From high school rivals in Georgia to teammates in Toronto, Lorenzo Brown and Jordan Loyd have traveled long and mostly parallel roads. The Toronto Raptors are hoping that their similarities continue. The Raptors have established a history of converting undersized, score-first wings into oversized, pass-first point guards. It worked fantastically for Brown in 2017-18, and the 905 are hoping Loyd works a little of the same magic this year. Loyd is in a perfect place to succeed, especially with Brown as his mentor.
The two were originally high school rivals in Georgia. Brown attended Centennial High School, which in his final year in 2008-09 was ranked 5th in the state. Loyd attended bitter rival Milton, which in 2008-09 was ranked 6th in Georgia. Loyd even led Milton to a state championship as a junior in 2009-10.
“I used to play against Jordan in high school,” said Lorenzo, who was a few years ahead in school. “We were in the same division. I watched him grow.”
“We were high school rivals, actually,” laughed Loyd. “I didn’t know him as close as I do now. I always heard about him.”
Though their paths diverged afterwards, they stayed close in the years to follow, even working out together in Atlanta during off-seasons. Their careers have again converged in the same city. As Brown won a G-League MVP, he’s become a mentor of sorts for Loyd since the latter landed in Toronto. The two talk frequently, and Loyd is appreciative of the help that his elder provides.
“He’s always spoke a lot of wisdom, and things that I can learn during this two-way transition,” said Loyd. “He’s been there before. He knows everything. He was the MVP of the league last year, so he knows the ups and downs, and we always talk, we always hang out off the court, so he’s a really good person to look up to. I just aspire to be in his position.”
Brown, for his part, has watched all of Loyd’s games thus far in the season. At Raptors’ practices, he’s frequently asked 905 guru, Blake Murphy, for updates and information on Loyd’s progress. Brown is impressed with Loyd’s game, though he was conservative in his praise of Loyd’s monster throwdown in his first 905 game (even as Loyd admitted after the game that it was the best dunk of his career).
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“He has a little bit of bounce,” conceded Brown with a straight face. “He’s sneaky.”
Entering Toronto, Brown came off of a 2016-17 G-League season in which he scored 5.9 points for every assist for the Grand Rapids Drive. With a microwave scorer at the other guard spot in Davion Berry, the Raptors 905 needed Brown to be a lead ball-handler, creator, and offensive floor general. Brown responded beautifully, lowering his points-per-assist number to 2.1 in his 2017-18 G-League MVP season. Brown was especially fantastic at creating out of the pick-and-roll.
Loyd is in a slightly dissimilar situation, in that his backcourt partner, Kay Felder, is far more ball-dominant than was Berry. Loyd has played more shooting guard than lead guard through four games, though he played a chunk of his minutes as the point guard on a bench lineup in the team’s loss to the Long Island Nets. Regardless, through a few games, Loyd’s 21.5 usage rate has paled to Brown’s 26.6 last year.
Loyd averaged 3.8 points per assist in 2016-17 with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, which is a good number for a combo guard. He hasn’t improved in that regard for the 905. Thus far, he’s averaged a Jamal Crawford-esque 8.6 points-per-assist. Loyd hasn’t created well for teammates, and he will need to improve for the 905. Even with four assists against the Windy City Bulls, they all game from simple swing passes. None were created definitively by Loyd. He won’t be asked to duplicate Brown’s game entirely, and Loyd isn’t looking to.
“Not necessarily his game,” admitted Loyd. “I do want to mimic his numbers, and the MVP. But not as much his game. Just about how he moves the ball, was a floor general, leader, was able to do it night in and night out. Not just score the ball but get others involved, so that’s always a thing that I want to improve on, going forward.”
Beyond passing, Loyd’s shot chart has also differed from Brown’s. Brown made his lunch by creating his own looks, generally off of the dribble and from the short midrange. Though Loyd hasn’t played enough games to establish a trend, he is looking to limit his shots to 3s and layups. Furthermore, while 85.9 percent of Brown’s 2-point makes were unassisted last year, Loyd only creates 36.4 percent of the same shots for himself. Loyd has created more of his looks this year either in transition or with guile, faking screens, cutting, and altogether making space without the ball in his hands.
Loyd has some advantages. He is already a comparable or maybe even better finisher than Brown, particularly with his strong hand. He makes faster decisions. He projects to be a much better distance shooter. Loyd doesn’t want to borrow all of Brown’s skills, especially his shot distribution.
“Fewer non-paint 2s,” laughed Loyd.
However, Loyd could use some discrete skills that Brown has already mastered. Loyd’s handle could be tightened and sped up, and his midrange finishes need some extra touch. Those are some of Brown’s greatest skills. Similarly, Brown is dramatically better as the lead handler in the pick-and-roll, both passing to rolling bigs and hitting shooters in the pocket around the arc.
The Raptors want Loyd to develop his creation abilities for himself and others, but he has a way to go to reach Brown’s heights. However, even if Loyd doesn’t grow into a lead guard, he has NBA-ready skills. Most importantly, he knows what skills need development. He may not grow into a Lorenzo Brown simulacrum, but Loyd has his sights set even higher.
If Brown isn’t exactly Loyd’s preferred player comp, then who does Loyd think he’ll become, when fully weaponized?
“I look at one of my favourite players right now, is Russ[ell Westbrook], the way he plays, how explosive he is, and how can shoot it, score it, get others involved. Obviously, he’s really, really athletic, and I don’t have that piece as much,” said Loyd. “Just the way he plays, and I think it’s a good copy to mimic, [for a] combo guard.”
Loyd laughed. A few teammates walked past, informing me that I was talking to the great Jordan Loyd. He paused and grew thoughtful.
“One dunk and I like to compare myself to Russ, right?”