Kemba Walker and Al Horford’s names have dominated Celtics discussions over the last week or so. The common consensus is that President of Basketball Operations (POBO) Brad Stevens swung a deal that immediately helps the Celtics and gives them future flexibility. Most of those discussions have focused on two things: future cap flexibility and the addition of another playmaking big.
Moses Brown’s name has been somewhat of an afterthought when discussing Stevens’ first foray into the trade market, as the young big man is seen as nothing more than a throw-in to make the salaries work. Nevertheless, acquiring a big man that went for 20 rebounds in a half against your team earlier in the year is nothing short of tantalizing. Factor in Brown’s youth and upside, and no one can hold your optimism against you.
Before we can begin analyzing anything, we need to take stock of Brown’s physical attributes. According to Basketball Reference, Brown measures in at 7’2’’ with a wingspan of 7’3’’. His long frame weighs in at 245 lbs and at just 21 years old, he will continue to add muscle and strength over the next few years.
With his height and limited NBA experience, we can now begin to paint a picture of reasonable expectations. Most 7-footers in the NBA aren’t floor-spacing bigs with insane mobility; there’s a reason we call those players unicorns. Instead, a more reasonable expectation is for the player to be a rim-protecting big who thrives in defensive drop coverage and is a solid screen and roller on the offensive end.
With all that said, the areas of Brown’s game we’re going to explore today are as follows: defensive mobility, defensive IQ, rim protection, rebounding, and pick-and-roll offense. Excelling in those areas and developing a high motor are the keys to succeeding as a rim-running and rim-protecting big in the modern NBA.
After watching every one of Brown’s defensive possessions from last season, it quickly became apparent that he possesses high-level vertical quickness but comes with serious question marks around his lateral mobility.
Watch Brown closes on this play. Take note of how many steps he needs to take when changing direction before he’s able to commit to the close-out on Evan Fournier. It’s akin to watching an ice skater as they’re building up speed. I count three steps from when the ball hits Fournier’s hands to when Brown is steady enough on his feet to begin challenging the shot. But maybe he simply lost his footing, right?
The same story unfolds in this play. Brown requires a step or two to position his body before entering into a close-out. Luckily, due to his size and length, Brown’s inability to change direction quickly can be offset, but it’s a skill set that’s in drastic need of improvement.
Now, when talking about lateral quickness, it’s fair to envision it as a player’s ability to slide his feet quickly while moving side-to-side. Still, if Brown is ever in the position, the defense has broken down beyond the realm of belief. We should seldom see Brown sliding his feet with guards or wings on the perimeter, which is why I’m placing a premium on him improving his change of direction speeds.
So, there’s the bad, now what about the good?
At 7’2”, the Celtics youngest big will be utilized almost exclusively in drop defense, where a premium is placed on a player’s ability to shuttle between the helplines and cover ground quickly when bursting towards a shooter. The primary requirement here is vertical quickness: an ability to promptly change pace while moving in straight lines, either forward or backward. Moses Brown projects to be a high-value drop defender due to his ability to cover ground quickly when driving in straight lines.
Not every closeout can block or alter a player’s shot release, and the above play is an excellent example of that. However, the distance that Brown covers between catch and release is worth noting. Throughout last season, the UCLA alum challenged multiple shots in similar scenarios and came away with looking respectable in his ability to block or alter shots.
In this play, we see Brown stay in front of Joe Ingles and the rolling Rudy Gobert. Not only did the second-year big successfully maintain his positioning while keeping the ball handler in his sights, but he also successfully tracked Gobert and rotated his body as the pass occurred. Here’s where the actual value of straight-line mobility comes into play for an arc-type like Brown. Being able to contain ball-handlers while ensuring the roller doesn’t get a dominant position will be critical to earning minutes during his early career.
Brown has displayed a poor understanding of help defense when dragged closer to the perimeter, as he consistently helps off his man. As a defender, you have two types of situations, ones that are under control and ones that can classify as an emergency. The urgent help situations allude to the fact that a ball-handler or cutter has got the better of their man, and help defense is required to kill any offensive advantage. Even when urgent help is needed, there are still rules to follow, yet Brown tends to throw caution to the wind regardless of the situation.
