The LA Clippers practiced at Clark High School in Las Vegas the day before their third summer league game. First-round rookie Kobe Brown was among the first players to enter the gym, about three miles from the Las Vegas Strip. I noticed that the 23-year-old rookie from Missouri has no accessories of any kind — no headband, no tights, no knee pads.
“When I was like a young kid, I used to wear a shooting sleeve just because everyone else was doing it,” Brown shared. Athletics before training. “But I liked a fight, in AAU, a long time ago. And I thought, ‘This is not me.’ I didn’t understand what it did for you. I still don’t quite understand what it does. I’ve never needed anything, really. I’m out here to bounce, not look good.”
At the end of LA’s comeback win Friday afternoon against the Philadelphia 76ers, Brown showed everyone what he’s capable of on the floor in a sleeveless shirt. Entering Friday’s game, Brown had 35 total points on 12-of-37 shooting from the field (32.4 percent), 4-of-17 3s (23.5 percent), 7-of- 13 free throws (53.8 percent) and as many assists. as a turnover (four) in three games. Brown matched the points in a phenomenal showing against the 76ers, scoring 35 points on 13-of-19 shooting overall and 7-of-10 on 3s while making both free throws and recording a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio .
What made Brown’s performance even more impressive was how he did it; he had just 11 dribbles to set up his 13 shots. For a player expected to earn minutes around Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Brown must make the most of limited opportunities. And unlike many summer league performances where a player gets chances to cook off ball screens and isolation possessions, Brown ate up most of the ball to give a top performance for a role player.
All of Brown’s 3s against the 76ers were spot-up for the catch-and-shoot variety, though he lit up all over the floor on his seven made 3s: on the break, in the corners, on second-chance chances and in the transition. Of his six made buckets inside the arc, half came from his own steals, two of them came from his own offensive rebounds and four of them came on fast breaks.
The shooting will be Brown’s swing ability in the NBA. When discussing drafting Brown last month, Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank mentioned Brown’s ascension to a player who made 51-of-112 3s (45.5 percent) as a senior last season multiple times. Brown made just 49-of-207 3s (23.7 percent) in his first three years at Missouri; his ability to make shots from the perimeter will be under scrutiny as a young player.
But what makes Brown unique is that his offense isn’t limited to just waiting for shots. Frank also mentioned how Missouri head coach Dennis Gates had Brown in a “Princeton offense on steroids type of approach, five out” system that had Brown doing a little bit of everything. Brown was a center last season at Missouri after being a power forward under Cuonzo Martin, and Gates had Brown in traditional big man actions like post-ups and setting screens. But Brown was also in isolation and running pick-and-rolls as a ball carrier as well.
“It definitely gives me an advantage just because I can play both sides,” Brown shared Athletics about his versatile use in college. “I know what to look for when I get going with the ball and what to look for when I get going without the ball. So it’s definitely a unique thing.”
The Clippers haven’t utilized Brown’s ability to create offense as much when facing the basket. But what they have done is use Brown’s 250-pound frame to open up plays as a post option. Brown’s lone field goal Friday against the 76ers that wasn’t a spot up jump shot, in transition, or off an offensive rebound came on a layup in the first quarter that resulted in a successful floater as Brown swept across the court. Before that, the Clippers let Brown work in the post on their first possession, and Brown pulled his lone shooting foul out of it.
Brown’s ability to shoot, dribble, pass, play inside and play outside opens up a wide range of options for himself and his teammates. Over his final two seasons at Missouri, Brown averaged 2.5 assists per game. match; he improved from 2.3 turnovers per game as a junior under Martin to 1.6 turnovers per game as a senior under Gates. Brown’s feel for the game is an asset. It was also on display Friday against the 76ers, when he used the threat of his jumper to drive from the corner and feed center Bryson Williams for a dunk as he drew help away from the rim.
Now, offensively, you can see how Brown can be a complete player. It may not matter what position he is in. And that’s the feedback Brown got from the Clippers when they drafted him.
