Deleon Brown was never supposed to be an immediate impact player for the Colorado Buffaloes. But because of his mature skillset and heady play, the freshman has supplanted himself into Colorado’s primary rotation, and he may push for an even larger role.
Brown was lightly recruited out of Christian High School in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He committed to the Buffs in October 2014, nearly a full year before fellow freshman Bryce Peters committed. Brown took that next year, his senior year, to improve his game in a college-type environment, and that was The New Hampshire Basketball Factory, also known as Brewster Academy. There, he moved away from point guard and into a supporting role, where he developed a new set of skills.
Now at Colorado, Brown has the playmaking ability of a point guard, the off-the-ball feel of a shooting guard and a mature approach to the game that he uses to make the most of his ability and to grow as a player from there.
To see Brown’s playmaking ability, look no further:
On this play, Brown is able to facilitate beautifully from the two-guard position. Against the 2-3 zone, he finds the rift between the two perimeter defenders, splits it to create a passing lane, and executes the perfect bounce pass to find Xavier Johnson posting up on a smaller defender. Then as XJ goes in for the layup, Brown backs out past the three-point line, where he will be spotted up on a potential offensive rebound.
Prior to the pass, Colorado’s offense looks putrid. Every Buffalo is on the left side of the court and in terrible position. Dom Collier is almost guarding Brown, George King is standing in the corner with two defenders between him and the ball, and Wesley Gordon is stationed in no man’s land after setting the pick. If Brown doesn’t make that spacing, there’s no way he has the room to make that pass. If he doesn’t find XJ (and if XJ doesn’t use his ass as well he did there), there’s no chance Colorado is able to find a good shot on that possession. Brown’s intelligent offensive play essentially created those points for the Buffs, which was crucial in a close contest.
Given Colorado’s inability to run plays against the zone defense, Brown’s passing ability and floor awareness give the Buffs much needed support. Against man defense, Brown is still excellent at maximizing floor space and making the right pass. In a supporting role, those skills are vital, particularly for inconsistent Colorado offense.
And now, to see Brown’s movement off the ball:
Redirect your attention from Derrick White to Deleon Brown, the player moving around the three-point line towards the bottom of the broadcast. On this play, Brown first presents himself as a target to Dom Collier, the player who starts with the ball. Once Collier passes to White in the corner and He cuts to the hoop, Brown moves to a spot where White will be able to find him. White’s ability to create shots out of nothing is on full display here, but instead of shooting with three defenders enveloping him (and a fourth nearby), he could have found Brown wide open on the perimeter for an easy look.
Brown didn’t get the shot here, but he didn’t need to for us to fully understand what makes him such a lethal off-the-ball threat. Brown is almost always in perfect position on the perimeter to make the perfect pass or to get a great shot. When he does get the ball and pulls the trigger, he’s shooting 44% on 5.6 attempts per 40 minutes; with such savvy play and consistent execution, it’s no surprise Brown leads the Buffs with a sparkling 128 offensive rating. This awareness and ability from Brown, rare for freshmen, opens up the offense and helps create space for his teammates.
And now, to see Brown’s cagey perimeter defense:
On this play, Deleon Brown starts guarding the ball handler, #20. Once that player passes and sets a pick, Brown switches onto the new ball handler, #2. Knowing the shot clock is about to expire, Brown hounds the player, cuts off the drive and is all over the step back jumper. To do all of that, Brown had to have excellent defensive awareness, tenacity to defend as he did, and balance to stay in front the whole way. The shot went in, but defense like this will almost always result in a miss.
It’s no secret Colorado struggles in perimeter defense and against the three-pointer, but the Buffaloes are moving towards where they want to be. Nominal point guard Derrick White is adjusting to D-I play, but he’s getting better every game. Dom Collier, the presumed starter at point, has been injured all year, but he’ll be 100% as soon as the Pac-12 opener. Deleon Brown, in his role off the bench, has been marvelous on defense and has made plays like the one above every time he steps onto the court. If Brown continues to play defense as he does, it’s safe to say Colorado’s defense would improve accordingly.
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Apropos of his breakout, Brown has moved up in the Buffaloes’ rotation. He averaged only a handful of minutes early on in the season, but he’s played nearly 23 minutes per game in Colorado’s last three non-conference games. Brown has already been promoted past the struggling Bryce Peters and Thomas Akyazili, but his rise may continue.
When Dom Collier returns to the starting rotation, Josh Fortune will play off the bench, presumably as the lead guard. However, Fortune has struggled mightily all season and it’s hard to say he’ll improve off the bench. Brown could move up past Fortune to be Colorado’s de facto sixth man. Brown doesn’t quite have the playmaking or shot creating ability as Fortune, but he’s a safer player, a better spot-up shooter and a sizable upgrade on defense.
We’ll see what Tad Boyle decides to do, but Deleon Brown’s ascension has been a revelation and he’s only scratching the surface of the player he can become.