The above play doesn’t technically quantify as help defense, but the principles of the defensive possession remain the same. Terrance Mann snakes off a pick-and-roll, dragging his defender with him and opening up oceans of space in the extended mid-range area before giving the ball to Jay Scrubb, who attacks the room. Here’s where the issues occur. Jaylen Hoard immediately begins to close out on Scrubb, allowing Brown to focus on containing Daniel Oturu. But Brown has other ideas and decides to close out on Scrubb himself, forcing Aleksej Pokusevski to rotate over.
Scrubb reads the double closeout and hits Oturu with a jump pass before Brown redeems himself by stuffing the Clippers’ big-mans attempt at the rim. A bail-out play that papered over the lack of communication between teammates and the poor decision-making by the Thunder’s rim protector. Against better opposition, that’s a bucket or a foul: they’re lucky this was the Clippers bench unit.
Luckily for the New York native, his shot-blocking ability can bail him out of these mistakes when close to the rim, but what about if they happen on the interior? Here’s where things become more encouraging. Brown’s size and length ensure that he’s an impactful help defender around the paint and across the low helpline, as he consistently deters drives and punishes those brave enough to test their luck.
Here we have Moses Brown protecting the paint just below the free-throw line with Oturu looking to do work on Josh Hall following a post entry pass. Brown holds his position to ensure any kick-out doesn’t result in an unimpeded drive through the middle yet remains aware of the action happening down low. As Oturu cooks Hall, Brown is there as the helper and immediately nullifies the offensive possession.
The disparity between helping on the perimeter and helping in the paint isn’t something that should come as a shock, and most drop bigs are more helpful around the rim than on the perimeter. However, we can take solace because Brown’s mistakes with over helping or cheating off his man are very coachable concerns.
Another aspect of Brown’s defensive IQ is his ability to read the passing lanes, which has resulted in the big averaging just shy of a steal per game with 0.7. In just his second year as a pro, the 245 lb center has developed a nose for pilfers, leading me to label him as a pass deterrent around the restricted area.
Rebounding & Rim Protection
At 7’2”, Moses Brown should have no problem cleaning the glass on either end of the floor or punishing anyone brazen enough to challenge his shot-blocking capabilities. However, it’s not like we’ve never seen giants who struggle to own their space during box-outs and fail to live up to their potential as a rim protector. Encouragingly, Brown has been a dominant force on both the offensive and defensive glass this past season, even pulling down 20 rebounds in a single half against Boston earlier this year. Heck, that performance is an enormous part of why Celtics fans are so excited to see his development continue at the TD Garden.
That excitement is well placed in regards to rebounding. In 43 total games for the Thunder last season, the 21-year-old averaged 8.9 rebounds per game, with 3.6 of those rebounds coming on the defensive end. Quite frankly, Brown has the potential to become the best rebounder Boston has had in the last 15 or so years. Add the project big’s 1.1 blocks per game to the equation, and now we’re cooking with gas. He’s happy to pull down boards on either end of the court from missed free throws; just take a look at his percentile rankings for rebounding courtesy of Cleaning The Glass.
After watching the tape, the most encouraging aspect of Brown’s board dominance is how willing he is to battle his opponents on the glass. There’s something to be said about getting easy rebounds, you know, those long ones that seemingly find their way to you, but the hard miles are what separates true board-men.
Possessions like the one above, where the newly acquired center is fighting for every rebound despite failing to convert his put-back attempts, should endear him to Boston. Brown’s never-say-die attitude displayed on the boards this past season bodes well for his development as a rim runner and offensive fail-safe when Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown are working through shooting slumps.
Want to get even more excited? Of Brown’s 8.9 rebounds per contest, 4.5 of them were contested, meaning the big man won the battle of the boards 50.7% of the time. Considering last season was the first legitimate playing time the big-man had at the NBA level, going 1-for-1 in rebounding battles isn’t a bad start, and as he continues to add nuance to his game along with increasing his muscle density, we should see him winning more battles than he loses for a long time to come.
Looking at the rebounding numbers is great fun, yet another aspect of Brown’s glass dominance sticks out as a highly tantalizing prospect. Throughout last season, 33.8% of the young big-man’s offense came courtesy of put-backs, where he turned 188 attempts into 232 points and 25 shooting fouls.
Right now, Brown’s ball control is somewhat haphazard, with him attempting to slap the ball back in the net rather than flush it with a dunk or rely on a second jump to get the job done. However, when a third of your offensive impact comes on second-chance points, you’re going to find yourself earning minutes on even the deepest of rosters.
Similar to his rebounding prowess, Brown doesn’t disappoint in his rim-protecting abilities. Utilizing his size and athleticism, the Celtics latest acquisition controls the paint and sets the tone defensively.
