When the Raptors 905 dismantled the Wisconsin Herd, they racked up 34 assists and got whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Shooters were getting the ball in the pocket and dives to the rim were rewarded with the ball in stride.
You never would have thought the 905 were missing their best player and starting point guard.
Averaging 18.2 points, nine assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals through 28 games, the 905 have relied heavily on the 27-year-old to provide scoring and looks for others to get theirs, but every successful team is equipped with contingencies for when they can’t find a way to make their bread and butter work.
Brown has missed the past four games for the affiliate club with a left ankle sprain, and only played four minutes against the Maine Red Claws before being forced to leave. They have gone 3-2 over that stretch, and while head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s offence deserves it’s share of credit, it’s the early lessons of pushing Brown to be more that have helped the ball club stay afloat in his absence.
When the former North Carolina State product joined the 905, he had already established himself as a premier scorer at the G League level. Brown has a tight handle that helps him break down defences, has a sweet hesitation game to set up his midrange game which keeps his man honest, and is a 35.4 percent shooter on 328 career attempts.
What Stackhouse needed coming into the 2017-18 season, though, was better distribution. If the 905 were going to live up to their championship standards of last season, they were going to need to find a way to consistently make their teammates better.
This year’s bunch doesn’t include the likes of Brady Heslip, Axel Toupane and Edy Tavares.
Brown certainly has the ability to carry an offence, and through the first few games, it appeared as though that was his intent. As he continued to work, continued to learn the offence and understand his teammates better, Brown the facilitator became a thing.
After 51 turnovers through his first 10 games, Brown has committed 50 turnovers over the 18 games he’s played since. His assist to turnover ratio has almost doubled from 1.71 to 3.38 and the team has unsurprisingly gone 15-3 over that stretch.
“That’s my job as a point guard, to make everybody on this team better,” Brown said after pulling a double-shift for the 905 and the parent club during the G League Showcase.
By maintaining the role of distributor for large parts of this season and going out and getting buckets primarily when the team really needs him to or he’s just taking what the defence gives him, it provides a theoretically easier framework for understudies to fill his role when he isn’t around. Not everyone can just go out and get 30 on any given night.
It also gets other players setting expectations of themselves because they now know they’re getting a certain amount of touches per night, and so as opposed to having a bit of domino effect of guys having to identify new roles for themselves when one player carries the lion share of the workload, the even distribution means stepping in for Brown becomes a less strenuous task.
Kaza Keane had to do so from Dec. 8 – 18, and racked up 10.8 points, 11 assists and 6.5 rebounds over four games during that stretch. Well known for his defence, Keane has had to learn to orchestrate an offence and be more willing to impose his own offence, too. That’s Brown’s forte.
“I ask him (Brown) questions every day,” Keane said. “I’m probably a pest at this point. At halftime, I ask him, ‘How do you do this?’ so when you have a player like that on your team, you just try to learn and hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can help somebody else. Having him on this team has been great for us, and for me especially, so, I’m just happy he’s here.”
Heading into the last three games, Stackhouse and his squad was dealt another test. Keane, the Ajax, Ont. native, was selected for Team Canada along with Aaron Best and so rookie Kethan Savage would need to be relied upon.
The 24-year-old, like Brown, had plenty to learn coming in, and wasn’t expected to be a contributor of note in his first season with the team. Yet, there he was, starting at the point of attack for the 905 in a game against a team they’re chasing for the division lead.
He finished with seven points and six assists in a tough 110-107 loss to the Westchester Knicks, but Stackhouse was impressed with what he saw.
“Kethan only had one turnover, and that’s big time for him considering where he was at the start of the season,” Stackhouse said before the 905 took on the Herd. “I probably didn’t think he would be a guy who, in one of the biggest games of the season for us would step up and play as well as he did. It just shows the growth in him.”
When asked what or whom he credits the improvement to, Savage’s eyes lit up.
“Lorenzo,” he replied. “In timeouts, in huddles. Even today (vs. Wisconsin), he’ll call me over, let me know what he sees. When he’s playing — when he comes back — I’m always going to be watching how he attacks certain defensive schemes, see how he’s able to be productive and efficient. Definitely learn from him.”
Brown’s development hasn’t only come as a distributor. He’s learned that getting the best out of his teammates also involves sharing what he’s learned, what he sees that can be taken advantage of. The better he makes his team, the easier his job becomes.
The resume now reads, Lorenzo Brown: Scorer, distributor, leader, mentor. All in the hopes of taking a path many with the 905 before him already have.
“I have a role to play up there and I have a role to play down here,” Brown said. “Every game is an opportunity to show what I can do. When the time comes for me to be more aggressive up there, I’ll take that approach.”