The Bucks have had an outstanding 2018-2019 season, winning 60 games and establishing themselves as a true contender for an NBA championship. There’s lots of credit to go around: Giannis Antetokounmpo is a leading candidate for MVP, Mike Budenholzer will probably win coach of the year, and Khris Middleton made his first All Star game. However, an underrated element to the Bucks’ season has been the improvement of their young players. Perhaps the most crucial of those players has been Sterling Brown.
Brown was a second round pick of the Bucks in the 2017 NBA draft, and was a player I quite liked due to his do-it-all play in college. He immediately got rotation minutes on the Bucks in the 2017-2018 season, and showed flashes of being a competent “3 and D” type guard. However, he faded from the rotation towards the end of the season as interim coach Joe Prunty went with a vet-heavy approach to the postseason. Coming into the 2018-2019 season with Budenholzer, expectations for the Bucks were raised, but Brown wasn’t necessarily considered a key piece to the Bucks’ success.
Sterling Brown has not been an integral player for the Bucks, playing in just 57 (soon to be 58) games, and averaging 17.8 minutes per game. These numbers are barely higher than his rookie season, which were at 54 and 14.4 respectively. However, Brown has stepped up his play in several notable areas: he’s getting to the line more, taking more threes, and dishing out more assists. He’s scoring at a better rate both within and outside the arc, increasing his shooting from 40/35.2 splits to 46.9/37.1. That increase has been good for a TS% jump from 50.3% to 56.7%. Importantly, Brown’s assist% has also made a big leap, going from 4.5% to 10%. For a guy without standout athleticism or skills, scoring efficiently and being a decent playmaker will go a long way towards securing Brown’s NBA future.
|Category||Sterling Brown – 2018-19||Sterling Brown – 2017-18|
|One on One||C+||56.9%||C||50.4%|
|Among: Guards, >500 MP – 584 Players|
As seen in the graphic above, Brown has improved in 8 out of 11 of BBall Index’s grade categories compared to guards who have received 500 minutes or more, including substantial steps forward in perimeter shooting, finishing, and playmaking. Of the three areas where he declined, two of them aren’t all that important for guards: roll gravity and offensive rebounding. He’s essentially improved in many key areas, and while he’s not quite great at anything except for defensive rebounding, he’s become solid in many areas. A jack-of-all trades, master-of-none.
Advanced stats aren’t quite as kind to Brown. His RPM and PIPM have both declined from his rookie season to this season (though not significantly so), showing that his impact might not be as positive overall even with improved individual stats. On the other hand, his BPM and WS/48 have improved fairly substantially, seeing him rise from a well below-average player to a replacement level piece. Again, not great, but it’s possible his impact has decreased more because of how great the Bucks have been this season, and how superior their starting lineup has been in particular. When Brown comes in, he’s replacing really good players in Malcolm Brogdon or Khris Middleton, so it’s not surprising the Bucks are worse off with him on the court than off.
As the Bucks age into being a perennial contender around Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, and (presumably) Middleton, they will need cheap role players to fit in around them and relieve the costs of paying big money to the stars. This season, Sterling Brown has firmly showed that he can be one of those players, and could be a nice piece for the Bucks for years to come.