked out for a time.

And when Brown is able to play alongside better offensive talent, he should be able to lean into his strengths. With more shooting around him (and a healthier knee), he should return to his hard-driving, quick-passing, rapid-decision-making ways. He was still very efficient in Toronto as a screen-setter, whether on- or off-ball. Even though he wasn’t always alongside offensive talent in Toronto, he did still have some of his patented, rapid drive-and-dish moments.

They were rarer, though, then one would have liked. Brown’s touch time was almost half a second longer than it was in Indiana earlier in the year and almost a full second longer than it was in Brooklyn. The Raptors press ganged him into the point guard position at times, which didn’t work well for anyone. If Toronto is going to rehabilitate his value to the team, it will start with shifting his role back to that orbital attacker, creating advantages with his screens and cuts rather than initiation skills.

If his jumper returns to at least passable, then everything else should slot into place. His finishing at the rim was terrific as a Raptor. As was Toronto’s efficiency when he was a screener. Shift his role, and the passing and cutting should shine through once again.

Defensively, Brown simply has to be better at everything. Despite carrying a defensive reputation out of Brooklyn, and maintaining it in Denver, he wasn’t a very good defender in Indiana. And he was worse in Toronto. On the ball, he often allowed blowbys and didn’t fight when defending the post. He was one of the worst 20 isolation and worst 30 post defenders in the league, statistically. Although, several of his teammates were worse when defending isolations (Gradey Dick, Ochai Agbaji, and Kelly Olynyk). So he wasn’t alone. But he was far from a solution. Off the ball, his rotations were sometimes lackadaisical, not beating the offense to spots. When he defended shots at the rim, opponents shot over 80 percent, one of the worst marks in the league. In Indiana and Denver, that mark was almost 10 percentage points lower. In Brooklyn, it was even better. As with many of his other teammates, the effort just wasn’t there.

Among the 30 players who saw time for the Raptors last year, Brown had the third-worst defensive differential. That’s worse than several G-League players who suited up for the Raptors last year. Brown needs to be a good defender for Toronto, or at least passable. Virtually every component has to improve from last year. The effort in every area must return.If it does, he has size as a guard and can hold up in a switch. He is a very good rebounder. He rotates well and can play a variety of coverages. But none of that is guaranteed.

And yet, if Brown is going to return to Toronto, he may well have an excellent year. Injuries heal. Playing alongside better players should shift his role so that he can do more in areas in which he excels. And if that happens, Toronto will be competitive. If Toronto is competitive, his defensive effort should return.

None of that redeems his 2023-24 season. It was, frankly, miserable. Brown was supposed to be a veteran in a time when Toronto needed one, and he wasn’t able to keep the boat afloat. Or even help in that regard. He wasn’t the only player who didn’t perform up to expectations, but he sure was one of them. The hope has to be that Brown turns it around going forward, if he remains a Raptor at all.

Bruce Brown: 2023-24 Season in Review (2024)
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