This is the sixth in our series of Player Previews, in which we discuss what to expect in the coming season from each of the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers. Up today is Shannon Brown, also known as "UPS."
"Shannon Fucking Brown"
Pop Quiz: If the following statement has just been made, what event is most likely to have taken place?
A. Shannon Brown has taken to the rafters to throw down a rim shaking dunk.
B. Shannon Brown has just taken another ill advised 20 foot jump shot with a man in his face.
C. Shannon Brown has just gotten a steal by using his quick hands to swipe the ball right out of his mark's hands.
D. Shannon Brown has just gone under a screen ... again, allowing a shooter a free chance at an easy jump shot.
Correct Answer: All of the above.
All athletes have the ability to amaze and to disappoint, but with Shannon Brown, the highs are higher (literally), and it makes the more frequent lows that much lower. Here is a guy that has all the physical tools, and then some, to be an absolute star in this league, but he gets in his own way enough to relegate him to marginal contributor status(albeit, on a championship squad).
We'll start with the good. Athletically, Shannon Brown has very few peers in this league. He's fast and has hands so big he could palm a medicine ball. He can also jump pretty high. How high? His unofficial vertical is 45", which would place him higher (there that word is again) on the list of great jumpers than either Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. He's not a great shooter by any stretch of the imagination, but when he takes his time and sets his feet, he's got a fairly consistent stroke. If you are looking in the right places, there's a lot to love about Shannon Brown.
If you aren't looking, however, it's easy to forget about all those positives unless they are on full display, because Shannon has some frustrating tendencies which are really holding him back as a player. First off, his shot selection often leaves a lot to be desired. Around these parts, included among the many nicknames he's picked up with those hops, he's also known as WAKI, which stands for Weak Ass Kobe Imitation, a name which is usually reserved for when he takes those unwanted contested 20 footers. Put simply, the man is a gunner, with neither the pedigree nor the skilled, hard working reputation to be forgiven for taking so many bad shots. In related news, Shannon is also not a particularly good passer, and he is especially inept in the art of post entry passing. And finally, he has poor defensive instincts, and plays the pick and roll defensively about as well as Shaquille O'neal.
Role on the Team: Reason to stay invested in blow outs. Don't get me wrong, Shannon Brown will play important, relevant minutes as the Lakers attempt to fight their way to a 3rd straight championship. He was the 1st guard off the bench last year, ahead of Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. This is a new year, Steve Blake will almost surely jump ahead of him in the pecking order, but unless Sasha can turn his fortunes around and become the reliable shooter we want him to be, Shannon will still see plenty of time this season. But the role we'll remember, the one that will have us salivating for garbage time, is the opportunity to watch Shannon do something spectacular at the end of a game that would otherwise have lost its entertainment value a long time before. The best part about this? It doesn't matter whether he actually succeeds in doing what he's trying to do. The failures are almost as spectacular as the successes, and sometimes even more so. There are plenty of devoted fans who will watch every second because it's what they do. For the rest of us, the prospect of UPS will keep us glued to the seats even if the outcome is no longer in doubt.
Best Case Scenario: Shannon Brown "gets it". He doesn't rush shots, doesn't take contested 20 footers, and works hard to overcome his inability to make a post entry pass. He combines his athletic gifts with a newfound knowledge of where he should be defensively, stops going under screens at all times, and joins Bryant, Artest and Barnes as part of the most elite group of perimeter defenders the world has ever seen. He goes back to the slam dunk contest and makes amends for the debacle he put us all through last season. Then, he gets jealous hearing Kobe, Lamar, and Pau Gasol talk about the Olympics in London, so he makes a surprise run and wins the high jump at the World Championships so that he can join the party in 2012.
Worst Case Scenario: A repeat of last season. That might sound harsh, as he certainly wasn't a terrible player last year. There's a good reason why he received the 2nd most minutes of any bench player, behind only 6th starter Lamar Odom. It is a testament to his natural gifts that he can be an effective contributor despite the fact that he keeps himself stuck in low gear. And yes, he could play worse this year than he did last year. He could shoot worse, he could pick up an injury, he could lose his relevant minutes to a revitalized Sasha Vujacic. These would all be "worse" things than for him to stay stuck in neutral. However, last year was Shannon's first "real" season as a member of the Lakers. In 2009, the coaches really didn't have a good chance to have any effect on him. So it was Brown's first full year with the triangle, first full year with the coaches, first full year with the defensive philosophy. A repeat performance of last season will confirm that Shannon is what he is, a gunner and poor defender who patches a lot of holes with tremendous athleticism that need only be patched with a stronger mental approach. I can't think of a worse scenario than that.
What we expect: Somewhere in the middle. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither do I expect Shannon to mature into a heady player overnight. However, if all of his worst tendencies are still on full display this season, I will be disappointed and surprised. And there is great hope for Shannon, a hope that I will go into further detail later in the preseason. Shannon has all the potential to be another diamond in the rough, straight out of the Trevor Ariza mold. All that he needs to do to get there is learn how to play within himself.