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2018-19 Player Preview: Lorenzo Brown and the Long Game

Brown made news during the summer when the Raptors announced they would re-sign him to a one-year deal. After winning the G-League MVP last year, can Zo take the leap into a permanent role in Toronto?

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

There are plenty of stories in the NBA like Lorenzo Brown. When you look at the small pool of NBA superstars and compare that to the size of the rest of NBA’s basketball fraternity trying to become NBA superstars, you can start to appreciate the grind. And even at the superstar level there are tiers: Hall of Fame, elite, coasters, middle-rung and sixth-man. Earning a foot-in-the-door through a menial bench role takes time and luck to accomplish. Brown, a starting Raptors 905 point guard and G-League MVP last year, will head into the 2018-19 season as the fourth-rung guard behind Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, and Fred Vanvleet. So, what can we expect from Lorenzo Brown?

Brown is now at his fourth ball club after stints in G-League and China. He made news during the summer when the Raptors announced they would re-sign him to a full-on one-year deal for the upcoming season. For Brown the re-signing gives the 28-year-old hope at achieving NBA court time and gives him another season to prove his worth to the Raptors as a versatile, athletic guard with vision and strong ball handling skills. In recent years the Raptors’ depth has been praised and regarded as the best in the NBA; Brown only adds to that depth as a sturdy player who loves to create.

Let’s go back to Brown’s break out 2017-18 MVP G-League season though. What we saw there is someone who is potentially a late bloomer and someone could fill in if any Raptors guards miss time. For the Raptors 905 Brown produced a very consistent line across 32 games: 18 points, 5 rebounds 8 assists, shooting at 46 per cent from the field, 33 per cent from beyond the arc and 79 per cent at the charity stripe. The North Carolina State alumni was ranked second in the G League in assists (8.9 per game) during the regular season and during the G League playoffs, Brown upped his scoring potency, averaging 22.5 points, plus 7.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds in four games.

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That production was enough to earn Brown a handful of playoff appearances for the big club Raptors. His contribution was limited in the post-season — 29 minutes in 10 games for nine points — but it was a step in the right direction. At the very least, he showed he could play a role when asked. The challenge for Brown this season will be to progress beyond established guards VanVleet and Wright. Unless those players go down with injury, Brown is looking at spot appearances, averaging around 10 minutes per game. It’s not a great situation to be in , but if anyone can be ready for a call-up on a moment’s notice, it’s Brown.

On Danny Green’s latest episode on Inside the Green Room, Green spoke about how he went from being the “15th Guy” to bench role player at the Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich started giving Green two-minute spots, pure shut down roles. As the weeks rolled on, small roles developed into larger roles and Green made a name for himself shutting down key shooters down the stretch to help win games; the shutdown role become his thing. Brown must embrace a small role like that, and whatever coach Nick Nurse throws at him this year. Brown needs to stay at his MVP best and when opportunities arise, make it count. Even in a two-minute shutdown role.

Raptors 905 teammate Malcolm Miller described Brown as someone who is aggressive, someone who is “always ready to make that play when called upon,” and someone who leads by example. At six-foot-five, he’s an oversized point guard, which gives him the edge to compete defensively on the boards. It gives him the confidence to fulfill his athletic makeup. When attacking, Brown’s high-floaters are DeRozan-like and he acts on instinct. If you watch any Youtube clips of Brown you can see his style and influence fits in with how the Raptors play. Brown’s greatest asset is the way he sets up his teammates: deep drives into the paint with a quick release to the corner three. We have to wait to see whether or not the incoming Nurse continues with the same game style as former coach Dwane Casey, but Brown seems versatile enough to adapt to whatever the blueprint will be.

So what can we expect from Brown in 2018-19? It’s a wait and see approach. As it stands, the Raptors have too much talent ahead of him. Even for a bench role, spots are limited and are dependent on injuries. But the one thing to consider about Brown is that he has great upside and his G League MVP title makes him an intriguing case to see what he can do on the big stage. His slick passing and overall ball handling will hold up at NBA level, as we’ve seen in small glimpses. If Brown can unleash his scoring potential, an area of his game he needs to work on, he could potentially crack a bench spot at one of the guard positions for Toronto.

What this means for the Raptors heading into a new season is that they have three reliable guard options that all bring varying skills and assets. Not a lot of teams in the NBA are in that boat.