“He’s a great kid. Guys are gonna love him in the locker room. He listens, he’s all about the team. He’s trying to play the right way,” Al Horford told the media during his re-introduction press conference.
For a Thunder team that was short on talent last season, Brown proved to be an anchor around the rim, and despite his flaws when dragged outside the paint, managed to string together multiple outings with Robert Williams-type block numbers.
The difference between Williams and Brown is that Williams relies on his awe-inspiring athleticism to swat shots away, while his new teammate relies on sound positioning and a quick bounce to contest even the highest of arcing shots. The scary part is that as Brown continues to develop and becomes savvier to NBA offenses, his shot-blocking impact could continue to improve.
According to Instat’s tracking data, Moses Brown participated as the roll man 97 times last season, accounting for 117 points while also drawing 18 shooting fouls: he only committed one turnover in these possessions too, which is encouraging.
Brown projects as a solid screener who utilizes both contact screens and slip screens to generate offensive looks for his team. As things stand, it’s implausible we begin to see any sort of short-roll offense from the young center, but his 65 points off 46 transition possessions project as a valuable rim runner when coupling them with his pick-and-roll numbers.
Simple pick-and-roll possessions such as the one above were Brown’s bread and butter last season; however, it’s plausible to believe that with more talented playmakers around him, he will be able to operate in screening sets such as Chicago or veer. Beyond screen playmaking, the second-year big is a natural vertical spacer that teams can seldom leave unchecked as he rolls to the hoop.
Brown is usually cutting diagonally towards the strongside dunker spot when he’s not peeling off screens to get downhill or bounding down the floor in transition. In the above play, we can see how the Thunder’s big man causes panic once he receives the rock, creating a defensive collapse before selling the shot and finishing with a flush.
Another question you might be asking yourself is, “well, does Moses Brown have any sort of jump shot?” Unfortunately, the answer is “we don’t know yet.” In his 43 games this year, Instat tracked Brown taking three jumpers, with only one of them being more than four feet away from the rim, he missed two of those three attempts including the one genuine mid-range attempt.
What we do have though, is a body of work to examine with floaters, of which Brown took 40 and converted 9.
Mechanically speaking there’s not much wrong with the young big man’s form, instead the issues lie with his release which is either too strong or too soft. As he gets more reps with this shot type we should begin to see a true representation of what to expect from him in the mid-range area. It’s also worth noting that Brown seldom opted to attempt these floater shots, and used them as a final shot in the dark when defenses took away his driving lanes instead.
Moses Brown projects as a throwback big man with athleticism and a motor worth investing in. While he will likely never become a stretch five or reach the heights of rim runners such as Clint Capela, there’s a high chance he becomes a valuable bench big-man capable of giving you a nightly double-double in points and rebounds.
The defensive limitations on the perimeter and in the mid-range area are offset by Brown’s ability to deter rim attempts and block shots at a high clip. The issues with over-helping in non-urgent situations and failing to track his man during rotations are all coachable issues for the young big, making his lateral quickness/ability to change directions at speed the only real knock on his defensive upside.
On offense, Brown’s motor in transition, coupled with his thirst for converting second-chance points, project to give the Celtics a new dimension when new head coach Ime Udoka chooses to go big with his rotations. However, the lack of spacing or creation Brown provides could become an issue with him earning consistent rotation minutes as the league favors multi-faceted bigs.
Moses Brown's motor is absolutely unreal for him being a 7'2, 245 pound big. Just blew past everyone in transition to score off of a Zavier Simpson bullet pass.— Ridiculous Upside (@RidicUpside) February 17, 2021
It does feel like we’re in for some frustrating nights from the Celtics’ latest big in the upcoming season, with defensive lapses and gimme dunks squandered. Yet, there’s also hope that at his current floor, the Celtics have landed an athletic 7-foot version of Enes Kanter.
As a throw-in to the Horford trade, the Celtics may have received a viable second or third big in the rotation for the next 5-8 years. Brown’s never going to bang with the likes of Joel Embiid or lock up the Nikola Jokic’s of the world, but against secondary center’s he should be just fine once he improves his touch around the rim and works out some of the kinks in his defense.
Regardless how Brown’s development pans out over the next 12-18 months, Brad Stevens has added a young project big that projects to be a long-term rotation piece in the NBA, that’s not bad going for your first ever trade.