Philadelphia 76ers: Longevity is just a shot away for Charlie Brown Jr.

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

When the Philadelphia 76ers signed Charlie Brown Jr. to a 10-day contract back in January, it didn’t exactly elicit a ton of buzz around the Delaware Valley.

Sure, CBJ was solid enough in his initial run with the Delaware Blue Coats, having won G-League Player of the Month in his first month in the First State, but would he even earn a long enough look to make an impression? His predecessor, Tyler Johnson, didn’t, only logging 38 minutes over three games, and even with the team ravished by the effects of COVID-19, there was no guarantee CBJ would be anything more than a minor footnote in a much larger season.

But against all odds, Brown Jr. actually did make an impact and was signed by the Sixers to a two-year, two-way contract as a result.

Though his spot in Doc Rivers’ rotation was short-lived, as he didn’t log a minute in 22 of the team’s final 25 games, Daryl Morey honored Brown’s contract and shipped him off to Utah for some Summer League action with his fellow Sixers.

The results, at least in Game 1, were encouraging.

Coming off the bench as the team’s sixth man, Brown scored 15 points in 22 minutes, good for the second-most points on the team, and padded out his stats with seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals for good measure. He looked good on the defensive end of the court, too, both on-ball and as a help defender, and even played the transition game well, where his athleticism can impact breaks coming and going.

While CBJ didn’t have the same eye-popping blocks or ball-hawking steals as Jaden Springer, his defense was NBA-caliber, and he even showed a little bit of ability to move around with the ball in his hands, which isn’t really something he’ll need to do in the association but is nice nonetheless.

And yet, there’s an aspect of the game that has plagued the 25-year-old over his career thus far; a hole in his offensive portfolio that has plagued the Philadelphia native since he went undrafted out of St. Joseph’s back in 2019: 3-point shooting. If Charlie Brown Jr. can become even an average outside marksman, his spot in the Philadelphia 76ers’ rotation could be locked for years to come. If not? Well, sticking around in the NBA may prove difficult indeed.

Charlie Brown Jr. needs a shot to keep his shot with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Charlie Brown Jr.’s ideal NBA role is pretty easy to quantify. He doesn’t need to develop into a well-rounded scorer, a stepback assassin, or a Matisse Thybulle-level defender; no, all CBJ needs to be able to do is play savvy, physical defense both on and off the ball, run back in transition and then stand in the corner waiting for an open 3.

Sure there’s some wiggle room to his exact responsibilities, as Brown may prove a better matchup defender than a top-of-the-key defender and he may provide additional utility to the offense as both a cutter and a lob threat for James Harden but as a general rule, CBJ’s ceiling is Gary Harris, a 3-and-D guard who can defend 1-3 and hit open shots as a quick-thinking catch-and-shoot specialist.

Now granted, being a Harris-type isn’t the worst-case scenario for an NBA player’s career; Harris made a bunch of money as a 3-and-D guard and just signed a nice two-year, $26 million extension with the Magic for his efforts in 2021-22, but he was initially traded to Orlando because his 3-ball wasn’t falling and there’s no guarantee that won’t happen again.

To CBJ’s credit, his defense is already there; of the 471 players who logged at least 150 minutes in the NBA last season, only 14 had a better Defensive Raptor rating than Brown Jr. according to FiveThirtyEight, with his 4.0 ranking tied with Matisse Thybulle for the second-best mark on the team behind only Joel Embiid. And yet, Brown Jr.’s WAR is just a .2, largely because his Offensive Raptor of -4.4 is one of the worst marks in the NBA regardless of position, situation, or team, ranking 450th out of 471 players.

Needless to say, that isn’t tenable.

If Brown remains a woefully ineffective offensive player, his ceiling in the NBA is probably as a 12th man who only plays due to injury or in situational deployments, but if he can just become a neutral offensive player, scoring a 0.0 Offensive Raptor rating, well, then he’d be a top 25 player in terms of overall Raptor rating, and provide very good value in terms of WAR.

But how can that happen? What does Brown need to do to get there?

Easy; hit opens 3s at a 37-39 percent clip, keep the ball moving when a shot isn’t there, and generate more turnovers than he commits.

Sounds complicated, right? Well, it really doesn’t need to be – Brown is going to get a ton of open looks if he’s on the court with Joel Embiid, James Harden, and even Tyrese Maxey, and will very rarely draw tight man coverage from an opposing team’s top defensive option. If a shot is there, he can take it – which, with practice should become more and more automatic – if he isn’t passing it along to a player like P.J. Tucker, or Danuel House, and if he has an opportunity to sneak in the backdoor for an easy layup, he may as well take it.

If CBJ can just do that, there’s no reason he couldn’t be the same neutral offensive presence as Andre Igoudala, which sounds like an insult but would actually be a massive upgrade from his efforts in 2021-22.

Next. Summer League might actually be good for Paul Reed. dark

Charlie Brown Jr. is an easy player to root for. He has a cool look with his blonde streaked mohawk, strong ties to the local area, and plays defense with a fun style that would look just as good on a playground as in Delaware and in the Summer League. If he can just become good at two very specific offensive skills, hitting catch-and-shoot 3s and cutting to the basket for an open layup, there’s little reason to believe he couldn’t be a rotational player for the Philadelphia 76ers moving forward.