In recent weeks a guy named Elton Brand made a lot of headlines around the NBA. However, there was another Elton who was putting in work during Vegas Summer League play earlier this month, too. And if you don't know the name Elton Brown yet, you had better learn quickly.
The 24 year-old has twice led the D-League in rebounding and double-doubles. The 6-foot-9, 255 pound forward also had a fabulous showing in summer league play averaging 13.4 points and 10 rebounds for the Denver Nuggets while simultaneously holding his own against the best bigs the league had to offer.
"This was the first summer that I actually had the opportunity to showcase some of my skills because before I went to summer league teams that actually had draft picks and they would get all the playing time," Brown told HOOPSWORLD via telephone on Thursday. "I really didn't get the time to play, but Denver actually gave me the chance. They started me and played me 24 minutes a game. It was good to show what I can do."
Despite Brown's strong showing this summer, the Nuggets have shown only mild interest in giving him a deal for next season. Members of Denver's front office declined comment for this story.
Brown, whose NBA journey has taken him from Greece, to the D-League to Israel, understands better than anyone it's not easy to carve a niche out for yourself if you're a free agent playing in a sea of first round draft picks during summer league play. Even an impeccable resume which featured Brown joining fourth place Hapoel Holan in Israel mid-season and then helping them unseat perennial Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv for the first time in 14 years in just 75 days time wasn't enough to get him a guaranteed deal in the Association.
"First thing I heard when I came back from Vegas was, 'Oh, he did all that in the summer league, but can he do that in the NBA?' But the funny thing is when a draft pick does good they say, 'Oh, he's gonna be a stud, or he's gonna be so good' because he's a draft pick. It's kind of hard for guys who are free agents because they are already behind the eight-ball. Everybody goes off potential and draft picks, and GM's feel like their jobs are on the line when they try to pick up free agents.
"The NBA to me is all based on hype -- who you know, hype, the name of a person and what school you go to. There are a lot of players that deserve to be in the NBA but are just not getting that chance. I played overseas and I was successful over there. I played in Greece and it was a tough, physical league. Actually, Greece was tougher than summer league."
Just because the Nuggets have only shown passing interest in Brown, though, doesn't mean he isn't drawing more significant interest from other teams. At least seven teams in addition to the Nuggets have shown interest in Brown with the Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks expressing the most interest.
When asked where he thinks he would fit in best, Brown replied: "Any three of those teams, especially I'd say Indiana. Indiana doesn't have a big really. Playing with T.J. Ford would be a good thing because he makes players around him better. Memphis is a young team. They've got great young players with Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Javaris Crittenton. Even Atlanta, everybody needs a big in those three situations. I feel like I can come onto one of those teams and be a solid rebounder and a solid scorer."
Still, Brown feels like he's in a constant battle against the stigma that comes with being an undrafted free agent whose success has come in the D-League and overseas.
"The D-League is a tough league," Brown asserted. "If it wasn't, then NBA teams wouldn't send their players down to get experience. I led the league in rebounding and averaged a double-double. It's not an easy league because everybody in the D-League is trying to get to the NBA. Everybody's going to play extra-hard, and everybody's going to do what they have to do to get to that next level. And it's the same thing with the summer league. There are no guaranteed roster spots unless you're a first round draft pick. Summer league and the D-League, all of it's the same. If you can play there and be successful, you can play at the next level and be successful."
At this stage, all Brown really needs is a roster spot and an opportunity.
"When I was younger it was a dream (to play in the NBA), but now that I'm older and wiser I realize that I deserve a crack at it. I've proved myself everywhere I've been. I went to Greece and led the league in rebounding. I was the only player to average a double-double in Greece. I was the Rookie of the Year in Greece. Then this year I went to Israel. We won a championship over in Israel and when I got there they were in fourth place. Overseas was a great experience. If the NBA would give me a chance I would love it. I would love to get a crack at showing people what I can do and prove all the doubters wrong."
Perhaps more important than any of his physical skills, Brown is a very hard worker as evidenced by the physical and mental work he put in with trainer David Thorpe at IMG Academy prior to summer league play.
"When I first got into the program I thought I don't really think this guy can help me that much," Brown admitted. "After the first week I realized that if I stayed with him he was going to get me to the NBA hands down. It's not just a physical thing but a mental thing. He gets you so prepared mentally that the physical part you don't even really take notice of. You don't even realize that you are losing weight, that you're losing body fat, that you're shooting an NBA three-pointer because you're so focused mentally. He really prepared me for summer league. I was only down there for maybe two weeks, and in those two weeks I had the most improvement in my game ever. If I didn't work with him, the numbers I put up in Vegas wouldn't have even come close. I probably would have been a five (point) and five (rebound) guy.
"If I latch on with a team I'm going to go down there and get some more training done because he really prepared me. Honestly, if I get in the NBA and sign with a team a lot of it was due to him."
In short, it's hard to figure how Brown doesn't yet have a guaranteed NBA deal. He's coachable, a hard worker, and a guy who is not afraid to throw his weight around down low in a league which currently has a dearth of true post-players. Given a real chance, he might just be able to put up numbers that aren't too far south of that other guy named Elton who now resides in Philly.