Player Season Reviews

2014-15 in Review: Markel Brown

Markel Brown was one of my favorite Nets players to watch this season. Yes, really. I know there were better players who had better moments and better games, but I stand by my statement. I enjoyed watching Brown every time he played, mostly because of what his presence represented.

Brooklyn has some legitimately top NBA talent, and that is undeniable. The reasons why that talent hasn’t melded into a top NBA team is debatable, but the talent’s there. What doesn’t really exist is talent for the future. The short reason is because their stars are aging and they have no draft picks, but that’s a topic for another post… this is about Markel Brown.

Markel, along with fellow rookie Bojan Bogdanovic, represents the bridge that can span from this disappointing team across the river of sadness and onto the other side. What is on the other side of the stream that is littered with bad contracts? I don’t know, but we’ve got to get there one way or another. As we cross the bridge, times will get tough as we ride out the massive monetary missives sent to Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and Markel Brown is one of the players we can look for to pull us across.

So this leads to some very important questions: is Markel Brown good? Not quite. Will he be good? I think so, but I’m honestly not sure. Let’s look at some numbers and try to flesh this out a bit.

The rookie only appeared in 47 games, although 25 of them were in March and April, so coach Lionel Hollins seemed to gain trust in him as the season went along.  Another indicator of that increased trust is that Brown only averaged 5.6 minutes per game before the All Star break, but 22.9 minutes after it. The result of this faith were some pretty solid numbers (cough, for a rookie, cough). When calculated on a per-36 minute basis, Markel averaged 10 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 steals.

Sure, he shot a meagre 36.2% from the field and an almost embarrassing 26.6% from 3-point range, but shooting isn’t important for a guard and… oh, I can’t keep that up. Yes, Brown needs to get those percentages up, especially from behind the 3-point line, but his form looks malleable, so it’s possible. The fact that he also shot better this year while being closely guarded (with a 47.3 eFG% — up from 40.2% overall), opens up the possibility that he may just simply overthink the easy ones. Brown would hardly be the first rookie to experience that.

While Markel Brown’s offensive numbers are generally quantifiable, his defensive output is harder to pinpoint. To my viewing eye, Brown is active, aware, and athletic. He fights well through screens, commits hard on help defense, and rotates smartly. However, that doesn’t translate into the team defensive numbers, which are all pretty similar whether he’s on or off the court. In fact, players he’s guarding tend to shoot a better percentage when Markel is playing them than they normally would.

My instinct is to abandon the numbers, call everyone a stat geek, and claim that the “eye test” is the be-all-end-all. As much as I’d love to do that, what I think actually happened is that the overall defensive rotation of the Nets ranges from pathetic to mediocre. I think that Markel spends so much time chasing down blown rotations and recovering from missed switches that he’s rarely playing on-ball defense. That may just be me projecting my wishes on the situation, but I’ve thought Brown has been an average-to-plus defender this season. As he adjusts to the speed and athleticism of the game, he should be consistently above-average.

So where does that leave us on the bridge to the future? Unless some magic can be worked out, the Nets are unlikely to be much better within the next two years and the lack of draft picks means they have to dip into the free agent market once their salary cap does finally clear. Markel Brown is one of the few players that can be developed so he’s ready for those free agents to come in.

What Markel’s ceiling is can be a tricky question. My guess is that his best-case scenario is that he turns into a decent point guard. In fact, his rookie per-36 numbers are almost identical to Detroit’s Reggie Jackson (although Reggie, believe it or not, was a worse shooter), which is an apt comparison to Brown. There is also a chance, if Markel’s shot and defense both improve a little, that he can be a 3-and-D player that is desired by every team that doesn’t have one.

I know that much of this is speculative, but speculation guards us from the reality that is a rushing river containing 20+ million dollar contracts for underperforming players and draft picks that are continuously being fished out by competitors. Our only hope is that the land on the other side of the river contains some smart personnel decisions and some good young players. If it’s done correctly, one of those players will be Markel Brown.