The expectations surrounding emerging center Moses Brown were never capped by first-year head coach Mark Daigneault or the Oklahoma City Thunder organization.
Since being called up from the G-League following the All-Star break, the 7’3” big man has been a force, averaging over 12 points and 12 rebounds in over 27 minutes per game.
He has recorded four double-doubles, including a 21-point, 23-rebound performance in a loss to the Boston Celtics, tying the franchise single-game rebound record and becoming just the sixth member of the Thunder’s 20-20 club.
But despite Brown now surpassing nearly every projection, at least over the last 10 games, Daigneault isn’t quite ready to predict the 21-year-old’s career path.
“One thing I’ve found over time is that if you place a ceiling on a guy too soon, sometimes the ceiling is too low, and you don’t give them enough credit for how good they can be,” Daigneault said. “If we put a ceiling on him at the beginning of the year, I don’t know if we could have predicted that he would get 20-20 in an NBA game, and here he is.”
Energy, athleticism, and size are the strongest of Brown’s skillset so far and the traits that make him such an appealing prospect for the Thunder.
He has been a machine on the glass, grabbing at least 12 boards six times since the All-Star break, and constantly runs the floor offensively and defensively.
Brown has also shown his potential as a rim protector with 14 blocked shots.
“That’s the thing that’s a separator for him, and that’s got us so optimistic about him is just his motor and how hard he plays,” Daigneault said. “Just rolling out of bed, he’s ready to compete and plays hard every single night.
“He’s a young player and does not have a lot of experience, so there’s a hill to climb in terms of fundamentals and habits that you need to be a really effective NBA player. But in terms of raw ability, size, and then you add the motor in there, you have a lot to work with.”
Like all young players, Brown will benefit from a boost in playing time and may have already established himself as the starter with veteran Al Horford agreeing to sit out the remainder of the season and with Darius Bazley, who started the first 36 games, on the shelf.
The UCLA product has also shown a gentle demeanor with the media and a team-first focus and has also expressed a willingness to learn, especially from Horford, who wants to continue to be a presence. Someone Brown can lean on the rest of the year.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence and understands what he needs to do,” Horford told reporters earlier this month when asked about what kind of guidance he can offer Brown. “Defensively, he’s obviously very big and making his presence felt. The biggest thing for him is to continue to establish himself on that end. Offensively he’ll get good opportunities and looks.”
Daigneault says Brown’s improvements will come from “fine-tuned execution within games,” like pick-and-roll coverage, angles on screens, and understanding timing and when to rotate to contest a guard. Experience is the key factor for the now-former two-way player.
“No player comes in league with that in their bag,” Daigneault said. “Young players have to hit it hard. You have to have a combination of game experience, which he’s getting, and you also have put the work in and study the film and take the reps and really want to learn and want to improve. He’s got that as well, and that’s also why we’re so optimistic about him.”
Brown said he embraces his current role and the speed and physicality of the NBA. He has noted multiple times that he is not aware of personal statistics until after games and is focused on areas where he can develop.
“There’s definitely a lot of moving pieces during the game,” said Brown. “And being that it’s all happening so fast, it takes awareness to switch onto those coverages and knowing which type of players are coming into the game at certain times.
“...it’s a real physical game down there, and maintaining it for 48 minutes is a job, but it’s something I embrace doing.”
The Thunder signed Brown to a contract Sunday, later reported by ESPN’s Royce Young to be for $6.8 million over four years. Years two and three are non-guaranteed, and there is a team option for the fourth year.
“It feels good,” Brown said of turning his two-way contract into a four-year deal with Oklahoma City. “They pretty much laid out a blueprint of success for me. I just stuck to it along the way and kept showing up. I’ll continue putting in the same work that I’ve been putting in.”
Brown now seems to fit into the team’s immediate future and possibly long-term.
“He does so many good things on the court - rebounds, plays with energy, blocks shots - and I think he’s getting better every game,” said Oklahoma City’s star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after a game against the Chicago Bulls.
“Obviously, he’s a kid that works super hard, and I’m happy for him.”