When Corey Brewer last suited up in the Target Center, the Wolves lacked an identity. Today, almost every player that comprised that squad just two and a half years ago is M.I.A. Only two players from his previous stint – the forgettable 2010-2011 campaign (17-65 record) – remain today. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Luke Ridnour was the longest tenured Wolf, but he was dealt back to Milwaukee to free up the cap space to ultimately ink Brewer to a three-year, $15 million contract. The deal may have seemed far-fetched three seasons ago, but Brewer played his way back to this contract. And I love it.
Brewer returns to his first NBA home a more refined and confident player than he left. Even better, both him and the Wolves no longer lack an identity, so Brewer can be Brewer rather than something he’s definitely not – which occurred during his first four seasons with the franchise. Now, the team can support the player they drafted 7th overall in 2007 and Brewer can fulfill a role that isn’t outside of his skill-set, which is great news if your a Wolves fan. We don’t have to rely on Brewer to win games in 2013. For the first time in his Wolves career, expectations no longer cast a shadow of doubt onto his play. He can fill two team needs - perimeter defense and transition offense - without being judged through the “we picked you in the top 10 so you better be really good” microscope.
Last season Brewer thrived in his role with the Denver Nuggets – posting career highs in True Shooting Percentage (50.6%), Points Per 40 Minutes (19.8), and PER (14.76) – and helped them lock up the 3rd seed in the Western Conference with 57 wins. Brewer was a key cog in their success and was seen as a completely different player under George Karl, because Karl allowed Brewer to be Brewer. He asked him to get into passing lanes, create fast break opportunities, shoot open three-pointers, and play with a pace that had teams gasping for air in Denver – pretty smart to use altitude to your advantage, wouldn’t you say? He wasn’t really asked to do anything else and it helped him have the most productive season of his career.
Denver played lightning fast, finishing second in the NBA in pace of play (97.8 – the number of possessions a team uses per game). In comparison, the Wolves finished at 95.2 – good for 11th in the NBA. Now in the mix, Brewer should vault the Wolves into the top five in PACE next season, seeing as he should be able to create a few extra possessions each game with steals and overall hustle. I’m not sure if I can correlate pace of play with success quite yet, but the top six teams in PACE did go to the playoffs (Golden State (4) and San Antonio (6) were the only teams that made any noise). Successful or not, you can bet Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer are going to have the pack running in full force next season.
Back with the Wolves, Brewer can continue to do what he did so well with Denver - igniting the fast break, finishing explosive dunks, utilizing his long arms to pester opposing players, knocking down three-pointers when defenses dared him to, and ultimately provide a spark where the Wolves need it most: perimeter defense. But the question is, should he start at small forward next to Kevin Martin or come off the bench and stick to the role he found success in for the Nuggets? I would say Chase Budinger is the better all-around player but the starting small forward should come down to fit with the other starters: Rubio, Martin, Love, and Pekovic. Rubio is a budding defensive star, but the rest of the starters are not known for their defensive prowess and need help.
Much like the Oklahoma City Thunder use Thabo Sefolosha, the Wolves should start Corey Brewer for defensive purposes. The Thunder have enough scoring to manage Thabo’s lack of offense, with Durant and Westbrook, and I think the Wolves can utilize Brewer in the same way now that they have Love, Martin, and Pekovic to lean on for 50+ points per game. He can focus on defense and doesn’t have score a ton to be effective.
Last time Brewer started at shooting guard for the Wolves he was asked to score, we begged him to figure out his jumper, but thankfully those days are a distant memory. The organization has been completely remodeled and depth is actually a realistic word to use in the same sentence as the Timberwolves. Now, Brewer can be the fourth option on our starting unit and shine in a defensive oriented role – running around the court like a mad man, constantly disturbing offensive players into bad mistakes and dumb shots. Brewer can focus on getting into passing lanes, which he did exceptionally well last season. He led small forwards (that played at least 20+ per game) in steals per 40 minutes (2.33). When Brewer wasn’t on the court, the Nuggets gave up 5.41 more points per 100 possessions. Is that good?
Most importantly, I almost always prefer to have a better sixth man than fifth starter. Budinger can come off the bench and be the first scoring punch rather than the fourth option on the starting unit, meaning he will get more shots and the Wolves also have a card to play if their starting unit is cold offensively. Putting Budinger as the sixth man should also allow Brewer to be even more efficient on offense, simply because he won’t have the ball aside from fast break opportunities and corner threes.
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A fresh start. When Brewer’s career first started in Minneapolis the team was an utter mess and our expectations were so extraordinarily high that he couldn’t flourish in a role that suited him best. We all wanted him to be a franchise cornerstone because he was the 7th overall pick. Now those expectations are gone, which gives me reason to believe that bringing him back was a good move. After Andrei Kirilenko’s departure the Wolves needed a defensive presence on the wing and interestingly enough, they didn’t have to look too far to get someone that could help. His name is all over game film collecting dust in the Timberwolves archives.