We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
As a human, Corey Brewer is about as steady as they come: good-natured, jovial, with a broad smile and an easy manner, quick (but not overeager) to crack jokes in the locker room, nearly always willing to talk. It’s hard not to be won over by him. After his 51-point outburst against the Rockets late in the season, he said, “I felt like I was in high school again! Everything was going in, but I was just playing, I wasn’t even thinking about it until somebody was like, ‘Yo, you got 44. You can get 50 tonight.’ I was like yeah okay whatever. I actually got 50!”
But on the court — and that 51-point game folds neatly into this point as well — calling Brewer mercurial does a disservice to mercury. If a player like Kevin Love is a noble gas — destined for a double-double nearly every night, more or less immune to the vicissitudes of individual matchups — then Corey Brewer is francium, an element whose most stable isotope has a half-life of 22 minutes.
Consider: On November 25, Brewer played 40:09 and scored nine points. His 51-point game came in 44:53. Five times this season he made just one basket while taking four or more shots. Twice he made zero shots when taking three or more. He also made five or more while taking seven or more five times. Anyone who watched Wolves games this year saw him slip stealthily out on the break and knife to the basket for an easy dunk. And they’ve also seen him career down the court and into the teeth of the defense, flailing wildly and throwing up shots that have no chance of going in.
Brewer had six games where he was perfect from the arc. He also had 34 where he didn’t make any of his 3-point shots. Neither an inveterate gunner in the Nick Young mold nor a strictly defensive specialist like Tony Allen, you could simply say that Brewer is a difference maker — on both offense and defense — without stating whether you mean that positively or negatively and be absolutely right.
The one place you could say Brewer dovetails perfectly with the rest of the Wolves’ roster is on the fast break, where his leakouts form a strong bond with Love’s outlet passes. But what does that mean going forward if Love is no longer on the team? You could say that Brewer was not ideally positioned as the starting small forward and that he makes more sense for the team as a sparkplug sixth man off the bench, but who are the Wolves starting in his place? Budinger? Shabazz?
Yes, there’s a kind of inconsistency that’s inherent in his game, but it’s not because of lack of effort. That’s one thing no one can ever accuse Brewer of. He’s a misfit, but his seemingly bottomless reserves of get-up-and-go constantly provide him the opportunity to overcome these gaps in his game. You just put yourself in a precarious position if you’re relying on that drive to make up the distance game after game.
What Brewer means to this team going forward, then, is largely dependent on how the next head coach employs his talents. Overall, Adelman made good use of him — better use than he made of J.J. Barea, certainly — but fundamentally, the team will get the most out of Brewer when they can maximize his good performances and minimize his bad ones. Maybe this seems obvious, but I’m drawing a distinction between the way a team lives with Russell Westbrook’s incendiary playstyle or the way the Wolves have had to work around Love’s defensive deficiencies.
Maybe trying to find the right element to compare Brewer with is fruitless. Francium is unstable, but it more or less can’t exist in nature, whereas Brewer can put his fingerprints all over a game on any given night. Fluorine is the most reactive element, but that only means once it combines with another element it’s almost impossible to separate. Maybe Brewer’s game is more of a compound making and remaking itself night after night. Assemble it one way and it’s nothing but gambling on steals and ill-advised 3-pointers. Assemble it another and it’s scoring 51 points.