With expected starting small forward Chase Budinger missing the season's first two months, Corey Brewer (pictured) stepped in and started all but one of the Timberwolves' games. Brewer averaged 12.3 points per game on a career-high 48.1 percent shooting in 2013-14.
This is the 10th in a 14-part series evaluating each Timberwolves player’s performance during the 2013-14 season. Find the entire series here.
With the exception of perhaps Kevin Love, no member of the Timberwolves surpassed more preseason expectations than Corey Brewer this past year.
The gangly, enthusiastic small forward has his flaws. But Brewer made it fairly easy to forget he was slotted to serve as Minnesota’s sixth man immediately after signing as an unrestricted free agent.
The Timberwolves inked their former first-round draft pick for three years and $15 million with a specific role in mind: come off the bench, score here and there, pester on defense and provide an energy boost. Brewer resurrected his career during two seasons in Denver by fulfilling those same duties, and it carried over into his second stint with Minnesota.
Only this time, Brewer did it from the starting lineup.
With expected starting three Chase Budinger missing the season’s first two months and never looking 100 percent when he returned, Brewer stepped in and started all but one of the Timberwolves’ games (the one he missed was to be present at the birth of his son). And while Brewer remains a role player, things certainly went better than his first try in the Twin Cities.
Brewer’s 12.3 points per game on a career-high 48.1 percent shooting provided the second-best scoring average of his seven-year NBA tenure. The only other time Brewer contributed more (13 points per game), he was on his way out the door in Minnesota in 2009-10, when he was asked to take on a central role with little help available around him. This season, though, Brewer played within his own limits, sneaking out in transition for easy layups and dunks — often after a floor-length Love outlet pass — and passing up 3-point attempts for higher-percentage mid-range jumpers. He’s still not much of an outside threat (28 percent from 3), but his attempt totals went down as he displayed better shot selection. It all culminated April 11 at the Target Center when Brewer scored a franchise-record 51 points in a win against Houston.
That Brewer was its closest thing to a lockdown defender last season speaks clearly to Minnesota’s defensive deficiencies. The 6-foot-9, 185-pound agitator has garnered a reputation for making things difficult for opposing star scorers. He did at times in 2013-14, too, but not enough to prevent the Timberwolves from ranking as one of the NBA’s least effective defenses. Brewer tied for fourth in the NBA with 1.9 steals per game but, as coach Rick Adelman was always quick to point out, generated many of his takeaways because he was too willing to gamble. There’s no stat for open drives yielded as the result of feeling too opportunistic on the perimeter, but if there was, Brewer would likely rank high in that category, too.
Nothing got the Target Center crowd or the Timberwolves bench going quite like a Brewer fast-break slam did this season. The 28-year-old’s infectious, unceasing smile rarely left his mouth — even as the Timberwolves missed the playoffs for a 10th straight season — and he quickly and easily assimilated into his job as the team’s "energy guy." Brewer has never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, and exuberant shows of emotion tend to rub off on his teammates.
President of basketball operations Flip Saunders drew some criticism for splurging the team’s mid-level salary cap exception on Brewer. Pundits and fans argued he hasn’t done enough to merit a $5 million-per-year deal. That figure may be a bit high for a player with Brewer’s ceiling, but at least he came close to reaching it last season. With a new coach and a healthier wing corps — Budinger will be back along with Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad and perhaps a draft pick or another free-agent signee — next season could be much different. Brewer may be asked to move back to the bench, though he says he’s just as comfortable there after starting only 19 games during his two seasons in the Mile High City.