For the past two years, Shannon Brown has served as a solid example of what happens when inherent talent is not commensurate with one's skill level. Starting with his very first game in a Lakers' jersey in which he wowed the crowd and the Lakers' bench with a surreal block of the Atlanta Hawks' Mario West, he has offered flashes of the brilliance he could achieve with his tremendous athleticism if he ever figured out important things like dribbling, working in an offense, or just basic basketball skills for that matter. Despite his relatively short frame for a shooting guard, Brown overcame many of those limitations with his explosive jumping ability, but never truly overcame the hurdle that was how to translate that ability on the basketball court.
Indeed, for Laker fans, Brown was defined just as much by his limitations as by his strengths. From near-comical traits like his refusal to fight through screens or make a basic post entry pass to more actively aggravating ones such as his tendency to dribble the clock away before launching a stepback jumper, Brown never really was able to apply his talents unless he had an open lane or the coaching staff was kind enough to diagram an alley-oop play for him. It simply appeared as if there was a near-constant disconnect between what was happening on the court and in Brown's mind.
It was for this reason that Brown's start to the season came completely out of left field, as he used a new shot style and aggressiveness off the catch to get off to a spectacular start to the year. Averaging 11.1 ppg on 48.0 FG% as well as a lethal 45.6% from behind the line, numbers that arguably made him a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Brown essentially embodied literally everything the bench needed to succeed. With Brown as a scoring force, it opened up lanes for Blake to run the show on offense, or for him to spot up more successfully when Odom handled the ball. It also allowed Matt Barnes to do what he did best in energetically attacking the rim for offensive rebounds and off cuts. He even miraculously decided that trying to run through a screen might be a good thing every now and then on defense, and while he still didn't throw a whole lot of post entry passes, one could forgive him considering that everyone wanted him to shoot the ball at every opportunity.
It came to the point where the bench, long the dreaded bastion of lost leads, poor execution, and terrible overall play, was actually something Laker fans looked forward to any given game, as they often overwhelmed other team's second units. Brown himself often found himself in the '07-'08 Sasha Vujacic role finishing games at the two while Kobe moved over to the three. If anything underscores how important spacing is to the Lakers' offense, and why the Lakers need to address that problem in some fashion during the offseason, it is the sheer level of success that the bench experienced at the start of the year when they had that spacing to work with.
But that glorious start soon gave way to an equally inglorious rest of the season, as Brown decided to fall down to earth in the worst way imaginable. After his torrid start to the season, Brown slumped to 43.0% shooting in December along with a miserable 26.3 3P%, numbers he would essentially repeat for the remainder of the season. Moreover, it wasn't just a shooting slump, which many expected him to experience after defying the law of averages for so long, but a loss of confidence in every part of his game. No longer was he avidly shooting the ball off the catch with space, the classic role of any catch-and-shoot specialist. Indeed, he usually appeared lost on the offensive end, reverting back to his usual habit of dribbling the clock away before launching his patented WAKI (Weakass Kobe Imitation) stepback jumpers that Laker fans know and loathe to no end. Even his shooting stroke, a high release that he clearly honed during long hours in the off-season, seemed to disappear as the season continued. It is honestly difficult to explain why this occurred, and we don't have enough information to play armchair psychologist and guess at the inherent problem.
Brown's woes continued for the rest of the year as the Laker season went into the bunk. Even during the Lakers brilliant 17-1 post-ASG streak, Brown was rarely a key contributor, with the grand majority of the accolades going to Andrew Bynum's new defensive identity. This came to such a head that during the last game of the season against Sacramento, newcomer acquisition Trey Johnson from the D-League, aside from instantly becoming part of the now expansive SS&R meme machine, looked like a panacea compared to Brown, as his decisive cuts, good dribbling skills, and solid midrange game evoked the notion that we might actually be able to field a competent backup two guard. That dream did not materialize in the playoffs as most of the minutes went to Brown, and he was hardly a difference maker during any part of the playoffs, although the stats will tell you that he did a half-decent job against Dallas.
Brown's current future with the team largely depends on his own mindset, as he has a player option to exercise for next season. On one hand, playing in a more conventional offense without having to deal with the triangle's reads, something that always appeared to be beyond Brown's ability, might benefit him, but at the same time, that might be a reason for him to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Current reports have him leaning towards departing the Lakers, although nothing is certain as of the moment. Brown's decision-making could also be impacted by the Lakers' recent draft, as the Lakers took two guards in Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock in the second round who have a solid chance to make the team, and Goudelock's lethal shooting ability in particular would provide Brown with a tad bit of competition for minutes next year if he can't reproduce the initial success he experienced last season.
Altogether, the grade for Brown has to take into account how insanely well he started the season, as well as the dramatic decline he experienced as well. As the former would have earned him a solid A and the latter a D-, we'll split the difference and weigh it accordingly due to the much longer time he spent sucking rather than solidifying the Lakers' long despondent bench unit. If Brown does return, let's hope it is with the conviction that he can maintain that solid level of play next season.
Season Grade: C
Sasha Vujacic.... F
Trey Johnson.... C
Joe Smith.... D+
Theo Ratliff.... D-
Devin Ebanks.... C-
Derrick Caracter.... D+
Luke Walton.... F