Bulls’ Troy Brown Jr. making impact with rotation opportunity

Troy Brown Jr. making impact with rotation opportunity originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Troy Brown Jr. didn’t play until the third quarter of his Bulls debut, with the team trailing the San Antonio Spurs by 28 points. He impressed from there, notching eight points and three assists in 14 minutes as the team flirted with a massive comeback, but Billy Donovan’s initial impressions of his outing were telling.

“He (Brown) wasn’t, like, I would consider a rotation player. We got down by a large margin,” Donovan said after the game, adding that he thought Brown’s minutes were quality. “We’ll see going forward, but it was good to at least get a lot of those new guys on the floor in the first game.”

Just over two weeks later, Brown has become a fixture in Donovan’s rotations as a defensive-minded wing presence in the absence of Garrett Temple, who’s missed seven straight games with a hamstring strain.

“Troy’s done a really nice job for us,” Donovan said before Sunday’s loss to the Timberwolves. “I think he’s been reliable defensively. I think he’s finding his way offensively of where his spots would be.”

Brown played closing minutes in that contest, the second time in nine games he’s done so (along with an Easter Sunday win over the Brooklyn Nets in which he guarded Kyrie Irving for stretches). In 22 well-earned minutes, he stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal, shooting 6-for-7 from the field and 3-for-3 from 3-point range.

“It’s a blessing. Especially me coming from Washington, I’m just trying to make the most out of my minutes,” Brown said of the opportunity. “It’s very cool that the Bulls took a chance on me. I’m just trying to work my butt off, make some shots, just making an impact on the game, all the little stuff. The shots will come. But I’m not really worried about those at the end of the day.”

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Brown was acquired in a trade deadline move ancillary to the Nikola Vučević blockbuster — a three-team deal with the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics that saw him, Daniel Theis and Javonte Green come in, and Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison and Luke Kornet head out.

But his intrigue always stood out. The Washington Wizards drafted the 21-year-old wing 15th overall in the 2018 draft, and he showed flashes as a perimeter defender and shot-creator in his first two seasons. Yet he was curiously cast out from Scott Brooks’ rotation in his third year even before being traded, a development that Brown said mystified him.

“The hardest thing in Washington (with the Wizards) was I didn’t know what would get me on the court. Like if I scored, if I assisted, if I played defense, it was hard for me to figure it out,” Brown said after the Nets game. “First day I got here I talked to Coach Donovan and he told me, ‘Hey I need defense right now.’”

Brown can’t solve the Bulls’ defensive woes overnight — they’re 25th in defensive rating and 29th in opponent field goal percentage since the deadline — but his motor has been a refreshing addition. Over a small, eight-appearance sample, he’s averaging 6.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, bearing out his reputation as a glass-attacker. He fights through screens, has a knack for hustle plays and can guard multiple positions — all needed qualities on this Bulls roster. And, while concerns over his outside shot aren’t quelled long-term, he’s shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 7-for-16 from 3-point range since the trade.

“With Garrett (Temple) being out, we’ve gotta get another perimeter defender. And I think he’s done a good job of guarding a lot of different people,” Donovan said before the Timberwolves game. “In the offseason I think, focus on his body. Getting physically stronger is important. I think his ballhandling and playing in pick-and-roll will be important. And then obviously him being able to shoot the basketball.

“I think he’s got really good upside. He’s a great guy. I think he wants to be a really good player. I think he’ll put the work and the time in.”

Brown’s place in the rotation isn’t surefire, though he appears to have supplanted Denzel Valentine, who’s played 16 total minutes in the Bulls’ last four games. Sunday was just Brown’s second game over 20 minutes with the Bulls, and Temple’s eventual return will add another defensive wing (who Donovan has displayed trust in) to the fold.

Still, already under contract for next season, Brown has showed enough to win many Bulls fans over, and make an impact when called upon.

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