Making a Point Guard

As with many things, Brown displayed a little bit of good and a little bit of bad.

The Raptors 905 seem to specialize in helping development projects change their natural positions. Bruno Caboclo is now viewed around the league as a full-time shooting big; Brady Heslip was able to sign a professional contract in Turkey partially as a result of his successful transition to point guard with the 905. The next 905 target for position development? Lorenzo Brown.

Brown joined the Raptors 905 after a strong campaign for the Grand Rapid Drive in which he averaged 23.6 points on 18.5 shots per game in 9 games. His tendency, as it has been for all of his career, was to look for his own shot before any other; he is more of a natural combo-guard than a point guard, which ill-suits his slim, 6’5” frame. His assist rate was a career-low 19.2% in 2016-17, and the 905 look to edge his playmaking profile more towards creating for others.  They look to make him a true point guard.

Brown finished November 14th’s day game against the Westchester Knicks with dominant numbers, 29 points on only 16 shots (2 made 3s and 9 made free throws help), 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. But was his dominance that of a score-first player with tunnel vision or that of a point guard?

Brown’s passing was on full display early during the narrow 905 win. After opening the game with a midrange make, he looked for Andre Washington as the roller out of the pick and roll. Later in the first quarter, Brown found Davion Berry in transition and Kennedy Meeks again the half-court; all were smooth and on-target passes to streaking cutters. Only one ended in an assist, but all showed positive signs: Brown’s vision and willingness to create shots for others. As a sidenote, I don’t have video of the first half due to technical difficulties, so trust that they were good passes.

The shoot-first player certainly didn’t get rid of all of his aggressive tendencies, as he finished the first quarter leading the team in shot attempts, with 5. His midrange shot was falling, and all Raptors fans know that midrange players can be efficient as long as the shot goes in. But you can’t always rely on that offense. Brown lacks burst near the rim, and he was blocked early by G-League megastar Luke Kornet on a layup attempt. In general, he struggles to finish over length, although he adapted throughout the game. After missing several early near the rim, Lorenzo used a few quick-release moves, scoop layups and Rondo-style okie dokes to get shots off with less resistance. He’s heady and can score.

Coach Stackhouse elaborated: “I don’t really care about who takes the shots as long as they’re good shots. As long as we’re moving the ball and driving and kicking it, and trying to have an extra pass, drive it and kick it and swing it one more, those are the shots that we really like… We want [Brown] to be more of a facilitator and help his teammates to be better.”

Brown launched 7 shots in the just the 3rd quarter, but the offense struggled to create when he was on the bench. Striking a balance is difficult; the 905’s highest scoring quarter was the 3rd, in which they scored 34 points. One quarter (or one game) should not be a referendum on Brown’s development, but it serves as evidence that knowing when to pass and when to shoot is difficult for a score-first point guard. In the 4th, Brown went back to creating for others. He showed off a nice pass to Bruno Caboclo, working the pick and pop to perfection, getting Bruno an open 3 after drawing the defense:

That play also evidences a nice screen from Kennedy Meeks, with whom Brown already has terrific chemistry. Lorenzo slipped several bounce passes to Meeks on the pick and roll, and Meeks is a trustworthy finisher in close. Brown played up their rivalry when asked about why they work well together: “It’s a NC thing. I’m right down the road, at NC State, he’s a Carolina guy”. But he finished, understated, conceding that “we seem to work well together”. He complemented Meeks later, saying that “as long as he keeps [working hard], [he’d] definitely give him the ball every single time”. It’s no secret that the jovial Meeks is well-liked on the 905 (Stack called him the biggest child on the team).

Despite Brown’s dominance, there were still highs and lows. He played great defense on former NBAer Trey Burke, but Brown wasn’t totally happy with his effort on that end. (His defence is not the issue, as he has incredibly quick hands, leading the team in steals, and shows impressive, multiple efforts when moving his feet to contain dribble penetration). More importantly, the team wants more passing from Brown, especially when his midrange jumper isn’t falling as consistently as it was against the Knicks. Brown himself admits that he’s still learning his role on the team.

Learning his role will have to come sooner rather than later. With injuries to both of Norman Powell and Delon Wright, the Raptors are thin at guard positions. Dwane Casey has recalled Lorenzo Brown, who is on a two-way contact. Expect several of his 45 remaining NBA days to be used up while Wright’s shoulder heals. Think of this as an extended tryout, not just for the Raptors, but around the league. After all, Brown can restructure his contract once the 45 days are up.

As with many things, Brown has displayed a little bit of good and a little bit of bad on the season. He has already demonstrated that he can dominate at the G-League level; that is not something NBA scouts need shown to them. But for him to stick in the NBA, he will need to shift his playing style. He showed some change but not enough. Despite Lorenzo’s dominance against the Knicks, Stackhouse wants more from his point guard: “I want him to be aggressive. I want him to be able to use his ability to get in the paint, use his ability to score, but I want him to take care of the ball. 6 turnovers is too [many] for my point guard.”

Brown can defend; he’s long and tenacious for a point guard. Can his scoring translate to the next level? His struggles with length will only be more pronounced in the NBA, and the Raptors are trying to move further away from the midrange. If Brown has trouble scoring, will he be willing to adapt and pass more frequently? He was supposed to have more time to figure this out, but it seems like Brown has to put it together fast.

Brown has high-level vision, especially on the pick and roll. But when he’s driving, he can often become one track minded, looking too often for his own shot. Too many possessions end without any passes and a contested midrange jumper. That is not how Lorenzo will stick in the NBA. But the signs are there. If Lorenzo can play with four Kennedy Meeks, he’s already home free. He should enjoy playing with some of the Raptors’ more talented rolling bigs. If all goes well, Brown is one player who may well end up with greener pastures (and pockets) before the 2017-18 G-League season is done.

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