Jabari Brown was driving to the basket as he has so many times before, ready to take flight for a dunk and send the Foshan crowd into a frenzy for their leading scorer. Before he could rock the rim, however, a waiting arm collided with his head directly above his right eyebrow, sending him to the floor.
The collision required 10 stitches to repair and a giant bandage worn over the wound, but it also served as Brown's rude awakening that he was in a more dangerous and physical league now.
"Welcome to China," says Brown, recalling the moment.
That CBA hello was a reminder Brown couldn't have been further, both geographically and figuratively, from the NBA and his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. Several months, thousands of miles, and ten stitches later, the sophomore guard from Mizzou has returned to the D-Fenders, determined to make his way back to the big leagues.
Since rejoining Los Angeles, Brown has picked up where he left off with the team prior to his call-up last season, ranking fourth on the D-Fenders in scoring at 20 points per game in the six games since his return after averaging 24.4 points per game the year before.
"Jabari is an elite scorer," says Andre Ingram, Brown's D-Fenders' teammate who also played with Brown last season. "I've never seen anyone get to the line, or have a knack to get to the line more than Jabari. The game is just so easy to him, he has a very smooth game."
Brown's game is smooth, but his foul drawing is down since coming back to the D-League, averaging 5.8 free-throw attempts per game compared to 7.4 last season. "I just feel like I've been having trouble getting any foul calls since I've been back in the D-League," explains Brown, who admits the lack of whistles is frustrating for him.
This decline in free-throw attempts is at least in part responsible for Brown's decreased efficiency since returning stateside. The sophomore scorer has posted a true shooting percentage (which accounts for the added value of free-throws and three-pointers) of 50.7 percent in his six D-League games this year, a far cry from the 57.8 percent he averaged during his last season with the D-Fenders and even the 54.7 percent he managed during his 19 games with the Lakers last season.
Part of this decreased efficiency has coincided with a rise in usage rate from 25.8 during the '14-15 season to 28.7 this year, which is not helping Brown while he readjusts to the run and gun style of the D-League. Eventually it's likely that the whistles will come around, and that a player who shot 39.8 percent on three-pointers with the D-Fenders last season will not continue to shoot 29.8 percent from behind the arc outside of a small sample size.
Despite his issues shooting the ball, Brown's head coach Casey Owens has been impressed with how quickly he's adjusted to a new environment.
"This is a different season than when he played last year, so he had to kind of adjust to new rules, a new kind of discipline in our offensive and defensive schemes and philosophies, and he's fit in seamlessly," says Owens, and Ingram thinks it has to do with Brown's intelligence.
"The thing people don't know about Jabari is Jabari's smart. He came in immediately and started scoring, but what most people don't know is he came in immediately and we run through our whole playbook every practice. The first thing we do is run through the whole offense. He picked it up like that," recalls Ingram, snapping his fingers. " And it was a new offense. He was here last year but it's a new coach so it's a new offense, and Jabari knows all the offensive plays already."
The ability to rapidly learn a new playbook is a handy skill for a player who has played on five differently comprised rosters asking him to do different things since his last stint with the D-Fenders, and it's a skill Brown credits his father for emphasizing to him growing up.
"Since I've been young, my dad always told me 'just study the game. Always watch the game as a student not just as a fan.' So I try to pick up on things," says Brown, whose father passed away earlier this year after a prolonged battle with cancer.
One of the things Jabari has picked up on is his need to become more than just a scorer. In order to grow into a more complete and well-rounded player, Brown says he remains focused on improving on "picking my spots a little bit better, making that extra pass, just seeing the floor a little bit better."
Brown's assist ratio is down from his last year with the D-Fenders (8.7 last year to 3.6 this season), but that decline is more due to the small sample size and the D-Fenders making an extra effort to get him open shots while he acclimates than any selfishness on Brown's part.
Owens credited Brown for how seamlessly he's fit into the D-Fenders' whirring system of rapid ball and player movement, and when watching Los Angeles play it's clear that Brown is more than willing to move the ball onto the next option in a timely fashion when he doesn't see a clear opportunity to attack.
If Brown's shooting percentages tick back upward while retaining his newfound commitment to rounding out the rest of his game, he could be getting a welcome back to the NBA moment before long.
"Jabari's a pro, he puts his work in everyday," raved Owens. "He's focused on getting where he belongs and I don't think we'll have him much longer." The quietly confident Brown almost surely means no disrespect to Owens and the rest of the D-Fenders when he says it, but he doesn't believe that he should have been there or had to journey to China in the first place.
"I got this chip on my shoulder because I feel like I should be in [the NBA] right now, but that's not how it is, so I'm just trying to get back," says Brown. "I feel like when you're hungry like that you're going to make something happen."
All stats per NBA.com and stats.nbadleague.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.