Lakers' Brown wants to be more than a dunker
When Shannon Brown joined his fourth NBA team in less than three years last February, he was well down the disappointing career path followed by so many players with his incredible athleticism.
Skyscraping dunks and eye-popping blocks just don't mean much to NBA coaches without an all-around game to back them up, and players with Brown's gifts often don't bother to do the dirty work.
Brown is exceedingly grateful his fourth team turned out to be the Los Angeles Lakers. With coach Phil Jackson's staff and Kobe Bryant taking a personal interest in him, Brown is growing into a complete player and one of the club's top reserves.
Sure, the smallish guard with a 44-inch vertical leap is still an unbelievable dunker, as evidenced by the ``Let Shannon Dunk'' Facebook campaign that can claim partial responsibility for his invitation to next month's slam dunk contest at All-Star weekend. But Brown has an improved outlook on his entire career after finally getting the chance and the tools to become better.
``I used to be a big stat guy, and I still am, but winning is the biggest stat of all, and I'm an NBA champion,'' Brown said. ``There's a lot of guys with bigger stats than me that can't say that. I'm trying to get better every day, as a basketball player and as a man. I have a great foundation that's helping me do it.''
Brown is the Lakers' second-leading scorer off the bench with 7.6 points per game, trailing only Lamar Odom among reserves and even outscoring starting point guard Derek Fisher. He usually provides the Lakers with a burst of energy when he takes the court, with fans realizing a highlight-reel play could be just one fast break away.
When Brown was told Monday night he had just set a career high with 22 points in the Lakers' 98-92 victory over Orlando, he didn't even know his previous career best. Brown came through with his biggest game on a night when Bryant's broken finger mangled his outside shot, limiting him to just 11 points in the Lakers' final home game before an eight-game road trip while Staples Center is occupied by the Grammys.
Bryant isn't surprised to see his backup's evolution into something more than a one-dimensional dunker. After all, Bryant didn't exactly have the most well-rounded game himself when Jackson first took over the Lakers a decade ago.
``We allow you to be who you are,'' Bryant said. ``We don't come in there and try to change you as a player, or make you into something that you're not. We try to play to your strengths and allow you to do what you do best. I think as a result, players become better.''
Brown will count his blessings again when the NBA-leading Lakers (32-9) get to Thursday's showdown with Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland.
Brown was a first-round pick by the Cavaliers in 2006, but he struggled through a leg injury, two stints in the D-League and offcourt trouble at a nightclub. Cleveland declined to pick up his third-year player option - a sure sign they saw little value in him - a few months before trading Brown in February 2008 in a three-team deal to the Chicago Bulls, who let him leave for an NBA-minimum contract with the Charlotte Bobcats that summer.
The Lakers acquired Brown and Adam Morrison from Charlotte in a moneysaving trade for Vladimir Radmanovic, but Brown got the Lakers' attention with his dramatic dunks and willingness to learn. The Lakers quickly captured Brown's attention as well - and Jackson's jewelry collection was the biggest reason.
``Phil is one of those coaches who just tells you what to do, and then expects you to go out there and do it, no excuses,'' Brown said. ``You can't really argue with him, because he has 10 championships rings. ... I just trusted him and the assistant coaches to improve my game, and that's what happened.''
Jackson says the Lakers immediately saw Brown as more than a dunker. They knew he had been an all-Big Ten defender at Michigan State, and they went to work refining Brown's skills without the ball. Brown's inconsistent outside shot also has improved with a year of steady work, adding an often-neglected element in many star dunkers' games.
``He's a young man who's very diligent about his work,'' Jackson said. ``He puts in the effort, and it's paying off for him. ... I think it's maturity. I think it's opportunity, and responsibility.''
As for that dunk contest in Dallas next month, Brown is still brainstorming ideas about props and gimmicks - although Bryant is encouraging him to go old-school with pure dunks and no nonsense. Brown will practice a few things with his toddler son, Shannon, who already has some impressive leg muscles, according to his dad.
``I might come up with something new, or I might stick to the basics,'' Brown said. ``I won't let it interfere with what I've got to do for this team, though. The dunk contest is just a bonus.''