What Can (Markel) Brown Do For You?

Markel Brown (left) has been quietly solid on a floundering Nets team. (AP)
Markel Brown (left) has been quietly solid on a floundering Nets team. (AP)
Markel Brown (left) has been quietly solid on a floundering Nets team. (AP)

When asked how confident he is in his shot, Markel Brown unintentionally dropped a Yogi-ism.

The Nets guard remarked: “Very confident. I feel like every shot I shoot is going to go in, at least 50 percent of the time.”

After you wrap your head around that one, you might realize he’s right. Since breaking into the rotation 12 games ago, Brown has been on a tear, shooting 51.1 percent from the field and averaging 11.6 points per game (19.1 per 36 minutes). He’s gotten significantly more playing time since former coach Lionel Hollins got the boot on January 10th.

Despite that, Brown denied any animosity towards Hollins. “I was in the starting lineup before, you know.” (Which is true: Brown started on January 9th vs. the Detroit Pistons, which was Hollins’s last game.)

Brown was drafted out of Oklahoma State with an eye on his defensive prowess and athleticism, not for his offensive game. But his shooting stroke is smooth and consistent, with good lift and a high release. With more playing time, it’s paid off.

Brown faded in and out of the rotation for a month before cementing his spot just before the All-Star break. Though it’s only been a short burst of time, Brown has shined as a catch-and-shoot option, hitting 46.2 percent from three-point range in 12 games. Brown is at his best when he’s allowed to roam the corners and the wings and wait for his opportunity, and he’s converted those clean looks.

 
Here’s a fun wrinkle: a dribble-handoff between Brown and Larkin that forces a switch, then a pick-and-roll that drops Emmanuel Mudiay in to guard Brook Lopez.

 
Lopez could’ve easily tried to bully his way through an imminent double-team, but instead kicked it out to Brown, who knocked down the look in a tight game. Nothing groundbreaking, but just good basketball.

Brown’s played well enough in the last month that ex-Nets executive Bobby Marks of The Vertical noted Monday that Brown is starting to get noticed around the league.

12 games is a small clip, we’re only talking about 39 attempts, and there’s little chance he’ll sustain that efficiency. It’s a hot streak. But there’s no reason to believe he can’t be an effective three-point shooter.

Coach Tony Brown — no relation — elected to give Brown more run after seeing his performance outside of NBA action. (note: any use of “Brown” from here on out refers to the player unless specifically noted as “coach Brown.”)

“I just based it off his effort in practice. His professionalism getting in here early and getting shots up, working on his game. It’s easy to get frustrated and not do those things, be the last guy on the floor when you probably should be on the floor 30 minutes to 45 minutes before practice. He never let that bother him in that regard and he kept himself ready. A lot of it is him. It’s nothing that I’ve done, he’s just putting himself in better situations where he can be effective.”

As coach Brown spoke of player Brown’s professionalism and work following Monday’s practice, player Brown was doing just that: working on a post-practice shooting drill with teammate Shane Larkin. Brown and Larkin alternated catching the ball on the move at the top of the key, taking one dribble in, and shooting from the elbow.

It’s an important drill for Brown, as a big share of his misses during his recent hot streak have come in just that look. In the past 12 games, his effective field goal percentage drops from 67.1 percent to 35.4 percent when he turns a catch-and-shoot look into a pull-up look, according to NBA.com. He’s also prone to leaning into his shot when catching on the move, which isn’t uncommon, but can throw off the balance just a tick.

You can see that all come to a head in one play below: Brown dribbles around a screen, misses a pull-up from the right elbow, and later buries a corner pop after getting an open look on the weak side of the floor.

 
“I think it’s timing, confidence, and staying in the gym,” Brown said. “A combination of all three … Before Joe (Johnson) left, shooting with Joe and Wayne (Ellington) and actually making it a challenge. I think y’all saw a little glimpse of how we used to shoot at the end of practice and we used to always challenge each other. So I think that pays a large role in it.”

Let’s not pretend here: the 18-45 Nets aren’t concerned with wins and losses this season, and new general manager Sean Marks has made it clear that he’s using this time to evaluate who he wants to keep on this roster. Presumably, Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Chris McCullough make the cut. If this keeps up, Brown might too, not as a primary option but as a complementary piece.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” coach Brown added. “He’s recognizing when he has shots, he’s recognizing when he can put the ball on the floor and attack, and he’s been very good at that. With the new addition of Sean Kilpatrick, they’re a good combo coming off the bench. Both guys are very aggressive and have a high level of confidence in what they can do.”

You can see coach Brown or any future Nets coach feeling comfortable slotting this Brown next to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, letting Hollis-Jefferson slither around on offense while Brown lurks and runs off screens. It doesn’t hurt that those two give the Nets a strong defensive combo on the wings, either.

The other funky option — putting Brown at point guard — is largely an academic exercise. He doesn’t get to the basket off the dribble as much as a point guard should and hasn’t been a pass-first player with an eye for hitting teammates at any point in his career. But in a pinch, he’s fine driving to the basket, and though he’s right-hand dominant has even gone to his left a bit more than you might expect.

“I think I’ve always been confident in (my left),” Brown said. “Usually when I’m out there playing, I don’t really think about going left or right. I just think about putting myself in the position to make a play.”

It won’t be a perfect match until Hollis-Jefferson, Lopez, or Young becomes a threat from beyond the arc. It’s hard to run just about anything in this day and age with fewer than three three-point shooters on the floor. But it’s a start. The next step is retaining him in the offseason… which at this rate may be more difficult than they imagined.

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