Wednesday was Ring Night at the Hershey Centre, as the Raptors celebrated their 2017 championship season. But I was there to focus on their starting point guard – Lorenzo Brown.
You might assume a G-Leaguer entering his fifth professional season would force his game, desperately trying to escape the minor-league grind, but there was no one more relaxed on court than Brown.
Offensively, Brown’s game can be summed up in one word – fluid. Whether his man picked him up at the three point line or full court, Brown was impervious to on-ball pressure, never having to speed up his decision making. On two occasions Brown drove the lane, and picked up his dribble with his man hounding him. Brown took advantage of the defender’s aggression – gave a subtle up-fake, and finished layups on the opposite side of the rim.
Brown also showed off his range – his sweet spots (in a two-game sample of watching him) coming from the elbows. With his man in good defensive position, Brown was able to find separation with subtle body fakes, step back, and rise with perfect balance to drill multiple jumpshots, including 3-for-7 from behind the arc.
So why isn’t he in the NBA?!
Defensively, while Brown did well on-ball, he had a tendency to drift when the ball was on the weak side. On two occasions Brown drifted away from his man to offer help when it wasn’t needed on a driver, and the driver hit Brown’s man for an open three. Another time Brown closed out too hard on his man, got blown by, and the defence was compromised. These mistakes seem easily corrected, and, again, it’s a tiny sample, so maybe he just had an off-night on D.
Offensively, while Brown can score in many ways, he didn’t seem like much of a distributor. He put up four assists, but I can only think of one where he truly created the opportunity to score (on a drive and dish for a layup). Brown’s handle is second to none, but on a few occasions, when he was cut off and not in a position to score, he’d force passes, many of which were deflected, some stolen (he had five turnovers).
One trend that I doubt is random due to the small sample is Brown’s affinity for the skip-pass. Thru two games, on four occasions that I counted, Brown would whip a pass from a difficult angle to corner shooters, where you’d have expected him to make a standard pass to the nearest player. It’s surprising, and delightful to watch, and it’s a unique talent – something I imagine real scouts are looking for when they scour the G-League for prospects.
Or maybe it’s the opposite of what they’re looking for.
If we’re thinking of Brown’s potential to crack the Raptors roster he’s going to have to usurp one of Delon Wright or Fred Vanvleet. Wright seems to me a better version of Brown – longer, faster, better finisher, better defender, although Brown does seem the better outside shooter (47.3 FG%, 35.3 3FG% last season vs Wright’s 43.1 FG%, and 0 3FG% (0-for-8 in 5 G-League regular season games)) .
So that leaves Vanvleet. Brown has averaged more points (23.6 vs Vanvleet’s 16.9 in the G-League last season), but are the Raptors looking for a score-first third-string point guard, or do they want someone steady who can protect the ball in limited minutes, and initiate the offence? I’d guess the latter, and in year five of being a pro, is Brown simply a known quantity, or can he add a new dimension to his game?
Hopefully I’ll get that elusive press pass and ask Raptors 905 Coach Jerry Stackhouse what his plan is for Brown’s development. The ease with which he scores almost makes it look like he’s bored out there. To my untrained eye, he’ll need more than that easygoing flow to crack an NBA roster.