It is possible that being somewhat of a known commodity, with a set role for the season to come, has proven a curse of sorts in the preseason.
Signed to a two-way contract this summer, Lorenzo Brown had been working out with the young contingent of Toronto Raptors for weeks heading into training camp, taking on some semblance of a leadership role as one of the league’s eldest two-way players and one of the few Raptors with multiple years of NBA experience. In games, though, Brown has been sparse – he’s played 16 minutes in total through four preseason outings, fewest on the team aside from the now-waived Kennedy Meeks – and didn’t even see significant run when Fred VanVleet missed an earlier outing with hamstring tightness.
So what gives? It’s certainly not that the team isn’t fond of Brown, a 6-foot-5 point guard who’s improved his shot a great deal and who could bring a steady hand in an up-and-down role in the organization this year. The 27-year-old was likely selected for a two-way contract because of a combination of experience and leadership, standing as a reasonable fourth point guard on the depth chart for up to 45 days during the season and providing a steady lead-guard presence for Raptors 905 the remainder of the time. That he’s on a two-way deal and has 63 games in the NBA has probably just conspired to allow the Raptors to take longer in-game looks at other players, knowing with some confidence what they have in Brown when he’s needed.
What they have in Brown is a guard with great size for the position, one capable of seeing over defenses and using his length to be disruptive at the other end of the floor. In parts of three NBA seasons, Brown’s averaged just 8.9 points per-36 minutes on 41.4-percent true-shooting, but he’s also posted a 26.5-percent assist rate and a 2.6-percent steal rate, solid numbers for his role. It’s also a somewhat small sample (833 minutes), and if his time in the G-League is any indication, his shot’s come along much better than his NBA numbers ever got to show – Brown is a 36.2-percent career 3-point shooter over 75 G-League games, firing up a much larger volume than in the NBA sample. He’s also consistently been a strong free-throw shooter, which generally portends well to extended range (he’s second to only Malcolm Miller on the training camp leaderboard for free throws made out of 100).
The shot remains a work-in-progress, though, the type of skill addition opposing teams won’t necessarily respect in the pick-and-roll until he burns them a few times. That Brown isn’t a finished product at 27 is part of why a two-way contract makes sense for him, providing some financial stability and occasional NBA run while allowing him to develop without the specter of 10-day contract season hanging over him as it may have in past years. How, exactly, the two-way players will be treated is still a bit of a mystery, but Brown’s trying to just go with the flow of things and let the call-ups and send-downs sort themselves out.
“The same as every year I come in,” Brown said at Media Day of how he’ll treat the two-way role. “Take it serious just like any other day. I’m just ready to see what’s next for myself. Two-ways are pretty new so I’m not too sure what to expect. I’m gonna take it serious, play my heart out, and just come ready to do what I have to do, honestly.”
Brown pointing to his effort level is something fans can probably get used to, as he’s earned a reputation as a hard-nosed player, even at a slender 190 pounds. He’ll fight through screens, lunge into passing lanes and scramble back out, and throw his body into contact inside to try to create kick-out opportunities. That he found himself working out with noted gym rats Norman Powell, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet this summer is hardly surprising. (Brown and VanVleet actually share a hometown of Rockford, Ill., though Brown’s roots are mostly in Atlanta now.) Looking to make an impression with that group in the weeks leading up to camp, Brown regaled his attempts to try to beat Powell into the gym only to continually come up short, because, well, it’s Powell.
How Brown’s shown in those workouts and in the abundance of practices throughout training camp is unclear. He’s struggled some in the minutes he’s played, shooting 1-of-9, missing all five of his threes, and committing three turnovers, but he’s also made a couple of solid reads and crashed the glass with abandon. It’s as flawed a sample as any preseason look can be, a continuation of a stop-and-start NBA career that’s shown that Brown is an intriguing piece but never really allowed him to lock down a full-time role or show definitively who he is as a player.
He’ll get those opportunities in time, perhaps as soon as Friday’s preseason finale. Once the season opens, it’s a safe bet that Brown will factor into plans eventually – head coach Dwane Casey has long enjoyed using two point guards together, Kyle Lowry has been known to miss time, and the two other point guards on the roster, while exciting, remain quite young and somewhat unproven. Brown, like Wright, can also provide some help should the wing depth be threatened. Until he’s needed, Brown will likely ply his trade with Raptors 905, where he and newly signed Davion Berry should give Jerry Stackhouse plenty of fun options at both ends, a pair of large combo-guards comfortable guarding up a position and playing on or off the ball.
Don’t let a lack of preseason run take Brown off your radar. Whether as an experienced leader for the team’s development program in Mississauga or as a spot-duty fill-in with the parent club, Brown will have a role to play this season.