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Player Review: Lorenzo Brown, G League MVP

Lorenzo Brown had an excellent G-League campaign. But did he do enough for him to be in the Raptors plans for next year?

NBA: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Lorenzo Brown’s signing as the first two-way player with NBA experience, and as one of the older signees at 27 years old, was perhaps a bit confusing to Raptors fans early on. Where most teams invested in “potential” players when it came to their two-way roster spots, the Raptors went with a tried and tested NBA G League veteran in Brown.

With the departure of both Brady Heslip and John Jordan (both received offers to play in Europe), the Raptors 905 needed to fill the void at the point guard spot. The 905 knew they needed a reliable presence at the point especially since it was extremely unlikely for Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet to come to Mississauga, unless it for a rehab/conditioning stint.

Before joining the 905, Brown was viewed as a fringe NBA player. He has had a few cups of coffee with various teams in the league over the past few years, while also playing as a consistent G League All-Star. The main knock on Brown is that he’s undersized as a shooting guard, but lacking true NBA-level point guard skills. Coming into this season, Brown had to show that he could be an excellent floor general — especially in decision-making and creating shots for his teammates, while improving his own shooting and overall offensive game.

Brown came into the season as a shoot-first combo guard. With the Raptors organization, he developed into an excellent pick-and-roll point guard, which earned him the G League MVP award.

The Good

Brown is the engine of 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse’s offense, and the leader of the team without a doubt. Brown carried the team early on, as they struggled out of the gate with new players and offensive system. In that role, Brown did an admirable job with extended minutes as the point guard to start the season — providing stability and leadership when both Kaza Keane and Kethan Savage struggled to fill-in as the team’s backups.

Brown is almost unstoppable on a pick-and-roll action with Kennedy Meeks, and with an improved playmaking/passing game, he is a threat to take the mid-range jumper, go for a layup, or drop it off to Meeks or whoever’s open nearby. The way Brown calmly attracts and attacks multiple defenders on a pick-and-roll with Meeks is reminiscent of Chris Paul-David West’s pick-and-roll combo back in the day with the New Orleans Hornets. High praise? Maybe — but just watch it!

Brown is also willing and very capable of taking over a game and closing teams out. He did this several times in the G League, bailing out the 905 — and even stealing a game or two that they should have lost.

The Bad

When you look at Brown’s stats throughout his G League career, there’s one thing that sticks out negatively: he’s a high-turnover guard. Before joining the Raptors 905, it was alarming to see Stackhouse handing the keys to the car to a guy who turns the ball over for every two assists (1.89 assists to 1 turnover, to be precise). With Brown’s improved play-making this season, he was able to bump his assist-to-turnover ratio to 2.5 for the season, but his turnovers increased to 3.6 per game. Against an NBA defense, that’s a high number.

Aside from turnovers, Brown also struggled to get his teammates involved consistently. While Brown’s career-high 8.9 assists this year showed his growth as a floor general, his shoot-first tendency and ball dominance often created an imbalance when it comes to shot distribution among other key cogs on the team. The Brunos, McKinnies, Millers, etc. could sometimes go long stretches without getting an opportunity unless a play was called specifically for them.

The Grade: B-

You have to give credit where credit is due.

Making the jump from G League All-Star to the MVP is an achievement in and of itself. Doing so while learning a new system, and becoming the central piece of that offense, while also learning on the fly as the team’s starting point guard is a remarkable feat. Unfortunately, we did not see the same aggressiveness from Brown when he got the chance to play in the NBA — otherwise, his grade would have been higher.

Brown was undoubtedly the engine that got the Raptors 905 going this past season, and he took them as far as he could. Unfortunately, Brown and the 905 ran into a wall — the Austin Spurs, with their bigger, athletic, and well-disciplined players.

Brown saw some NBA minutes early in the season as the third guard on the Raptors, while Delon Wright was recovering from his shoulder injury. Brown made his appearance again when Kyle Lowry went down with a back injury last January. He was rewarded with meaningful minutes against the Detroit Pistons late in the season, where he played his best game wearing a Raptors uniform.

Brown’s G League MVP campaign was rewarded with a roster spot at the end of the regular season, beating Nigel Hayes and fellow two-way signee Malcolm Miller. Unfortunately for Brown, he saw limited minutes in the playoffs, and when he played, he didn’t make an impact.

One could make the case that Brown was not quite used properly in the post-season (setting aside the idea that he should have been playing at all in the playoffs). Now, it’s too much to expect Brown to save the Raptors’ playoff hopes, but playing Brown off-ball, and/or playing Brown with other guards/wings that can’t play off-ball was a recipe for disaster. He’s still a somewhat limited, or at least tentative player when he’s on an NBA court.

As of this writing, the Raptors have yet to select a head coach to replace Dwane Casey. There are other factors, such as Fred VanVleet’s pending free agency, not having any draft picks next season, and a potential roster retooling that may affect the fate of Brown’s career as a Raptor.

At the very least, Lorenzo Brown will forever be in the Raptors record books as the first two-way contract player that made the roster. And oh yes, he’s the first Raptors 905 player to win the G League MVP honours.