Lakers guard Shannon Brown determined to find an opportunity
The Lakers were running the fast break Sunday against the Utah Jazz, and it appeared two scenarios could play out. Shannon Brown could cap the play with another highlight-reel dunk. Or it could end with an ill-advised shot, poor pass or costly turnover. But neither happened.
Brown pulled up on the right block, looked for Lamar Odom in the near corner and found no defender on him. Instead of forcing a pass to Odom or driving through a lane of traffic, Brown took advantage of the open space, settled for a jumper on the right block, and the ball crisply went into the hoop.
After Monday's practice, Brown was recounting that play in the Lakers' 99-94 preseason loss Sunday to the Jazz. He said it's possible, given the same situation, he would have made the same decisions last season. But plays like this one have been happening more often this preseason for Brown.
Four Lakers have averaged double figures this preseason. Since Lamar Odom has assumed a starter's role while Andrew Bynum rehabilitates from a surgically repaired right knee, Brown's 10.8-points-per-game average on 46.5% shooting in 22.4 minutes mark the highest output from a reserve.
Brown has shown promise this preseason in overcoming inconsistent shooting, handling and defense, but how much will that matter when Oct. 26 rolls around and the Lakers host Houston in their season opener?
"I don't see any bench player besides Lamar playing more than 20 minutes per game," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It's too hard to take those kind of minutes from the starters."
Jackson later backtracked and said it was conceivable Lakers backup guard Steve Blake would surpass 20 minutes in light of Jackson's plan to hold starting guard Derek Fisher to under 30 minutes per game, Blake's passing skills as a point guard and his already strong grasp of the triangle offense. Still, Jackson's message looks pretty clear. Yet, Brown appears genuinely upbeat about the 2010-11 season, and it's not just because he and R&B singer Monica recently got engaged. ("I'm happy," he said. "She's a great girl. Everything is great.")
That's because he has a pragmatic view on how to mark his niche. "Just take advantage of any opportunity I'm given," said Brown, who signed a two-year, $4.6-million deal after averaging last season a career-high 8.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game and earning a trip to the NBA All-Star dunk contest. "Just go out there and work hard and continue to get better every day. That's about it. There really isn't any much more to it."
Brown surely will face plenty of challenges. He and Sasha Vujacic are currently competing to serve as Kobe Bryant's backup at shooting guard, and Jackson says he hasn't reached a definitive conclusion on whom he would put at the position. Jackson cited a few instances this preseason when Brown still remained loss on defense. And Jackson's recent revelation that rookie Devin Ebanks will partly play at shooting guard may not necessarily threaten Brown's standing in the rotation, but it could eat away some of his playing time.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of indicators that Brown will continue improving each NBA season. Bryant's surely making progress on his knee, but it remains uncertain what limitations he may have at least, at the beginning of the season. That could bump Shannon with more time considering he averaged 14.6 points in 37.7 minutes per contest during Bryant's five-game absence last season because of a sprained left ankle, a stretch Jackson said was "great for his confidence and great for his experience."
Brown told reporters after he re-signed with the Lakers this offseason that he mostly spent the summer working on his "skill work" and healing his sprained right thumb.
And when I asked Jackson what roles he envisioned both for Vujacic and Brown, Jackson perhaps tipped his hand with the amount of time he spent outlining each of their roles. He spent 20 seconds examining Vujacic's role in hitting late-game three-pointers and playing pesky defense; he spoke for a minute and six seconds on Brown's experiences replacing Bryant last season for five games, his ongoing defensive progression and his uber athleticism.
"It's not how many minutes you play, it's the quality with the minutes you're given out there on the floor," Jackson said. "That's something he can do. He can make a real impact on the game, and that's important."
Brown believes that can happen. He said this year's training camp was "the best one I've done so far" in his four-year career, including the last 1 1/2 seasons with the Lakers. He said he had greater "basketball knowledge," because of better decision-making, overall maturity and improved understanding of the triangle. He sees the latter as something he could help the rest of the unit with, including new arrivals Blake, Ebanks, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff and Derrick Caracter. In his quote below, he gives advice to the newcomers on how to grasp the triangle, but it also could apply to how Brown wants to approach his role this season, regardless of the ups and downs that may come his way.
"You got to be patient with it," he said. "But at the same time, you got to work at it."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Though Lakers Coach Phil Jackson doesn't plan to play any reserve player besides Lamar Odom more than 20 minutes per game, Lakers guard Shannon Brown is determined to make the most of any minutes he gets. Credit: Gus Ruelas / Associated Press