In the midst of potentially the worst season in Los Angeles Lakers franchise history — in terms of wins and losses — fans still have plenty to look forward to during the second half of the regular season.
Obviously, the amount of time remaining in Kobe Bryant’s 20th and final season is rapidly dwindling down. Rightfully so, Bryant will garner the headline for this Lakers season, but this is also a transition into the future, and the development of the team’s young talent is paramount. While it is certainly important to cherish the few months that we have left to watch No. 24 don a purple and gold uniform, fans can also begin to look ahead to the next generation of Lakers.
Unlike last season, the Lakers have a handful of young guys that could certainly prove to be rotation players on the roster for many years to come. In their 2014-15 campaign, the youth movement was centered almost solely around Jordan Clarkson, with some glimpses from Tarik Black, who needs to be freed from his current role of benchwarmer. This year, however, involves a few additional players to go along with those two in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Jr. and Anthony Brown.
Nance, Jr. has flourished with the Lakers this season, especially considering many (myself included) thought picking him in the first round was a bit of a reach back in last year’s NBA Draft. Seven picks later, the front office selected Brown, who has had a much windier road than his rookie teammate, despite both playing all four years in college before turning pro. Each of their rookie campaigns have been reflected in the fan base’s perception of them, as Nance, Jr. is a fan favorite while people are pulling for Brown, but he hasn’t yet been able to put his skill set together in his very young NBA career.
Despite being an “old” rookie at the age of 23, he is still exactly that: A rookie. While some fans are remaining patient with him, others seem to be expecting more from the outset. Brown has not necessarily stormed out of the gate for the Lakers this season, but he has shown enough to warrant more time to figure things out before receiving judgement.
The Lakers have completed just over half of their season thus far, as they have gone just 9-34 in their first 43 games. Brown only 18 of those games, six of which he logged seven minutes or less. So that means he’s played a respectable amount of minutes in only 12 games so far this season. Sure, he has seen some time in the NBA Developmental League, and that’s great for young players that are unable to get some minutes with their NBA team. But it’s also a league that defense is hardly ever played, not to mention the massive difference in talent and level of competition.
Although Brown has struggled to consistently find his shooting stroke this season, he developed a strong reputation for his sharpshooting in college, so it’s reasonable to expect that his shots may begin to fall at a higher clip in due time. In fact, that swing might be underway, as he has shot 10-of-20 from the field in the Lakers’ last four games, including 7-of-14 from three.
Regardless of the end result of his shots, Brown has consistently done an excellent job of spacing the floor. The rookie has demonstrated an innate ability to pick and choose his spots on the floor that not only gets him open, but provides more room for his teammates to operate and try to make a play. He seemingly understands where to be when the ball starts to move, which dictates where he moves on the floor. Here are a few examples.
Notice where Brown begins this play in comparison to where he ends up taking the shot. As Russell begins to make his move towards the paint, Brown rotates from nearly in the corner to the top of the key, giving him all the space any shooter could ever ask for.
On this play, the movement is very subtle, but it’s enough. As Joe Ingles loses sight of Brown, the latter slides just a bit towards the wing, which gives him the additional time and space to get a clean look at the basket.
Here, Marcelo Huertas makes a nice pass to Brown, who makes his defender pay for a soft and hesitant closeout. In the next two clips, Brown shows his ability to punish defenders that play him strictly for the three by closing out hard. One in which he makes one gather dribble before knocking down a midrange pull-up jumper, and the other on a drive to the basket.
Anthony Brown’s overall offensive game is fairly limited. A lack of ability to create offense for himself and his teammates limits what he can do on that end, but if he becomes a consistent perimeter shooter in the NBA like he was in college, his floor spacing and off-ball movement could make him a great complementary piece alongside playmakers like Russell and Clarkson.
On the other end of the floor, Brown has been very effective. The Lakers as a team have a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 107.7, putting them at dead last in the league. With Brown on the floor, however, that number is at 95.9. Granted, it’s a relatively small sample size and more minutes is not going to fix a terrible Lakers defense, but it is still reflective of his impact when he’s on the floor. Brown’s offensive rating of 97.9 is fourth-best on the team, giving him a net rating of plus two. It may not seem significant, but Brown is the only player on this year’s roster that has a positive net rating.
Brown has played in three of the Lakers’ wins this season. In those wins, he has registered an offensive rating of 108.7 and a defensive rating of 82.4 in 25.1 minutes per game. Meanwhile, in the team’s 15 losses he’s appeared in, his offensive rating was 94.5 while his defensive rating was at 100 in 16.2 minutes per game. With Los Angeles bereft of any depth at the small forward position, it makes sense that Brown’s production has been evident in victory and pedestrian in defeat.
Of course, the numbers could all change drastically as the season progresses and if his minutes increase, expanding the sample size. They could also improve as he gets more comfortable at the NBA level. Either way, it is something to monitor moving forward, considering the lack of consistent options behind him at his position.
Brown’s ceiling is probably a quality “three-and-D” guy. He had quite the reputation as a long-range shooter during his time at Stanford, and the size and length he possesses helps his potential on defense tremendously. Whether he could be a quality role player in the starting lineup or off the bench — if he lives up to his potential — he could provide the Lakers excellent value from a player that they selected 34th overall.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com