This is the next piece in our series of Player Report Cards, in which we evaluate and assign a grade to the performance of each member of the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers. Next in line is Shannon Brown, a.k.a Shanwow (commonly solely referred to as 'that guy' in phrases such as 'HOW THE HELL DID THAT GUY DO THAT!?!?!?').
Our season review now lands on Shannon Brown, our team's de-facto Sixth Man (if we argue that Lamar Odom wass for all effects and purposes, a starter during the previous two playoff runs).
Shannon Brown is unique in that he is capable of producing a 'WTF was that!?' moment from fans, in both positive AND negative context, at least once a quarter. From his jaw-dropping dunks to his WAKI (Weak-Ass Kobe Imitation) jump shots, Shannon Brown is as equally capable of producing 'oooohhs' as he is of 'ughs'.
For those who remember the manner in which Shannon came to the Lakers, as what was initially thought to be a meaningless throw-in in a money-saving trade involving sending Vladimir Radmanovic to Charlotte for Adam Morrison, the fact that he was producing 'ooohhs' or 'ughs' at all in relevant minutes is inherently surprising, as prior to coming to the Lakers, Brown was struggling to find his place in the NBA.
But, conforming with the Lakers' ability to develop seemingly unknown talents, Shannon Brown soon became a serviceable NBA player. His emergence was sparked by an insane shooting streak in the '09 Playoffs, hitting at a 48% clip from three during a period when the Lakers desperately needed floor-spacing, and both the Lakers' established backup guards, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, were underperforming. Whilst the timing was certainly lucky, Shannon endeared himself to many fans during this period, with his production improving near across-the-board.
During the offseason, many were touting Shannon as the Lakers solution to their issues at Lead Guard, dubbing him the Lakers' Point Guard of the Future. The coaching staff, however, recognised that Shannon still lacked the playmaking and ball-handling skills required to effectively play the lead guard position. Opportunity for Shannon still existed, however, in that Sasha Vujacic, rather than rebounding from a tough season, instead continued to deteriorate as a player, exacerbated by his bizarre issues involving the Slovenian National Team.
As such, the backup two-guard role was available for the taking. Hell, during training camp and the preseason, there were even murmurs that Adam Morrison was being favoured to take the role from Vujacic. Brown, however, seized this opportunity, and capitalised upon it; upping his minutes per game from 7.6 in his first season with the Lakers to 20.7 in this past season. His numbers also improved, though his per-36 and shooting percentages uniformly dropped by a significant amount.
During this period, many fans fell in love with his athletic ability and rim-rattling dunks. The coaching staff themselves were so intrigued with Brown's potential that they would even occasionally steer away from the Triangle into more conventional sets in order to see how Brown performed. Ron Artest has claimed that Shannon is the 'best guy at hitting shots with a hand in his face on the team', asides from Kobe, and Brown has certainly shown a willingness to take those shots.
And therein lies his main issues. One, he is seemingly incapable of effectively operating within the Triangle, and two, those shots he takes are difficult to justify for anybody. Kobe Bryant is arguably the best at hitting those shots in League history, and that spawns from his ridiculous work ethic. Brown, however, does not, probably cannot, maintain that same work ethic, and he is simply not capable of making those tough, off-balance, contested jumpers at a high enough clip to justify taking so many of them, particularly by breaking the Triangle offense to do so. Under no means should a defending champion be running Shannon Brown isolation plays, yet that is what often happened with the bench unit last year - no coincidence the bench unit was widely considered the team's biggest weakness.
And oh God, his defense. Coming into LA, Brown's athletic ability and propensity for highlight blocks led to many classifying him as a defensive specialist, but it's become painfully evident that he either does not possess the mentality or the basketball IQ to effectively transpose his natural talents into solid defense. His core weakness is an inability to correctly transverse screens, but there are countless other issues present as well.
Still, during much of the season, these issues were overlooked, covered up by Brown's potential and athletic ability. It seemed worth a try to attempt to slowly bring Shannon along into a larger role as a player, and to slowly have him acclimated with the Triangle offense. Unfortunately, it seems not much progression was made.
In fact, the Playoffs were quite possibly Brown's worse play in a Laker uniform. An atrocious shooting percentage, a lack of production across the board, and a usage rate that is simply unbelievable considering his performance. In the '10 playoffs, Shannon Brown's usage rate was 18.7%. Pau Gasol's was 21%. Gasol put up an efficient 20/11/3.5, whilst Brown conversely contributed 5 points and not much else at all, at below 40% shooting.
Shannon Brown still had his moments, such as his ridiculous dunks in Game Six:
But these moments were few and far-between, hidden amongst countless head-scratching errors. Shannon Brown, quite simply, does not, or cannot, play within the Triangle offense. He can't even properly make a basic entry pass, the core initiation point of the set. He also seems to see his role of backup guard on the Los Angeles Lakers more specifically as 'Kobe's backup', in that much of the way he plays seems to be an attempt to mirror Kobe Bryant - the shot selection, the deviating from the offense, the sparse attention to defense... all Kobe. It's gotten so bad that some have taken to calling Shannon WAKI, the Weak-Ass Kobe Imitation. Shannon Brown tries to play like he's Kobe (in this writer's opinion, he should compare their jersey numbers and take a hint - all Shannon can aspire to be is half a Kobe). The issue is, Shannon can't be Kobe. The reasons for this are innumerable, but he simply can't.
Shannon Brown has had his ups and downs, he's been both a contributor and a detriment. For every jaw-dropping dunk, there has been a jaw-dropping turnover when he's tried to force his way for a dunk. For every ridiculous shot, there's been several bricked ones.
In the end, however, Brown was valuable last season. With Sasha Vujacic essentially breaking down (insert Machine pun here), somebody was required to step up and play the backup two-guard spot, and Brown proved sufficient enough to win a championship with. I'm just thankful that it was him who pushed Sasha out of the rotation, and not Adam Morrison.
There's no way of knowing yet whether or not he will be back next season. While I think letting him go may be addition by subtraction, keeping him certainly adds an additional layer of security, as well as providing significant trade flexibility in Sasha Vujacic's large Expiring Contract.
Brown is a talented player, though he does have his limits - he'll never be a true point, and he's too undersized to ever be a star wing. Phil Jackson probably described him best in saying that he is a 'Small Forward in a Point Guard's body'. But he is not a particularly great fit in the Triangle, nor is it likely his minutes will increase playing with the Lakers next season. It may well be best for him to find another team where he can try out a larger role. The team would almost certainly be lottery-bound, but if he chooses wisely, and joins a team with young talent and a good coach, it's quite possible he'll emerge as a significant contributor on a Playoff team sometime in his future. Then again, there's also the possibility he stays, learns the Triangle, and ends up being a significant contributor, being able to reliably relieve some of the load on Kobe and the team's core.
I leave you with a Shannon Brown highlight mix, by the ineffable LD2K: