When discussing the best defensive players in the EuroLeague, fans often mention Thomas Walkup and Walter Tavares. While they are undoubtedly among the elite stoppers in the league, John Brown III deserves more recognition in this category.
The American has humble roots both in terms of his personal and basketball life. Brown grew up in poverty in government housing in Jacksonville, Florida, moving through various one-bedroom apartments with his mother, grandmother, and little brother.
The forward played college ball for High Point University, a Division I team in the NCAA. However, their Wikipedia page lists Gene Littles and Arizona Reid along with Brown as their most notable basketball alumni. Have you ever heard of Littles or Reid? I, for one, haven’t…
After being hampered by injuries and not being selected in the 2016 NBA draft, Brown played just 12 minutes in one game for the Charlotte Hornets during the NBA Summer League. At this point, starting his professional career in Europe wasn’t a choice for Brown; it was a necessity.
By the way, Brown’s college highlights paint a picture of the next Vince Carter, including high-flying alley-oops and dunks showcasing his impressive leaping ability. Of course, dunking is much sexier than playing hard defense and drawing offensive fouls.
Brown’s college highlights:
The Path of Many
Brown spent his first two European seasons in Italy’s second division, Serie A2. While being one of the strongest second divisions on the Old Continent, perhaps the second best behind Spain’s LEB Oro, it is still a second division. Yet many players have reached the EuroLeague starting their European adventure at a (relatively) low level.
Let’s take Kyle Hines, for example. The four-time EuroLeague champion and one of the best defensive players ever seen in the league also started from Serie A2. Or Valencia’s Chris Jones, whose first professional contract was in Mongolia. MONGOLIA! Or Baskonia’s Chima Moneke, whose road to the EuroLeague started from France’s second division.
In a way, Brown is an atypical American in European basketball. Usually, players from the States are brought in to be their team’s top offensive weapons and literally score their team to victory. Sure, Brown can get buckets, but his dominance shows itself in another form.
Brown dominating at Serie A2:
A Defensive Juggernaut
First of all, let’s look at Brown’s defensive statistics. He has played three EuroLeague seasons – one with Unics Kazan and two with his current team Monaco – and has averaged two defensive rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 0.1 blocks over 90 games.
Sure, 1.6 steals sound nice, but steals are not always a definitive indicator of a player’s overall defensive abilities, as they might result from gambling and taking too many risks on defense.
So why is Brown regarded so highly in defense? Here’s where advanced statistics come in handy. When the 32-year-old American is on the court, Monaco makes 4.5 steals per game, and opponents turn the ball over on 19.67% of their possessions. Both are elite-tier statistics, just like the fact that when Brown plays, Monaco limits their opponents to 43.75 field goal and free throw attempts combined per game.
Brown’s defensive highlights from this season:
Statistics are just one way of measuring whether someone is a good defender or not. Brown’s defensive intangibles don’t reflect on the box score, but they do make a difference for Monaco trying to lock their defense.
For example, Brown is probably the best offensive foul drawers in the EuroLeague. Thanks to a very high level of defensive awareness and basketball IQ, the American can position himself so that the opposing ball handler simply has no other choice but to run him over and cause a turnover. Or Brown is floored, with the opposing player really having no clue how Monaco’s defensive star managed to get in front of him.
One thing that’s brought up a lot is Brown’s mental toughness. Brown’s high energy and fearlessness stem from losing a close family member. He had a dream to suit up in college in front of his grandmother’s eyes, but when she died, Brown realized that you could never know when someone might be watching you play for the last time. So he decided to go all-out at every opportunity in her honor, per Sports Illustrated.
Brown’s agent, David Gasman, said to BasketNews that his client burns to win. “He told me once early in our relationship that people often ask him how do you defend everyone and how do you stay at 100% effort for so long. He said, ‘My stamina and body aren’t special… I just try harder, and I push past being tired.'”
In many ways, Brown is the ultimate glue guy. Someone who can take down the opposing offensive superstar, whether he is a guard or a forward, rebounds the ball well, and can have nights on offense where everything seems to fall in. Just like in EuroLeague’s Round 25 this season, when Brown scored 15 points from seven of nine attempts from two-point range.
Brown dives for every loose ball, makes defensive stops, covers positions from point guard to center, hedges even the most skilled and quick ball handlers in the EuroLeague, has an endless amount of energy, and is most concerned with his team winning the game. Might remind you of a certain NBA star, right?
Some voices in the European basketball media have called Brown the Draymond Green of the EuroLeague. After all, the four-time NBA champion shares many similarities with Brown in his game and passion for basketball. Fortunately for his opponents in the EuroLeague though, Brown doesn’t have a tendency to try to knock anyone out.
Also, there were the same concerns regarding Brown and Green. With their atypical style of play and height that seemed too small for some positions and too big for others, where could they fit on the court?
The reality is that some players simply cannot be defined by a position. They are positionless.