Kwame Brown continues to drift into irrelevancy

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kwame brown.jpgKwame Brown, former #1 overall pick and legitimate candidate for the unenviable ‘Biggest Bust of All-Time’ distinction, is a shining example of the power of the Los Angeles Lakers. Not two seasons ago, Brown was an occasional starter on an upstart Lakers team that had taken the West by storm, and he averaged over 22 minutes per game for Los Angeles.

Brown may have received more ridicule than praise, but under the bright lights at Staples Center, it was impossible to deny his existence. He played for the most visible basketball team on the planet, and as such, he was among the most visible players on the planet. 

Then a funny thing happened. The Lakers snagged Pau Gasol away from the Memphis Grizzlies for a few first round picks, Javaris Crittenton (a good move in retrospect), and one giant expiring contract. That expiring contract was named Kwame Brown, and without the glitz and glam of the L.A. making him more or less a mainstay on national television, he’s slowly drifted from public consciousness.

It doesn’t help that Brown simply refuses to improve. Some players employ an exponential style of improvement over their formative years, where they’ll lay low temporarily before making big leap after big leap. Others are slightly more linear, showing steady, incremental improvement year after year. And then there are those like Brown, who quite honestly, may have plateaued before he even began. His body is more NBA-ready than his frail high school frame ever was during his early years in Washington, but from a technique standpoint has Brown ever really added anything to his game?

It doesn’t help that Brown plays for the pretty terrible Detroit Pistons, a mistmatched squad of talent that has Joe Dumars playing mad scientist. I’m honestly not sure what anyone expected would happen when the team dropped some major dough on signing Ben Gordon (a streaky shooter and decent, if undersized, defender) and Charlie Villanueva (a streaky shooter and a poor, if underwhelming, defender) as franchise cornerstones, but it’s not especially a recipe for success. Especially when considering the larger holes and problems on the roster. Namely, the center position, where Brown drifts through for about 14 minutes a night.

And it doesn’t help that Brown has a self-image that is increasingly dissonant with reality. Confidence (or really, disillusionment) has never been Kwame’s problem, as evidenced by a feature piece by Terry Foster of the Detroit News:

Pistons reserve center Kwame Brown rolled his head back in laughter inside the Pistons dressing room. Between beats of DMX on the loudspeaker there was the cackle of a giant man who didn’t agree with the latest lyrics from his coach.

“Our biggest concern and I have discussed it with him is defense,” Kuester said. “We have to make sure he continually plays the consistent defense that I want to in the scheme. That is pick-and-roll, high pick-and-roll. Just making sure he knows.”

If Brown didn’t know, he knows now. That is why he laughed when Kuester’s words were relayed to him.

“Listen, man, I don’t want something to be flared up on what I say,” Brown said. “I will do what the coach says in order to get better, although that is a first because there is one thing I do bring to the table and that is defense. That’s the first time I heard that. It’s the first time a coach said I don’t play defense. But like I said, I will learn to play the defense he wants me to play.”

…Brown remains confident. He started for the Lakers in 2006 when Chris Mihm was injured. Brown said he’s one of the top three defensive players in the NBA. That’s why Kuester’s words make him laugh.

One of the top three defensive players in the NBA. Kwame Brown. I’ll let that sink in.

It’s hard to be a Laker and not get noticed, one way or another. But as a Piston? A Piston who’s logging floor time behind Ben Wallace, Jason Maxiell, and Chris Wilcox at center? A Piston who honestly believes he’s one of the league’s top defenders, despite incredible evidence to the contrary? Well, to get noticed in that situation, Kwame needs to let his game do the talking.  

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

James Harden makes impressive chase-down block. Really. (video)

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If we’re going to post all of James Harden‘s defensive lowlights, it’s only fair to acknowledge this impressive block.

Please overlook the fact that Jason Terry is 39 years old.

Steven Adams posterizes Rudy Gobert AND Derrick Favors with one thunderous dunk (video)

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Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors form an impressive defensive tandem that usually walls off the paint.

If there were any walls here, Steven Adams jumped right over them.

Video Breakdown: How Kyle Lowry dismantles NBA defenses from 3-point range

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Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry is arguably the team’s best player thanks in large part to his increase in 3-point shooting ability this season. He’s just above 43 percent from deep this year, much better than his career average of 36 percent. Lowry has increased his 3-point percentage six points over last season, and he’s a big part of why the Raptors are so good on offense, and why they’re a contender in the Eastern Conference.

So how does he do it?

Watch the full video breakdown on Lowry’s 3-point shooting above, or read the text version of the article below.

Early Offense

I looked at a lot of tape of Lowry over the last 3 years and he hasn’t changed much on his shot mechanics. There’s no big change in his sweep or sway toward the basket when he shoots, and he still brings the ball up from his left side.

Part of his leap is be how quickly he’s getting his shots off and how many of his early offense field goal attempts come in the form of 3-pointers.

Lowry has bumped up how many 3-pointers he’s taken in the early offense, recorded here as between 24 and 15 seconds on the shot clock. Year-over-year he’s taken nearly eight percent more of his field goals as three pointers in this range.

This takes form on the court in a couple of ways, both in transition on the fast break and on quick 1 or 2 dribble pull ups off the pick-and-roll.

Transition

With the ball in secondary transition here, Lowry gets a quick screen from DeMarre Carroll to open him up for a 3-point bucket against the Hornets. And that’s still with 18 seconds left on the shot clock!

Pull-up and off-the-bounce jumpers

The other way Lowry scores quickly is off the dribble, with quick pick and rolls. Toronto is great at screen assists — picks leading to an immediate field goal — and have three players in the Top 50 and two in the Top 10 in setting them.

Here, the Celtics defender cuts off Lowry’s attack to the middle of the floor. The screener sets up to Lowry’s right, but then quickly flips it to his left. One dribble, and it’s an easy 3-pointer.

Here against Portland, the Raptors run a two screen setup with one wing and one post. The Blazers make the switch and try to blitz Lowry, but he stays resilient and sinks the bucket with what little space they allow him anyway.

Working with DeMar DeRozan

The other thing that’s been talked about a lot is the gravity of DeMar DeRozan, who himself is having a career year for the Raptors. While Lowry is making a ton of unassisted 3-pointers this year, the Raptors point guard does benefit from DeMar.

Part of that is how good they are in transition together.

Here you can see DeMar bringing the ball up the court with Lowry in front of him. He sets the screen, then fades to the arc. Three Utah Jazz are trying to stop DeRozan, and Lowry is left all alone.

When he’s not the primary ball handler on the break, Lowry will immediately get out to the wing. DeRozan has a way of finding him to get up quick Js.

Of course, in good old set plays the Raptors see this gravity effect as well.

Here Toronto is running another double screen with a guard and a post, but Lowry is one of the screeners. At this point, all three Heat players are guarding against DeRozan’s midrange jumper, leaving just enough daylight for Lowry.

Toronto is also third in the NBA in “hockey” or secondary assists, which means two or more passes leading to a made field goal.

On this baseline out of bounds play, again it’s DeRozan’s gravity that frees up Lowry. As the ball is inbounded, DeRozan sucks three warriors defenders with him, including Lowry’s. Meanwhile, Kyle is running down the baseline to get a bucket off a pass on the opposite side of the floor. All the raps have to do is rotate the ball.

So that’s a little bit on why Kyle Lowry has been so good. It’s been about shot selection, decisiveness, and some practice in addition to the effectiveness of his teammates.