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Trevon Brazile: Setbacks Lead to Comebacks
Is an ACL injury too much to overcome? Not if you're Trevon Brazile!
Setbacks lead to Comebacks
The Arkansas Razorbacks came into last season ranked as the 10th-best team in the nation. Loaded with a number of freshmen and transfers, Coach Eric Musselman was given a great opportunity to make the 2022-2023 season a year to remember, with players like Anthony Black, Nick Smith Jr., and Jordan Walsh committing to play for the rising program. With all of the excitement that surrounded those three freshmen, Coach Muss was also able to recruit a player who took a major step toward becoming an NBA player: Trevon Brazile.
It may seem strange to think that a prospect who played in only nine games and suffered a major injury could have made a major stride as an NBA prospect, but that is exactly what happened. During his sophomore season with Arkansas, Trevon recorded 11.8 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1 SPG, and 1 APG while playing 27 MPG. He saw an increase in his shooting metrics while maintaining his defensive intensity. Showing strides in those areas—areas that NBA teams require for players of his archetype—proved momentous. Brazile’s play required that the basketball community give him the same attention as the heavily recruited freshmen who played alongside him.
Those steps forward came to a screeching halt almost a year ago. While playing against UNC Greensboro on December 6th, Brazile made a move to the basket and buckled his right knee—which tore his ACL. At that point of the season, Trevon led Arkansas in blocked shots and in rebounds. Arkansas would go on to finish the season without him, making it as far as the Sweet Sixteen—where they lost to the would-be champs UConn.
Leg injuries have been scary for basketball players, as they can take a toll in the immediate and long term. Brazile would be out of action until September, when he would participate in practice for the first time in over nine months. Brazile spoke to the fact that missing time with the injury allowed him to consume the game differently. With all of that time off of the court, Trevon said that he felt like the game slowed down—not only due to his experience, but also watching a lot of footage.
But what type of player should the world expect? Typically, lower body injuries can take about two years to fully recover from. It’s hard not to wonder what an ACL injury can do to a player whose game is predicated on incredible leaping ability. Would the improved jumper be leaned on, perhaps even too much? Well, it wouldn’t take long for Trevon to start giving answers to these questions.
Last season, we saw Trevon featured in a finishing role on offense. It wasn’t simply that he could finish, but it was the finishing versatility he showed that had folks believing in him as an NBA prospect.
For those who watched him play last season, memories of thunderous dunks are likely to flood their thoughts. Brazile finished last season in the 88th percentile (Excellent) in at-rim finishing—specifically, he was in the 70th percentile in dunks.
We can see in this clip how Brazile could be utilized as a pick-and-roll finisher at the next level. Anthony Black and Trevon get into their pick-and-roll set against Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner. Black, who is now with the Orlando Magic, takes a lot of attention away from Brazile with his stride, athleticism, and ability to finish. Kalkbrenner plays the drop to stop the finish from Anthony, but Trevon is able to slip the screen and take a nice angle to the rim.
Heavily predicated on athleticism, how would Brazile’s game look coming back from the ACL injury?
In the first Arkansas game against Alcorn State, Trevon was able to get to the basket on several occasions. Starting out on the left wing, Brazile was able to poke and prod his way into the lane and finish over the top of the defense. Without much clearance, we’re able to see Trevon receive a pass, take a power dribble, and then rise up off of two feet for a resounding dunk.
Against Gardner-Webb, we see Brazile getting out on the break to finish in transition. He is able to zoom up the floor once the ball is in the hands of Khalif Battle, catch the ball while jumping, come down, plant his feet, and rise up to finish with another jam. The continued use of verticality in his game suggests that he has regained his lift to nearly one hundred percent.
Last season, Brazile produced from beyond the arc in a way that wowed the draft community. In the nine games that he played, he shot just a hair under 38% from deep on over three attempts per game. His shooting motion was clean, pure, and tight—there was no fat to trim. After sustaining the ACL injury, many speculated how Brazile would maintain his basketball abilities while recovering.
Would he lose his bounce? Would he use the time to study film and improve his court awareness? Would he be like Amar’e Stoudemire and focus on honing in his jumper?
The shooting mechanics are still there. And it is this offensive versatility that makes Trevon a viable NBA prospect. It’s still early, and there is lower volume—obviously—that exists in the early part of the season, but the shot doesn’t seem to have taken a step back at all. With the athleticism maintained on the offensive side of the ball, and with the shot still being there, the only questions that remain within his game are the connective aspects.
Those questions are fair and, in many ways, still remain unanswered.
Putting the ball on the deck beyond a power dribble has been a skill that has been absent within Trevon’s game over the past three seasons. Lacking that area to his game for so long, perhaps means that it will take an enormous step for the consensus to concede that the handle has improved. While there is still room for improvement, that doesn’t mean improvement hasn’t already taken place. Observe.
