Bruce Brown might be the immovable object the Nuggets have needed for years.
A defensive Swiss Army knife, Brown doesn’t budge. The 26-year-old is a ball of muscle, with the energy of a wind-up toy.
Monday night’s preseason exhibition against Phoenix showcased why Nuggets coach Michael Malone insisted the team sign him in free agency. Brown hounded All-NBA guard Devin Booker into a 5-of-17 shooting night, including just 2-of-9 from the 3-point line.
His challenges were as relentless as his competitiveness.
“I thought his defense on Devin Booker was outstanding,” Malone said.
Malone recalled talking with Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth on the phone this summer and debating the additions of various free agents. There was an understanding among both men that Denver desperately needed to improve its defense.
“When I realized that Bruce was still available, that was, ‘Hey man, this is a guy that we need,’” Malone said late Monday night after the Nuggets secured their first win of the preseason.
Brown, whose defensive efforts earned him his first Defensive Player of the Game chain (with many more likely to come), was integral on both ends of the court.
DPOG chain go burr 🥶 pic.twitter.com/EGfZbxn5lW
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 11, 2022
When Booker tried to back him down early in the third quarter, repeatedly bludgeoning his shoulder into Brown’s chest, the Nuggets’ stocky guard barely moved.
“The first bump I was like, ‘Alright, you got me,’” Brown said. “The second one I was like, ‘Alright, I know what you’re trying to do. I’m not moving on the third one.’”
When Brown was whistled for the shooting foul, he took off down the court biting his jersey in exasperation.
“I don’t think I ever foul, but I’m a defender, so I foul a lot,” he joked. Whether the call was right or not, Brown’s mentality is exactly what the Nuggets have been lacking.
“You might score on him, but he’s not gonna back down,” Malone said.
Through two preseason games, Denver’s much-maligned defense looked awful. Amid the schematic breakdowns, there were effort plays, too, that popped when the team pored over game film.
That’s not Brown. The guy who was asked to guard every single position the last two seasons in Brooklyn knows where his bread is buttered. If Malone could bottle up Brown’s scrambling, multiple efforts and disperse it among the rest of the roster, Denver might meet its stated goal of becoming a top-five defense. Until then, he’s just going to have to set the example.
When asked about the team’s lackadaisical approach to defense early in the preseason, he reinforced a message that no doubt pleased his coach.
“There’s no magic switch,” he said.
The habits bleed into consistency, which is all the more pressing on a team full of new rotation players.
Still, pigeonholing him as a versatile, defensive chess piece would be selling his game short. Yes, he’s a switchable guard who acts as insurance for Bones Hyland, or even as high up on the position chart as forward Michael Porter Jr., but he’s also a crafty point guard when given the opportunity. Last season, Brown buried 40% of his 3-pointers. Two seasons earlier, he was a stalwart in the starting lineup for the Detroit Pistons, where he tallied a career-high four assists per game.
It’s not that he can’t do it; it’s just not what the Nets asked of him.
Against the Suns, Malone said he made a concerted effort to get him on the ball where he can create and play-make, thus polishing one more tool in his belt.
“I’m a guard again,” he said with a smile. “I’m loving it.”