At the start of the 2014-15 season, the position on the Los Angeles Lakers' lineup with the least uncertainty was shooting guard. Kobe Bryant, even returning from another season-ending injury, was at least a known quantity heading into his final years, and Nick Young - fresh off of signing a four-year deal - would be his backup for the foreseeable future. Compared to the ever-rotating cast of bigs, the lack of real NBA talent at small forward, and the sadness of the Steve Nash situation, at least you knew what you were getting from the Lakers at the 2.
And yet, as has become the norm in Lakerland for the past three years, everything fell apart. Bryant suffered a third major injury to sideline him for the rest of the season, Young was never completely healthy, and his free spirit on and off the court didn't help him earn the trust of a new coach. In the dregs on another lost season in Los Angeles, Jabari Brown found an unexpected opportunity.
When Brown first joined the Lakers, the big story was that he was able to reunite with his college teammate and budding L.A. favorite Jordan Clarkson. The all-Mizzou backcourt wasn't particularly heralded coming out of college, but as anyone who watched Josh Smith and Dwight Howard's alley-oop fest during the first round of the NBA Playoffs can attest, it's fun to see two guys with years of chemistry and, dare I say, an actual friendship play together. It was almost a bonus to see that Jabari could play basketball at an NBA level.
The primary takeaway of the Jabari Brown Laker Experience is that Brown can score. D-League pedigree aside - he was the leading scorer at 24.4 points per game when he was called up and had put up 50 and 48 points each during the season - Brown showed that he could get buckets against NBA defenders in a variety of ways. He was one of three Lakers this season to score 30 points in a game, along with Bryant and Clarkson.
Brown has a good 3-point stroke, and aesthetically-pleasing form, something that's remained a strength since he was in college. He shot 41.0 percent from three in his final season at Missouri, 39.2 percent for the D-Fenders, and 37.1 percent while with the Lakers on 3.9 attempts per game.
Admittedly, the LA-Philadelphia contests were closer to glorified pickup games than NBA action this year, but against the 76ers, you can see Brown coming off screens, finishing catch-and-shoot opportunities, driving his way into the lane, and showing a nice step-back move.
Brown may be small, but he doesn't shy away from contact. He averaged 5.4 free throw attempts per 36 minutes this year, which rated among the top 15 guards in the league (min. 500 minutes). It's that type of physicality that should endear him to head coach Byron Scott, even if it hasn't worked for the guy directly below him on that list.
There are holes in Brown's game. At 6'4, he is a little small for a shooting guard, and he hasn't shown much ability to create for his teammates. His PER (11.0) wasn't good and his net rating (minus-6.7) was the worst of any Laker who played at least five games not named Kobe. He shot really well throughout his two ten-day contracts, and then his shooting percentages dipped to .358/.316/.750 in April, right around when the Lakers collectively broke. But it's hard to evaluate raw numbers on a bottom-five team playing out the string.
Which brings us to the million dollar (or closer to $845,000) question - should the Lakers bring back Brown? He has an unguaranteed contract for next season, and at this point, only four players are locked in (Bryant, Young, Julius Randle, and Ryan Kelly), so his future is as up in the air as the entire franchise's. Brown's priority is to remain with the Lakers, particularly if the team picks up Clarkson's option, as is expected.
At 22 years old, Brown has more upside than Young, and is arguably a more complete scorer than Wayne Ellington, who's been more of a shooter in his career. The pair of Brown and Clarkson coming off the bench together behind Kobe and Emmanuel Mudiay or D'Angelo Russell is actually something you might see on a winning team.
As someone who wanted to bring back Kendall Marshall and Kent Bazemore and still believes in Xavier Henry, I'm completely on board with Jabari Brown. The Lakers should continue to invest in as much young talent as possible, especially when that talent is capable of scoring 32 points in a game. Even if Brown doesn't amount to a star, which he likely won't, there's value in filling out the roster with quality role players who can pour it on in a pinch. If Brown can someday amount to Monta Ellis or Lou Williams, that's someone worth keeping around.
Jabari Brown is a solid, classic two-guard who fit in well with what the Lakers were trying to do this year. Even with multiple shooting guards returning next season, Brown has earned an opportunity to stick around in Los Angeles for another year.
--Follow this author @sabreenajm