If Justin Brownlee were two inches taller, he’d have a great shot at being a rotation player in the NBA. As it stands, he still might make it, but things aren’t easy for him.
A classic tweener forward, Brownlee stands at 6’7”, and while such Brobdingnagian stature results in Brownlee towering over the general populace, it puts him in a tough place as a professional basketball player. While he’s been listed as a “forward” everywhere he’s been, for all intents and purposes he’s been a power forward, but he doesn’t quite have the size to match with the behemoths in the NBA.
Yet Brownlee has no room for anyone’s pity. What he lacks in height for his position, Brownlee more than makes up for with an incredible work ethic and, perhaps more importantly, a solid understanding of what it will take to break into the league for good. For Justin Brownlee, the three is the key.
“If I was to go to the NBA, I’d definitely have to knock down some shots,” Brownlee said on Sunday night in Las Vegas. “So that’s how I have to elevate my game and that’s what I have to improve on.” Brownlee knows all too well that in the association, he’d likely be a small forward — and in today’s game, playing on the wing means being able to knock down the long-ball.
During his 2011-12 stint with the Maine Red Claws, Brownlee did not shy away from letting fly from behind the arc. He lofted 3.3 triples per 36 minutes that season, but he converted at just under a 30% clip. For even the greatest players, such shooting from deep can become a problem (see: Dwyane Wade). For someone on the fringes of the league such as Justin Brownlee, it can spell repeated stints in the D-League and summers spent in Las Vegas.
That repetition has its advantages, however. Within the context of the D-League, Brownlee was able to work on his outside shooting and develop that aspect of his game. In 2013-14, his improved form secured Brownlee a spot with the Erie BayHawks, and he took advantage of the opportunity. Brownlee took 5.0 triples per 36 last season, and his dedication to improving his game paid off big time — his three-point shooting jumped to a 37.5% clip. Maybe some of that is overachievement, and Brownlee might see a bit of regression next year. But discount the genuine improvement — and all of his effort to get there — at your own risk; Brownlee knows that he’s an improved shooter, and he has the D-League to thank. On his time in the D-League, Brownlee said, “I think it’s helped a lot, just helping me get comfortable to the NBA and just gettin a lot of reps. Getting a lot of games in. Just helping me elevate my game and get my prepared if I make it that next level of the NBA.”
If he makes it, indeed, for Brownlee still has many miles to go before he rests on his laurels. But one can count on Justin Brownlee to make every possible effort to become the best basketball player he can be. He’s shown it in the D-League, and here’s hoping he’ll get a chance to show it in the NBA.