Eleven games into the 2010-11 season, Lakers reserve Shannon Brown is shooting the ball nearly as successfully as the Beatles archive just started selling on iTunes.
Not only does Brown rank 22nd in the NBA and second among shooting guards (Ben Gordon, 15th) in field goal percentage (.523), but perhaps more importantly for L.A.’s actual game results, he’s been on fire from three-point range.
Boosted by his 4-for-4 fourth quarter performance from downtown in the Lakers’ 118-107 Tuesday night victory in Milwaukee, Brown’s now hitting 51.3 percent of his threes (20-of-39), leading his team in makes.
"He had a great contribution (against the Bucks), he was terrific,” said Phil Jackson. "Everybody told Shannon (coming out of college) that he had to learn how to shoot a jump shot and he’s taken that seriously, worked hard on it, and now he’s a legitimate three-point shooter.”
Hampered in part by a thumb injury in the second half of last season and in part by a tendency to rush or force action at times, Brown shot only 42.7 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from three last season, and played just 14 minutes per game in the playoffs.
Since L.A.’s Game 7 victory over Boston, Brown has been in the gym.
"He’s a worker,” said Kobe Bryant, repeating the phrase for emphasis. "Not only is he talented (and) physically gifted, but he puts the work in, which you don’t see a lot of players do. Especially guys that are super athletic like he is, they don’t want to put the work in, but he has and continues to do so.”
Bryant — who has taken Brown under his wing, even calling him his ‘little brother’ — said that Brown’s improvement this year isn’t just about shooting, however. In fact, Bryant revealed that when he worked with or advised Brown over the summer, shooting wasn’t really a point of emphasis.
"Just ball-handling,” Bryant explained. "He’s always been a solid shooter, and he’s really worked on it since he got here, and now he’s even a better shooter than he was last year. But you see him now making plays off the dribble, making plays for others, passing off the dribble. He continues to get better, this is just the beginning for him.”
Brown himself acknowledged that he’s more confident this year, and sounded quite a bit like big brother when describing why.
"It’s just all about going out there, slowing down and taking what the defense gives,” he said. "Not trying to do too much.”
When asked how Bryant influenced him particularly over the summer, Brown shared an anecdote that explained a key point towards understanding the Maywood, Illinois native’s improvements.
"One thing (Kobe) told me at the beginning of this season when we were (at the team’s practice facility) lifting,” said Brown. "I told him, ‘Man I’m ready to get this thing going.’ (Kobe) was just like, ‘Relax.’ The season is going to come quick enough, go out there and just relax, have fun and play basketball and that’s what I’m doing. I value his opinion very much, everything that he’s accomplished individually and as a team, so when he tells me things, I do take heed.”
Sure enough, Brown has been noticeably more under control this season. Standing open on the weak side of the defense after Bryant or Pau Gasol drew a double team, 2009-10 Brown may have caught the ball, dribbled between his legs and tried to get to the hoop. But 2010-11 Brown will catch the ball, raise up for an open jumper, and more often than not find the bottom of the net.
That seems to be thanks as much to his mindset as it is to any actual improvements in his shot, and thus far, the Lakers are reaping the benefits.