If you had told me four years ago we’d be watching Kobe Brown get his name called as a first round NBA Draft pick, well, I’ll just say I would have been skeptical.
At the time Brown, a 6’7 220 hybrid forward, was the lowest rated of the three freshmen commits for the 2019 class behind Mario McKinney, Jr. and Tray Jackson. He was ranked 239th in the country after being rated in the top 100 a few years earlier. But Brown and his family have always been practical about his skill and development. Coming in at Missouri he was more advanced with his ball handling and Basketball IQ than either of his freshmen teammates. That preparedness for the collegiate game led him to being the early favorite to start, something he did 118 times in 123 college games.
What Brown was good at though, was taking advantage of mismatches, and attacking the rim. As a freshman Brown excelled at the rim, but a high turnover rate and poor outside shooting kept his overall efficiency down. As a sophomore he improved (not from outside however) by being even stronger at the rim and trimming his turnovers. On the court though he was deferring to players like Dru Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon, Xavier Pinson, and Mark Smith. As a junior he was given the keys. Granted, the team was bad, but Brown decidedly wasn’t and he earned All-SEC honors.
The down year led Mizzou to part ways with Cuonzo Martin, the man who recruited Brown and made him the centerpiece his last season. When Mizzou hired Dennis Gates there was a fair amount of speculation that Brown would enter the transfer portal. But he stayed.
Staying turned into a smart decision for Brown. His fit with Gates turned into a very good one as Gates was able to unlock the one area of Brown’s offensive game that still lagged behind.
As a junior Brown averaged 0.58 points per possession on jump shots. That number went to 1.32 this past season. Basically, Brown shot himself into the NBA discussion, and into the 1st round.
Once you get past the elite players at the top of the draft, all you need is one team to fall in love with you to get a good draft slot. And the Clippers obviously fell in love with Brown enough to use their 1st round pick on him. The Clippers were also not concerned with Browns’s advanced age, since they also took Miami hybrid forward Jordan Miller. Miller and Brown were the two oldest players drafted this season. And they were two of the five players 23 years of age.
So why were the Clippers so enamored? It’s easy to see the status of their roster, specifically their two stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. With Leonard and George, the Clippers are a formidable title contender, and they were the 5th seed in the West this year.
Leonard is 31 years old and in the third year of a four year contract. He’s only played in 104 games the last three years because of an ACL injury. But he’s still posted some of the best shooting numbers of his career.
Meanwhile, Paul George is 34 and entering the last year of his contract (he has a player option year in 2024-25). Due to various injuries, George missed 26 games to go with the 30 games Leonard missed. Together, the two stars played only 38 games this past season.
Missing their two stars caused the Clippers to be just okay a lot of the time. They were 17th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But they were 21st in Offensive Rebounding. Pretty much every statistical category shows a team that really needs its two stars to be healthy and playing. When Kawhi and George are on the floor, they’re probably two of the fifteen best players in the league. If the Clippers are going to compete for a Championship this upcoming season, no player in the middle of the draft is going to put them over the top. But healthy stars can get them there.
What the Clippers were looking for were supplemental pieces to help make life easier on Leonard and Paul. There were probably more talented 19 year olds with higher upsides, but the Clippers aren’t looking for the learning curve. They’re battling salary cap issues, so finding a way to have reliable young players on low-cost contracts who can contribute right away.
The Clippers Head Coach and Missouri native, Ty Lue, isn’t known for his reliance on younger players. He’s shown a predilection towards vets. But with Brown (and Miller both) they’ll get a rookie who has played more basketball and can be a more capable contributor. He’ll need to defend well, he’ll need to rebound. And he’ll need to be consistent on catch and shoots. Do those things and Lue, George, and Leonard will find him opportunities.
Now it’s just up to Kobe to seize the moment.