Timberwolves coach Chris Finch has been known to be a direct communicator with his players, and a few weeks ago, Finch was having one of these kinds of conversations with Troy Brown Jr. In his sixth year in the NBA, his first with the Wolves, Brown was mostly out of the rotation before Jaden McDaniels' ankle injury. He registered four DNPs (did not plays) and when he did play it was typically in mop-up duty.
"I told him one day, 'Hey, just bear with us. Your time is coming,'" Finch said. "He says, 'I'm cool, Coach. I'm ready. I'll be ready.'"
Since McDaniels went down on Nov. 20, Brown stepped into the rotation and of late has stepped up his production. That culminated in Tuesday's 106-103 victory over the Thunder. Brown scored 17 points, including seven of the Wolves' final nine of the night. Brown played well enough throughout the night Tuesday that Finch had him in for the final minutes of the game.
The Wolves needed buckets as Anthony Edwards exited because of a hip contusion in the third quarter and Karl-Anthony Towns (13 points on 2-for-8 shooting) struggled.
The Wolves don't win without what Brown gave them down the stretch.
He hit a key shot-clock-beating three to make it a five-point game with 1 minute, 39 seconds to play and had a layup to push the lead back to five with 31.6 left. He then hit one of two free throws with 4.5 seconds left before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed a potential tying three at the buzzer.
Brown said he has taken his fluctuating playing time in stride.
"At this point, that's the NBA. You can literally go from being sixth man to not in the rotation," Brown said. "It's just based off what the team needs at the time. To me, I've had my ups and downs in the career. Just being in different positions and learning how to deal with all that mentally has helped me a lot. Now I just try to be as happy as I can and bring energy to my teammates and stay ready."
When Finch spoke to him, Brown said Finch told him he needed Brown to defend and even be a playmaker. Finch admitted he didn't think Brown, who is a career 35% three-point shooter, could shoot as well as he can. Now he has confidence it's going in whenever Brown shoots. When Finch's comment was brought up to Brown after the game, Brown let out a wide smile.
"For sure, I wasn't a shooter coming out of college," Brown said. "I think I shot like 29 percent coming out of college. I was never a shooter. But you either adapt or you're left behind. That's just how the league works. I appreciate them instilling confidence in me, and I take that as a compliment."
He played point guard most of his life, and he knew with the way the NBA was trending, he would have to become a respectable three-point shooter to stay in the league.
"You never want to be a liability on the court," Brown said.
Brown signed with the Wolves in the offseason because he said he liked how they played offense — free-flowing with lots of ball movement. He felt he could fit into Finch's system, and Finch said he appreciated that Brown moved well without the ball and when he gets the ball, it doesn't stick with him.
He also has appreciated Brown's demeanor as he has navigated his fluctuating playing time. President Tim Connelly has made it a focus to form a team of players who are good influences in the locker room, and Brown fits that mold.
"I love coaching him because he's just in the same mood every day," Finch said. "He's really happy whether he's in the rotation or not. He's patient."
That patience paid off for all involved Tuesday.
"He's a worker. Dedicated," center Naz Reid said. "He's willing. Y'all see it. He went from situations where he wasn't seeing minutes to now put himself in a situation to get as much minutes as possible because of his work."