Kwame Comes To Town

Kurt —  July 14, 2005

During the Civil War, Confederate general Robert E. Lee consistently defied military convention and took big risks, many of which paid off. Historian Shelby Foote said that Lee was not, by nature, a big risk taker, but circumstance forced him to be — his army was smaller and not as well equipped, if he’d done the expected he would have been crushed (well, at least a lot more quickly).

I don’t think that, by nature, Mitch Kupchak is a risk taker. But after a 34-win season, I don’t think he or the rest of the Laker brass thinks they have a choice. Hence the pick of Andrew Bynum and now the trade of Caron Butler for Kwame Brown.

Last night at the Summer League Laker game, I had the chance to meet and talk with Hoopsworld’s Eric Pincus (a great guy, by the way). I don’t want to steal any of his proprietary information, but look at the trade this way: Would you be willing to trade Caron for Kwame if the alternative was Lamar Odom starting at the four again? Mitch was, and those were his choices.

As I said before, Kwame has a long way to go and the question is can Phil Jackson get him there.

There are doubts about his work ethic, but will a change of scenery and a new coach change that? Last season Brown shot 64% inside but just 32.8% from outside jumpers, but according to those that have watched him, many of those were fade aways that started on the block (this is not from Pincus, but from a couple of people who know the Wizards well). He has a nice jump hook, but because his first step is great but his jumper iffy, defenders play off him. If the jumper becomes consistent is scoring threat goes up.

His rebounding has never been good for a power forward (a career 13.8% rebound rate [percent of available rebounds grabbed]), can Phil get him to focus on that? The scouting report on him is that when he wants to be, he is a good rebounder.

That scouting report I got also said he is a good man defender but not a great help defender. For his career, he averages just 1.4 blocks per 48 minutes (for comparison, Chris Mihm is 2.5), can Phil get him to improve this part of his game?

One thing you’re going to keep hearing is, “he can be like Jermaine O’Neal.” Let me say, statistically, I’m not sold on that. In the four lost years in Portland, O’Neal never played more than 13.7 minutes per game on average, Kwame played more than that his rookie year and averaged more than 30 a game two seasons ago. What’s more, O’Neal’s rebound rate was close to his career average of 16% and his FG% was close to or better than his career average of 46.4% in those Portland years (the same is true of points per shot attempt and other factors). What changed in Indiana is that he got the chance to play 30 minutes a game in a system that fit him and so he took a much larger percentage of his team’s shots (his last year in Portland he took 15.3% of the chances when he was on the floor, that jumped to 19% his first year in Indiana and was at a career high 32.3% last year). The bottom line is the skills were there for O’Neal, he just needed the right setting and the chance to display them.

Kwame has yet to show those skills are buried in him, but he’s going to get his chance now. It’s a big risk, but the one the Lakers felt they had to take. The scouting report I got said the issues were effort and focus, often problems of young players. If Phil can get all that potential out of him, the trade (and the money going to Phil) will be well worth it.

As a side note, I don’t really care who the throw in is on the Lakers end. Personally I’d rather get rid of Chucky Atkins so I hope that’s who the Wizards take, but it really doesn’t matter much.

(Because of this trade news, I’m delaying a post on last night’s Summer League action until Friday morning. Check back — the good news is Andrew Bynum had his best game by far and gave reason for optimism.)

Kurt

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