Season in Review: Anthony Brown

In a new short series for Lakers Outsiders, I will be reviewing all of the young players currently on the Lakers’ roster who project to be part of the team’s future going forward. I’ll be looking at their play in the 2015-16 season as well as predicting how they will fare next year with development and a new coaching staff.

Without a doubt, the most disappointing of the Lakers’ three rookies in 2015-16 was Anthony Brown. Despite his second round status, Brown entered the season with fairly lofty expectations. Billed as a three-and-D prospect, the Stanford product was projected to be a great fit in a quickly developing young Lakers core. Unfortunately, his rookie season saw Brown only fulfill one of his so-called NBA-ready skillsets at a decent level.

Starting off with the pleasantries of Brown’s first season, one should focus on the rookie’s defense. While rookie mistakes were prevalent, and expected, Brown really had a solid season on that end of the floor. On the perimeter, the small forward was consistently able to contest shots, holding opponents to nearly three percentage points below their season averages on shots greater than 15 feet away from the basket.

More importantly, Brown was a smart defender. He seems to have great instincts about how perimeter players move, both in settling on the perimeter and cutting to the basket. He added that knowledge to his physical tools to make plays on defense.

For example, watch Brown guard Nuggets forward JaKarr Sampson on this play. He first denies the latter the cut towards the ball and a potential three, then stays with him as he cuts to the basket. The entire time, Brown keeps his arms up, erasing passing lanes and eventually coming away with a steal:

anthony-brown-defense-1

Brown rarely gambled to get steals in his rookie season, part of the reason why he only had 14 over the course of the entire year. But he did pick his spots at times, such as this play where he exploded to take advantage of a slow moving Matt Barnes and cut off the pass.

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Brown even excelled in situations where one would expect him to be uncomfortable, such as guarding the screener in a pick and roll as he does here. The rookie hedges hard and despite losing balance, is able to make a play on the ball and steal that Ish away (Editor’s Note: Lakers Outsiders does not endorse this pun).

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Defense will be the least of Brown’s issues in the league. He is already a solid defender at the pro level and should only continue to get better with more experience and coaching. Additionally, having a better team defense around him could give Brown the ability and the will to play more aggressively on the perimeter without worrying too much about being burned.

We do not know what the Lakers defense will look like next season. Even if the team adds a rim protector like Hassan Whiteside or Bismack Biyombo in free agency, it likely will not be a very good one, but any serviceable improvements from the team in that respect should still help Brown get even better in that area.

It’s the other end that is the worry for Brown.. In his last season at Stanford, Brown shot an incredible 44.1% from three, on a high volume of 4.8 attempts per game. That shooting, part of the reason why expectations for the 23-year-old were high, simply did not translate to the NBA game. In his rookie season, Brown shot a paltry 28.6% from behind the arc, making only 20 threes over the course of his entire season (which only consisted of 29 games).

Brown’s shooting woes were consistent throughout the season, and despite a few strong performances (he knocked down three treys in a game against Utah, and had four games with two made three-pointers) he never found a groove. I am no expert when it comes to shooting motions, but at the very least, nothing in Brown’s appears to be broken or beyond fixable.

Perhaps it is naive to say, but a lot of Brown’s struggles may have roots in a lack of confidence and consistency. As previously mentioned, Brown only played in 29 games all year but he started 11 of them. That lack of consistency in a defined role could have had a huge impact on a lack of rhythm for a first-year player.

His November, for example, consisted of only two played games for a grand total 4:58 spent on the court. In January however, he played 16 games and played no fewer than 16 minutes in each of them. With an inconsistent developmental process, it makes sense that Brown would have early struggles.

This is not to make excuses for Brown. Plain and simple, he was drafted to defend on one end of the floor and hit threes on the other end and he simply did not do the latter during the past season. Instead, the point I am making is that he is not officially a non-contributor just yet. There is something to salvage from Brown and though he may never be a starter, he can still be a big part of the Lakers’ future in his own right.

Despite missing shots at too high of a clip, Brown did show he knows how to work within the confines of an offense. He understood how to move without the ball and position himself in spots where he could catch the ball and shoot. 58.4% of Brown’s shots were catch-and-shoot opportunities, an area he will hopefully excel in the future.

Brown had a knack for small movements, especially when his defenders’ heads were turned, getting himself open and giving the ball-handler a passing lane to get him the ball:

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The Lakers’ pick-and-roll sets as a whole were not effective last season. But as D’Angelo Russell improves and the screeners and system get better, it’s easy to see Brown get more and more of those type of shots. The question will then be whether or not he can knock them down.

Where Brown will have to improve is running off of screens. Whether by design of the offense or by his own limitations, the small-forward rarely changed sides of the court to put pressure on the defense as he does in the following clip. If Brown’s shooting improves to an above-average level as one might optimistically expect, that sort of movement can do wonders for the Lakers’ offense as a whole whether or not it actually results in open shots for him.

anthony-brown-shooting-2

What gives me the most optimism for Brown moving forward, however, is that starting in his second season, he will be placed in a system that more effectively uses his shooting ability. Brown was able to get himself open looks in an offense that had little to no off-ball and weak-side motion. Seeing him moving without the ball and getting screens on the weakside from his teammates, as he does in the following clip, bodes well for his future in a Luke Walton enforced offense that puts major emphasis on that portion of the game.

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In this instance, Brown gets a bit lucky due to some horrendous defense from Ish Smith and Robert Covington. But his movement and positioning still shows that he can get himself plenty of open looks in an offense that emphasizes off ball movement.

Of course, none of this matters unless Brown actually hits shots. His rookie season was a failure in that aspect as he was abysmal from nearly every spot on the floor.

Shotchart_1465154149660

(Side note: how the Lakers’ offense did not manage to get Brown more open looks from the corners is beyond me.)

The Stanford product will have to make at least a league average percentage of his threes in order to fulfill his potential. From all reports this summer, he has been living in the gym and working hard to bounce back in his sophomore season. As an older second-year player, Brown does not have a ton of time remaining for development so he needs to take advantage of the time he has.

The great and ever-improving defense will always make Brown a part-time contributor at least. But in order to become an elite role player that is not a liability on one end of the floor, actually making his shots will be key.

Brown will not have to do a whole lot to justify or even exceed his draft position. As it stands now, he has not done enough. However, with a year under his belt, more consistency and rhythm to guide him, and an offensive system taking advantage of his one perceived offensive skill, it is not completely out of the realm of possibility for the small forward to bounce back in year two and make himself a big part of the Lakers’ future.

(All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference. Shot chart as well as video clips from the NBA.)

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