What Detroit Pistons’ trade of Bruce Brown tells us about their offseason plan

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

Bruce Brown exceeded his draft position during his two seasons with the Detroit Pistons. The 42nd pick of the 2018 draft started 99 of his 132 games with the organization. He was the best perimeter defender on the team, made major strides on offense and established himself as a fan favorite. 

On Monday morning, Pistons kicked off their offseason by trading Brown to the Brooklyn Nets for Dzanan Musa, a 6-foot-9 forward with 49 games under his belt and zero starts in two seasons, a 2021 second-round pick from Toronto and cash.

The news came from out of nowhere, but it’s a trade that both illustrates general manager Troy Weaver’s vision for the roster, and hints toward possible additional moves. Armed with the seventh-overall pick in Wednesday’s draft and $30 million in cap space, this week will be an active one for the Pistons. 

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By week’s end, we should have a better idea of why the Pistons decided to move on from one of their best young players on Monday. The first trade of the Weaver era is the first of several dominoes that will soon fall. 

In Brown, the Nets are getting a defensive-minded player who showed promise on offense last season. He played more than half of his minutes at point guard, after mostly playing shooting guard and small forward as a rookie, and his numbers improved across the board. He grew more comfortable as a lead ball-handler and playmaker, improved his 3-point percentage from 25.8% to 34.4% and continued bringing energy as a defender and hustle player — the two attributes that helped him carve out playing time as a rookie. 

But the Pistons didn’t view Brown as a point guard. In August, coach Dwane Casey said Brown projects best as a wing, free of the burden of running an offense. 

“Bruce is a Swiss army knife for us,” Casey said. “He can tread water at point, but his natural position is a wing position, whether it’s a “2” or “3”, just being a basketball player, not having the responsibility of running the team and setting the table for everyone”

Standing 6-5 with a 6-9 wingspan, Brown has great size for a point guard, but is on the smaller side as a wing player. Weaver, historically, has favored long athletes who can get to the rim. Brown has struggled as a finisher in the NBA, and only began to tread water as a shooter last season. As a wing, he doesn’t have the same size advantage that he would have when defending opposing point guards. 

Overall, Brown isn’t the type of player Weaver wants to prioritize building around. While that doesn’t justify the trade on its own, it highlights why the Pistons were willing to part with him. 

Musa went 13 picks higher than Brown in 2018, and was drafted 29th overall by the Nets. He appeared in 40 games last year, averaging 4.8 points while shooting 37.2% overall and 24.4% from the 3-point line. 

The 21-year-old Bosnian developed a reputation as a pure scorer overseas. During his final season with Croatian club Cedevita in 2017-18, he averaged 12.4 points while hitting 47% of his shots and 80.4% of his free throws. 

While he hasn’t found traction in the NBA yet, he had success in the G League last season, averaging 19.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 12 games with the Long Island Nets. He made 41.2% of his 3-pointers and 51.7% of his shots overall. 

Draft analysts considered him to be among the best European prospects in the 2018 draft not named Luka Doncic. While he hasn’t been as good as Brown these past two seasons, Musa is three years younger than Brown. It remains to be seen how much Musa will factor into the Pistons’ future plans.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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