Around this time, NBA Finals videos begin to play each year, inevitably falling into the most exciting moment of the 1995 Finals. A sound bite that reminds every Orlando Magic fan how close the team was and how distant at the same time.
Rudy Tomjanovich, in an interview after playing on stage, accepting the Houston Rockets’ second title after winning that series, stated that no one should “never doubt the champion’s heart.”
As hard as it is to remember that statement and that feeling, it feels more poignant than ever. The Golden State Warriors reminded everyone how valuable their championship experience was – and continue to remind, showing receipts from those who doubted them.
It’s true that teams need winning players. They want players who have shown they can contribute to a winning team. College recruiters are especially focused on recruiting kids who are part of winning teams. The thought is that they can easily integrate and help the winning team because it has already been a part of their life and playing career.
It’s still shocking how short the list of players who have won both the NCAA Tournament title and the NBA title is. It’s probably more of a statement about how hard it is to win the six games it takes to win a volatile NCAA tournament.
But how important is success in a tournament, or conference tournaments, or conference championships? What does it bring and what does it tell us about the future and what it can bring to the NBA? Should some of them get promoted for winning the title?
In other words, the pre-assessment part of the evaluators is exactly what Tomjanovich was talking about that day in 1995: What is the value of a champion’s heart?
Christian Brown of Kansas proved himself in helping the Jayhawks win the title, and it helped Brown rise to the top and speak in the first round.
Obviously it’s not that easy. The NCAA tournament can be pretty random. There’s a reason the NBA isn’t a knockout tournament.
But what does that mean for players like Christian Brown or Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji? Agbaji, the most outstanding player in the NCAA tournament, is likely to enter the lottery. Brown likely pushed himself into the conversation in the first round simply because he has a ring on his finger.
His performance certainly contributed greatly to the Jayhawks’ championship.
Brown is a 6-foot-6 security guard with three years of college experience in Kansas. That time included a Big 12 regular season title (and a 17-1 record) as a freshman when he averaged 18.4 minutes per game off the bench, and a Big 12 regular season and tournament title last year. Kansas always wins big.
Brown has improved every season in Kansas, averaging 14.1 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game on a shooting breakdown of 49.5/38.6/73.3. Brown shot 37.8% of his three-point shots in his career.
At least that says some of the things it can provide. The number of shots will attract particular attention, as this is very important for the flankers of the league. The only problem is his free throw percentage, but he only made 3.4 attempts per game.
Brown’s performance demonstrates a knack for doing whatever it takes as a role player, which should help him fit comfortably where he finds himself in the NBA. This is exactly what you want to see from a late pick in the first round.
Does Brown need to be a spot-up shooter? He can do it. He made four 3-pointers in the first round to defeat Texas Southern and had three 3s against Oklahoma and Kansas State.
Need Brown to get to the foul line and push the problem? Of course he can do it. He hit 9 of 10 free throws in the St. Johns win and 8 of 9 in the conference tournament win over Texas Tech.
Do you need him to be your main scorer? He did it sometimes too. Brown scored 31 goals in the win over St. John’s and 22 goals in the win over Nevada.
Brown is a strong jumper who can get above the basket on a break and is a good enough defender to clear the ball and set up that way.
Even in the half court, Brown can be extremely tricky getting to the basket and finishing the basket. Brown makes good use of his know-how to use his skills and put defense in the places he likes. He rarely plays beside himself.
His most suitable skill for the NBA would be accurate shooting. He was fatal when Kansas was able to pass the ball around to him. He should be able to hold his own as a 3-and-D wing.
Brown has shown the ability to step in and do what his team needs. This is the heart of a champion.
But these are the upper limits of his game. What makes Brown valuable is his consistency and level. It can be used however the team needs it, and in that sense it is malleable. But it should be noted that it is limited.
Brown, as good a shot as he looks, has misgivings about this. His free throw percentage is solid, but by no means impressive. That’s the best three-point shot in the NBA, and it should raise some concerns that he’s had some inconsistent line plays.
Also, his shot movement is a bit slow. He appears to be firing his shot near the chest. And while that was enough for him to break into college on a very talented Kansas team, the question remains whether he can achieve this at a professional level.
The nail in his coffin for the Orlando Magic may well be his size. He is 6ft 7in in NBA Draft shoes. But he only measured a wingspan of 6 feet 6.5 inches. It’s very rare for magic to target a player without a positive wingspan (insert your concerns about Tyler Herro here).
On that note, Brown was nowhere near as fast a shot as Herro in Kentucky. It doesn’t feel like the Magic are missing their next scorer.
Despite concerns about his size, Brown played four positions and was one of the best defensemen, rebounders, and even shot blockers in Kansas. This is a good thing. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in a lot of fuss (I try to avoid cryptic language, but that’s the only word I can think of).
What Brown feels at the NBA level is that he’s a good shooter with defensive ability. How many of them is a question more about team building philosophy than anything else.
And that brings it back to the main question at the bar: How much money is someone investing in someone who was so important to winning a championship? How important is winning and knowing how to win to evaluate a potential customer?
In the end, what matters most is how a player plays on the court.
Brown was a good support player in a fairly busy squad. He found his place and proved to be a good outlet for Kansas drivers. This is likely how Brown will be used early on. He will need others to set him up and he will have to be a knockdown shooter to succeed.
He will have to work even harder to be the same defensive player that made him so successful in Kansas and such a key cog in the national championship team.
In that sense, Brown wins the title. Because of this title, Brown’s best qualities came to the fore, and he showed that he was ready to do what his team needed to win. This is ultimately all anyone wants to know.