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Film Room: Sterling “Not Just Downtown” Brown has Leveled Up his Playmaking

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Sterling Brown has quietly turned himself into a steady playmaker for the Milwaukee Bucks.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Pass. Shoot. Dribble. Those are the three skills Milwaukee Bucks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer values most in his players. It has helped create a balanced lineup behind mega-star Giannis Antetokounmpo and consistently keep defenses on their heels. Until recently, Sterling Brown often struggled in the passing department.

In 50 games as a rookie in 2017-18, his 4.6 percent assist percentage ranked in the sixth percentile among wings according to Cleaning the Glass. He also never recorded more than two assists in any game. That is abysmal and basically reflected what that coaching staff expected out of him; stand in the corners and shoot threes. Fortunately, Brown has taken a nice step forward in his second year and registered an assist percentage of 10.5 percent this season. Even though it won’t jump off the page at you, leaping into mediocrity is a good start for the reserve wing.

Brown took his playmaking to another level to close the season and accrued at least three assists in six of the final eight games. Not bad for someone who averaged 1.4 assists per game this year. Then, in Sunday night’s obliteration of the Detroit Pistons, Brown went bonkers and recorded a career-high seven dimes.

Even though a couple of them were in the “Give Giannis Antetokounmpo the ball and get the heck out of the way” variety, Brown still displayed good decision making:

As he caught the pass from George Hill on the wing, Brook Lopez was waiting to set a ball screen. After a slight hesitation and rip through, Brown begun attacking toward Andre Drummond’s outside shoulder. Instead of dishing it to the rolling Lopez after one dribble, he used a second one to legitimize himself as a scoring threat. This forced Drummond to completely commit to stopping the ball handler and opened up a window for Brown to lay the ball in to Lopez.

This type of assertiveness is a welcomed addition to Brown’s game. In the past, he had been hesitant to create for himself or his teammates, instead choosing to rely on others to make something happen.

His ability to handle the rock and dish to his teammates was impressive on Sunday night. Equally as remarkable was his ability to do so without turning the ball over. He’s certainly feeling himself when it comes to dropping dimes and rightfully so:

As the fourth quarter began, the Bucks were simply looking to continue their momentum and assure Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe didn’t have to return to the game. That’s when Brown looped in his partner in crime, D.J. Wilson, to lock it down.

Brown caught the swing pass from Tim Frazier on the left wing this time. Wilson quickly followed a down screen with a pick for the ball-handler. And eerily similar to the first video, Brown used a hesitation and rip through to get things started. He once again dragged the play out and and forced Zaza Pachulia to stop him on his way to the hoop. Once Pachulia committed, he dropped a gorgeous pocket pass to Wilson who finished with a floater over the top.

Now that we’ve seen Brown demonstrate he can make plays in the flow of the scripted offense, how about when things get hectic? That’s when it really gets challenging.

With guys all over the floor and the defense in scramble mode, it can be difficult to quickly assess the situation. Fortunately, Brown has no trouble doing so on this clip. He catches the pass in the corner and attacks Thon Maker’s undisciplined closeout. Once he gets into the lane, he runs into another Pistons’ defender. Instead of trying to force up a shot, he underhands the ball to Bledsoe in the paint who then uses a pump fake to get Drummond off his feet and scores.

This confident and aggressive Brown is a welcome sight to everyone on the Bucks. He’ll be guarded by the opposing teams weakest perimeter defender and the opportunities will be endless. If he can be smart and pick his spots, Milwaukee will be a much better team because of it.

With Malcolm Brogdon out until at least the second round of the playoffs, it will be up to guys like Brown to pick up the slack. If he can continue to demonstrate an ability to make smart decisions in scripted and non-scripted plays alike, Budenholzer will slowly assign him more responsibilities. And, at this point, Brown’s proven he’s ready to handle that and more.