“Talking to coaches and stuff, they never really said they wanted me to come in and be a big man,” Brown shared. Athletics. “But they said they wanted me to come in and be like a versatile player who can play the big man if he needs to and maybe 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 as well. Just play anywhere on the floor, really. They never gave me a specific position. They want me to play everything.”
This reminded me of my conversations with Terance Mann. Teams will throw players on the floor to be positionless – filling multiple roles in an offense and guarding multiple positions with a variety of players – but sometimes that leaves players without a position to excel at. And this is the reality: as skilled as Brown is, he’s not going to guard point guards anytime soon. He is primarily a power forward with the ability to slide to the middle. In today’s NBA, the power forward spot comes with increased perimeter defensive demands, but is it still played by larger bodies.
At 6-foot-7 with an average vertical leap at best (32 inches, the lowest of any first-round pick on the NBA combine), Brown isn’t expected to be a strong deterrent at the rim. His 0.5 blocks (0.4 as a senior last season) at Missouri conveys that. Brown doesn’t have exceptional movement skills either. Brown wants to maximize his 250-pound frame as a pro while making the most of the athletic ability he has.
“It’s mostly muscle — I’m more concerned about my body fat percentage compared to how much I weigh,” Brown shared Athletics. “Right now it’s mostly muscles, so I’m just trying to maintain that and be able to work together with the trainers. Could move with this amount of muscle. But it helps give me an edge, helps me protect bigger guys versus being smaller and trying to fight some stronger guys. So I’ll definitely continue, probably just being this size.”
What Brown does have is a massive wingspan (nearly 7-foot-1, the second-longest measurement at the combine among first-round picks behind Jarace Walker), and Clippers summer league head coach Dahntay Jones has praised Brown for his understanding of what the Clippers have. want to do defensive. Brown always had active hands at Missouri, averaging 1.1 steals per game in his career and 1.5 steals per game last season as a senior.
When Jones wants the defense to shrink the floor, this is a perfect example of Brown executing it to create a turnover. Brown’s job is to keep the ball on the same side of the floor and not let it out. As Memphis Grizzlies wing Joel Ayayi drives, Brown slides down to help. Ayayi finishes his dribble and Brown is up in passing lanes. Brown’s wing catch surprises Memphis’ offense and Brown creates free kicks for himself by creating a lively turnover.
Clearly, Brown has a long way to go before he can be considered a legitimate contender for rotation minutes. The Clippers still have far too many power forwards, something the front office intends to address at some point this offseason. Brown signed his contract the day before Independence Day, so he cannot enter into any trades until August 3rd. Ironically, the Clippers tried to include the pick that became Brown when they were close to acquiring Malcolm Brogdon from the Boston Celtics, a deal that would have also included starting power forward Marcus Morris Sr. Per Stathead, only Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Corey Kispert played more total minutes than Morris last season while having lower rates of offensive rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game. 100 possessions. Also, Morris’ 36.5 percent from 3 was the lowest of the four. Morris’ declining influence suggests his days as a starter should be over, but the Clippers have yet to adequately replace or move him.
Even without clutter on the depth chart, Brown is moving to the NBA. Frank noted on draft night that “it’s another level as good as the SEC is in terms of going to the NBA,” and the same goes for the summer league. Brown had seven fouls Friday against the 76ers while also grabbing eight rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Although the Clippers overcame a 21-point deficit in the third quarter, Brown, in a regular season game, would have been disqualified with 6:19 left to play. Instead, Brown scored as many points in the fourth quarter (13) as the entire 76ers summer team. Brown will need to show he can hold his own defensively against the right NBA offenses and personnel once the summer is over.
But so far, Brown has shown the full menu of his abilities. Whether or not Brown plays in LA’s finale Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers remains to be seen, but he has loved his teammates, coaches and front office while staying healthy — well, almost.
“I don’t mind getting hit,” Brown shared Athletics about protecting his legs like a big man without braces. “I just don’t think about it. If it happens, it happens and I just move on to the next play. I got hit in the lip last night. It swelled up on me. But you know, I’m smooth.”
(Top photo of Kobe Brown: Candice Ward/Getty Images)