The word “upside” is often used to describe a player who has the physical tools to be really good, but lacks the experience to be on that level at the current moment. Moses Brown exemplifies this quality to the nth degree.
Out of UCLA, the 7’2”, 240-pound Brown was touted for his size and activity around the rim. He pursued rebounds aggressively, finished well on offense, and defended the rim on defense. His sheer size and mobility made him an effective inside presence in college and earned him a two-way contract with the Portland Trailblazers as an undrafted rookie in 2019. He didn’t see much run over the course of his first season and signed another two-way deal with Oklahoma City in 2020. After again not seeing the floor much through the first 36 games of the 2020-21 season, he finally got his chance in game 37, just the 17th of his career.
In OKC he started showing flashes of the interior force he could one day be. For a two-week, seven-game stretch in March, Brown averaged 13.5 points and 13.4 rebounds with 1.8 blocks in 29.8 minutes per game. This included games of 21 points and 23(!) rebounds; 19 points, 12 rebounds and two steals; and 20 points and 10 rebounds while only missing one of his nine free throw attempts. He finished the season against the Clippers with the best game of his career thus far, recording 24 points, 18 rebounds, and seven blocks.
The Mavericks saw firsthand what Brown could do when they played in Oklahoma City on March 11th:
In his time in the NBA, Brown has shown clear strengths and weaknesses. On the offensive end, he has an innate ability to chase rebounds and put the ball back on the rim. His size makes him a very tough matchup inside, and he uses it well to finish in tight spaces. Outside of the paint, however, he struggles. He does not have a jump shot. In fact, he has not even attempted a three pointer in his short career. His free throw shooting has been sub-par, at 60.4 percent. He doesn’t have the kind of skill set that would allow him to effectively score outside of put-backs and catches off of feeds from his teammates.
Defensive is where he becomes especially intriguing. He averaged 1.2 blocks in the 35 games he played significant minutes in last year and, at 7’2”, provides a big body that surely alters players’ decisions at the rim. Although his dimensions and surface-level numbers say he should be a very good defender (a la Rudy Gobert), the film tells another story. Brown often takes “false steps” or moves off a direct line from the closeout to a defender. He has trouble moving his feet in space and staying in front of his man. In addition, he leaves his man routinely and has poor rotation awareness, leading to scrambles and open players for layups or threes. His shot blocking ability and length bail him out occasionally, but the basics of individual and team defense are not quite there yet.
By far the biggest question is how much Brown can improve this off-season. Learning basic defensive rotations, working on his movement in space, and developing two to three moves he can use consistently on offense will be huge for his role on the Mavericks next season.
Jason Kidd has already emphasized the importance of the team making a defensive leap forward, and Brown’s role in the rotation relies heavily on him following suit. He has the tools to be an elite shot-blocker and a tough matchup for other big men, but the foundation needs to be solidified. Learning defensive schemes, working on guarding effectively, and then practicing those over and over are key to Brown’s year-over-year development.
Brown will have plenty of support as he develops on offense. Luka Doncic, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, and the newest Mavericks assistant coach Jared Dudley are all at the Mavericks disposal and can help add different elements to Brown’s game.
Best Case Scenario
Chandler has already started working with Brown in Frisco. According to Texas Legends general manager Al Whitley, Chandler has “been helping Moses a little bit in the gym just to kind of help him get a feel for things.” In a perfect world, the Mavericks see a degree of the former Mavericks center in Brown this year: a guy who can give you energy, start against bigger teams like Philadelphia and the Lakers, be a devastating rim presence, and occasionally hit a mid-range jumper to keep the defense respectful.
He will have to come a long way to do this, but it is not out of the realm of possibility. If his shot blocking and rim-rolling outweighs his lack of defensive awareness, Kidd might have to give him 20-25 minutes a night. There were no guards on the Thunder he played with for over 80 minutes last season, so having consistent minutes with Luka Doncic will do wonders for his pick-and-roll presence. If he can be at least an average defender, you might see him take over Dwight Powell’s minutes. If he becomes a good defender, he will have a consistent role and play a big part in the Mavericks’ hopes to change the defensive culture of their team.
Worst Case Scenario
On the other side of the coin, Brown could not play at all. His defensive woes and lack of offensive skill set outside the paint could hold him back so much that he is simply unplayable, much like a Boban Marjanovic.
With the Mavericks’ plethora of big men, Brown could be expendable in a deal for a player like Goran Dragic. He is a raw talent, but if he doesn’t smooth out some of his bumps this off-season, consistent minutes could be a pipe dream for the 21 year-old.
Moses Brown is a young, intriguing big man with tons of upside. He could eventually play a role like Tyson Chandler did on the 2011 Mavericks, but to reach that point would require a lot of work. He will most likely get sporadic minutes until he shores up a few gaping holes in his game. Because he is just 21 years old, there is no reason to believe he cannot be a really good center in a couple years. He is raw but talented and possesses the abilities to make a big leap forward in the near future. You can expect him to provide a lot of fun moments this upcoming season, but a consistent role in the rotation is entirely dependent on his defensive development and is probably at least half a season away.