To preface, this clip isn’t something that would start off a Jamal Crawford ball-handling highlight reel—but it doesn’t need to be. Looking at what Brazile did off of the dribble last season, he wasn’t able to do things like what’s shown in the clip above until later in the season. Even in those moments last season, Trevon wasn’t able to deceive the defense in the way that he did against Alcorn State.
The confidence to put the ball on the ground at any degree, combined with an increased level of consistency, will help to place trust in him in the short term, as well as his long-term development.
In nine games last season, Brazile tallied nine total assists. That assist total was paired with 20 turnovers. Those numbers do not do him any favors in terms of indication of feel. So far in two games, Brazile logged zero assists and four turnovers. That aspect of his game is going to put the most amount of doubt in the minds of scouts and analysts. But what I can take comfort in knowing is that Brazile is interested in exploring the studio space in his creation for others.
For starters, this is a bad play. However, I do feel like it’s worth pointing out two things to put in our back pockets. For one, Trevon is putting the ball on the ground with confidence. Secondly, there seems to be some chemistry-based miscommunication here. Tramon Mark—formerly of Houston—sets a screen here for Trevon. Trevon drives, jumps, and then looks to Mark. Maybe he was expecting to see Mark roll? Regardless, the jump pass without the surety of having his man on the same page as him results in a turnover.
Again, let’s preface that this is a bad play. However, Brazile is trying things in games that he wouldn’t have done last season. Arkansas is down late in the shot clock, and Brazile gets the ball on a post-up with six seconds left. This is not a position that Trevon finds himself in often, but he takes the time to not be rushed enough into forcing a tough shot. Brazile stays poised and waits for El Ellis on the opposite wing. The process led to the correct decision. Brazile sees Ellis getting a back screen and can get an open three if he can get him the ball. He overshoots, and the ball ends up out of bounds.
While the result is obviously less-than-desirable, seeing Brazile trying some things on the court is going to be big for his development.
As a freshman at Missouri, Trevon logged a block percentage of 9.9% and a steal percentage of 1.3%. Last year at Arkansas, he had a block percentage of 4.7% and a steal percentage of 2.1%. Both of those seasons would be considered a success for the majority of college players. What athleticism can do for a player like Brazile is more celebrated on offense but, defensively, more apparent on defense.
Before the injury, Brazile was ranked in the 97th percentile on his overall defense. At the rim, he ranked in the 75th percentile. Against jump shots, he graded in the 99th percentile. This, in large part, is the amount of ground that he covers.
In this clip from last year against San Diego State, we see Brazile exercise great ball tracking, timing, and athleticism. Brazile does a great job of recognizing that his man isn’t going to be able to be a threat based on the spacing and the open lane the ball handler has. Trevon is able to rotate from the right side of the court to the left block, while also leaving the defender to his right side. Moving over that much in the time allotted is a great feat of athleticism and processing.
Moments like this were in threat of being robbed due to the injury.
In Arkansas’s game against Gardner-Webb, Brazile does a fantastic job of letting folks know they can calm down in regards to the ACL. His man is involved in two pick actions during this one defensive possession. Maneuvering around two men quickly enough to stay with his assignment, all while keeping his man on his hip, shows good lateral mobility.
Oh, and he displays the ball tracking and timing that we all remembered.
Brazile ranked highly in his defense against jump shots last season, and he is off to a very similar start this year. Last season, he allowed 16% on all jump shots—allowing only four makes on 25 attempts. This year, Trevon has not had any jumpers made over him on four attempts. This includes three catch-and-shoot possessions and one off of a dribble. At the rim, teams have shot 25% against him on eight total tries. This is coming off of opponents only shooting 42.1% at the rim against him last season on 19 total attempts.
The setback that Trevon Brazile experienced last season was unfortunate. Who knows how far a team that reached the Sweet Sixteen last season would go if they had one of their best players down the stretch? Who knows if Trevon gets drafted after a season’s worth of productivity and film for scouts to see? None of those things can be known, obviously, but looking at what works in the NBA can give us some help.
Play finishers, especially those who are athletic, are very in demand. At 6’10”, and 220 pounds, Trevon fits the physical profile of these athletic defenders. Players like Ausar Thompson and Dereck Lively II have been able to come into the NBA as day one contributors, largely in part because they can physically hold up and can finish the way they can. Brazile could contribute in a similar manner.
What Brazile can do as a shooter sets him apart even more than that. Aside from being a force around the rim, Trevon is on track to finish his second consecutive year as a plus shooter. Shooting and size come at a premium in the NBA. As it stands at the time of this article, Brazile is one of only 23 players in college hoops with five dunks. He is also one of only seven players that have five dunks while shooting over 35% from deep. Extrapolate this production to an entire season, and Brazile is in the company of players like Brandon Miller, Taylor Hendricks, Gradey Dick, and Kobe Brown—players who were drafted last season.
Considering what he has done, what he is doing, and the fact that he could be even better coming off of a serious injury, the sky is truly the limit for Trevon Brazile and his draft stock.
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