In Sunday's postgame report, I described Shannon Brown's first half as "quietly solid." It's a sentiment applicable to his entire line, which I doubt blew many minds. Four points on two-for-four shooting. A pair of assists and rebounds. One steal. And oddly, a negative five plus-minus rating, the worst of any Laker. (A reminder how, even as someone who likes +/-, it's as incapable as every other stat of telling the entire story at face value.)
Still, Shannon managed to catch my attention because of three sequences where patience paid dividends:
1) 42 seconds remain in the first half. Kobe Bryant misses on a long two, but Josh Powell beats Jeff Green to the ball and taps it backwards. Shannon tracks down the rebound at the three-point line, then takes a few dribbles towards the bucket. I actually cringed while anticipating that floater in the lane he's grown fond of, despite erratic results. Instead, Shannon throws a two-handed bounce pass to Pau Gasol along the right side of the paint, setting El Spaniard up for a dunk.
2) Late in the third quarter, Shannon and Ron Artest are working a two-man game. Shannon feeds Artest just inside the arc, then runs left to receive a hand off from Artest, followed by a screen. As he curls left, Russell Westbrook rushes to challenge. A decent look awaits, but not great, so Brown reverses, using Ron's still-intact screen to rub out Westbrook, then pulls up with Green closing late. The 18-footer drops. Patience rewarded.
3) A couple minutes later in the same quarter, Shannon has the ball in the left corner with Eric Maynor shading him towards the baseline and allowing little real estate. Brown eventually drives the limited space, but when Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka both collapse, Lamar Odom's now alone to dive through the lane. Shannon ends up assisting LO on a hop-step lefty layup.
Six points accounted for by Shannon on some level. Even more important than the points, however, was the way his decisions could have prevented OKC from potentially cutting into a deficit.
In each case, Shannon's patience led to a better shot. The importance of this measured approach can't be underestimated against an OKC squad thriving heavily in transition. Every Laker miss is a potential Thunder score via a run out. Obviously, the Lakers aren't going to shoot 100 percent from the field. Misses are a part of the game. Still, the Thunder's ability to push defensive rebounds illustrates the importance of making sure whatever missed shots were worth taking in the first place. If there's any chance to create a better option, don't screw around. Take it.
As a young player still developing, Shannon's season has included growing pains. Sequences with shots beyond his comfort zone, excessive dribbling or a pass too fancy. It's a catch-22, since the only way Shannon can learn is through situations over his head, but mistakes can be costly. The coaching staff has been understanding of these moments during the regular season. The playoffs are another story, however, and during Tuesday's practice Shannon expressed awareness of a drastically reduced margin for error.
"Decision making and just slowing down," said Brown of his goals during the title defense. "Reading the defense. Letting the game come to me... I just gotta play smart."
It's interesting how nothing Shannon accomplished was terribly complicated in nature. "Just plays to be made," as he put it. Reading and reacting isn't as always as difficult as sometimes remembering to read and react. But during the playoffs, absentmindedness can be deadly.
"Every possession counts," noted Brown. "I'd rather be patient and get a good shot than take the first look. Besides the defensive end, executing on the offensive end and taking care of the ball is where we're going to be successful."
Brown's work in these sequences wasn't lost on assistant coach Brian Shaw, who was especially pleased by the decision to reverse off Artest's screen. Be exercising selectivity, Shannon didn't just create a higher quality look. The young guard gained a better understanding of the offense in the process.
"We want him to be aggressive, but also under control," explained Shaw. "A lot of times, he'll come in and he's reluctant to really explore the offense past the first option. So on the play where he came off Ron and then he came back, that's a steady part of our offense, but a lot of times, we go off that first part and then we kind of pick up our dribble or just stop. It stalls our offense. It's definitely something we want him to continue to explore."
That refusal to settle on offense will ultimately play a huge role for the Lakers, whether you're talking about their own efficiency or depriving the Thunder of a major weapon.
"It helps us control the tempo in the way we execute our offense," insists Shaw. "It shows how effective we can be."