Kendall Brown's Cutting | The Friday Screener
Kendall Brown may already be the best cutter in the country. His spatial awareness and exquisite athleticism make him an ideal off-ball scorer.
Few players have seen their draft stock rise as much as Kendall Brown has. The 6’8 205-pound Baylor forward is a physical marvel. He is graceful in the open court, impossible to stop at the rim, and coordinated enough to defend multiple archetypes. Brown is proving that he can contribute to winning basketball in a myriad of ways. While his athleticism is overwhelming and undeniable, the skill that has stood out the most in Brown’s repertoire is his cutting.
When we talk about off-ball movement, it is almost always reserved for shooters. We marvel at their change of pace off screens, ability to counter their defender’s movements, and brilliant sense of relocation. However, big men who cut frequently go underappreciated, and Brown may be the best cutter, regardless of position, in the country.
Brown has an elite sense of timing and recognition of when to punish his defender for ball-watching, which has allowed him to score 1.714 points per possession on cuts, ranking in the 97th percentile, per Synergy. He is direct with his movements and impossible to stop when given a clear path to the rim. Brown’s shooting numbers will likely come down to earth, but his elite cutting will still make him a dynamic offensive weapon.
My current evaluation of Brown has his peak outcome being a tremendous ancillary piece on a contender. I don’t mean that as an insult because being the third or fourth option on a contender is rarified air for most NBA players. Brown’s unique cutting ability makes him an ideal teammate to insert in a lineup that already has an established first and/or second option because when defenses hone in on those primary options, Brown effortlessly provides a “pull in case of emergency” option because of his cutting.
Here, we see Brown capitalize on the attention that the high pick-and-roll draws. As the ball-handler comes off the double drag screen, Michigan State hard hedges and recovers, which forces the ball-handler towards the logo. Meanwhile, Brown sinks towards the corner but notices his man is fully keyed in on the ball-handler. Based on the hard-hedge tactic, Brown’s defender knows that there may be some miscommunication that will require him to help or dig at the ball-handler when he attacks. However, the defender has completely forgotten about Brown. Brown immediately recognizes that attention has inappropriately slipped away from him and cuts backdoor for the easy dunk.
While that clip could be considered an egregious defensive error that Brown wisely capitalized on, the below example further illustrates Brown’s recognition of space and where his defender’s attention lies. This time as Baylor runs the high pick-and-roll, Brown is set up in the weak side corner. Arizona State is covering the pick-and-roll by keeping their big man at the level of the screen (this is becoming a more common tactic in the NBA, especially with the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves). This strategy puts more responsibility on Brown’s defender because he is the low-man. In essence, Brown’s defender is responsible for tagging the lane and not allowing the screener a free lane to roll while his teammates attempt to fight over the screen and delay the ball-handler. Once the ball-handler dribbles off the screen, though, Brown’s defender never takes his eyes off the ball and is overly committed to his rotation. As the ball-handler attacks, he essentially forces the switch. At this point, Brown’s defender is lost in no man’s land because he has failed to recognize his need to retreat back to Brown. On the other hand, Brown has appropriately read the situation, makes a lovely baseline cut, catches an erratic pass, and finishes through contact.
Brown’s recognition of the defense’s setup is most highlighted by his ability to provide an ancillary option out of a set play like we saw above, but he also has the awareness to improvise in a split second. Here, Brown quickly punishes the defense’s miscommunication. As Baylor brings the ball up, they run a dribble handoff while Brown sinks to the weak side corner and the rim is vacant. As Brown sinks to the corner and the ball-handler approaches the screen, Brown sees that Max Christie doesn’t want to pick up Brown. Christie tries to communicate the switch with Gabe Brown, but he is flatly ignored. Brown capitalizes on this momentary slip in communication by cutting to the rim and finishing with a layup.
Ball-handlers who are constantly reading the floor will adore playing with Brown. He has the awareness to improvise to beat subtle defensive miscommunications and the timing to execute perfect cuts out of set plays. Brown also has the situational awareness to bail out teammates when they dribble themselves into trouble.
Here, Brown is set up in the corner, and his teammate attempts to drive as the ball is swung to him. Christie does a great job of cutting off the drive, but he gets dislodged by a push-off. The drive and the push-off attract the unnecessary attention of Brown’s defender. By the end of this season, I pray that I’ll have taught you at least two things. First, the importance of footwork, as it is the foundation of everything basketball players do. Second, never help off strong side corner. Brown’s defender doesn’t need to help here, but he does, which, as you guessed, ends poorly for him. Without hesitation, Brown cuts baseline and provides an outlet for his teammate, who was awkwardly pulling up for a deep mid-range jumper. Brown then shows off his body control and finishes through the late help from the weak side defender.
We haven’t seen a lot of it yet this season, but Brown also can be used running off screens. His movement in this realm still needs refinement, but he has the athleticism to make plays like the below a regular staple of his game. As Baylor brings the ball up the middle of the floor, they set up with four players straight across the free-throw line, emptying the lane. They then initiate the dribble handoff to get Brown in motion and simulate a weave action. Brown dribbles towards the middle of the floor and makes a pass (the next step in a weave action) but then cuts back where he came from. Brown quickly runs off a back screen, cuts to the rim, and finishes the lob.
Brown won’t regularly be run through screens in the NBA, but it is an option for teams with an inclination towards motion and off-ball movement. Brown can sell certain actions before executing the intended result. His athleticism also adds the luxury of vertical spacing to a lineup.
The next evolution of Brown’s cutting is how he uses it to create for teammates. Innovative teams used to relocating without the ball will thrive with Brown’s cutting. When Brown cuts, the defense will react, and Brown’s teammates will then relocate to the empty space he just left for an open shot. I know it feels simplistic, but imagine Brown in Golden State’s offense with their ball movement and player movement. They constantly replace each other, fill empty spaces, and find the open man regardless of his role.
Besides simply creating space for others off his cuts, Brown also has the passing ability to turn his cuts into assists. They are very different players and operate under different circumstances but think of how valuable Draymond Green’s passing out of the short roll is. Brown can make a similar impact by passing out of his cuts instead of the short roll.
Here, Brown immediately recognizes the double team coming and makes a flash cut to the free-throw line to bail out his teammate. Brown is now in a 2 vs. 1 situation as he receives the ball. Unfortunately, Brown assumes that the defender has the same processing speed. As Brown catches the pass, he immediately makes a touch pass to his teammate on the block as if he assumed the defender would rotate to the ball. Brown’s intentions were right, but his execution was lacking. Since he was so quick with his pass, the defender hadn’t moved and was able to heavily influence the shot.
Even though this play didn’t end up in a score, Brown’s intentions could not be more encouraging. It is the epitome of unselfishness as he made a cut to help his teammate and then immediately tried to set up his teammate for an easy layup. The only gripe is that Brown was too eager to be unselfish. Hopefully, as his game matures, he will add more craft to these potential playmaking situations. Instead of immediately passing the ball, Brown will hopefully hesitate for a moment. This hesitation will either free him up for an open floater as the defender sticks with his man, or it will draw out the defender to make his teammate’s layup even easier.
Kendall Brown may already be the best cutter in the country despite being a freshman. His combination of timing, awareness, and explosiveness make him a force as an off-ball scorer attacking the rim. Envisioning him as an excellent cutter in the NBA isn’t too difficult, but if he plans to truly elevate his team’s offense, he must continue to work on his playmaking and creativity after cutting.