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Devin Brown: On the Ball or Off?

Backup point guard has me feeling pretty apprehensive with training camp approaching. We don't know what kind of production we'll see from the position, let alone who will be responsible for that production. But who should get most of the minutes there? That's a question we can answer.

I've supported Mike James multiple times in the past. If nothing else, his NBA career suggests he will be an improvement over Jannero Pargo.

Unfortunately, Byron Scott doesn't have two cut and dry choices. This isn't Mike James vs. Devin Brown for the back-up role, because one of the team's biggest holes lies at the back-up shooting guard position. I seriously doubt Posey gets many minutes at the 2, due to our inadequacies in the front court. Julian Wright could get some time, but because of his frame and skill set, Byron Scott played him mostly at the 3 last year.

How about Rasual Butler? Well, Butler was in the doghouse all season. Coach Scott mentioned that Rasual could challenge for the backup role. Butler promptly flashed a loaded gun in front of a nightclub. Yeah. Randomly brandishing a deadly weapon is not a good way to get into a coach's good graces. Nor is shooting 35% from the field.

So the answer to the James or Brown question will almost entirely reflect the answer to another question: should Devin Brown play the 1 or the 2? Time to take a walk down Memory Lane.

D. Brown came out of the University of Texas (SA), known as a prolific scorer. He began his pro career in the CBA, before moving on to the NBDL. At both locations, he was a scoring machine, earning 2002 CBA ROY honors and 2003 NBDL ROY and MVP honors.  He finally got some NBA burn, splitting time with Denver, San Antonio, and Utah over 5 seasons. Then, in '06, he came to New Orleans before departing for Cleveland last year.

Take a look at Brown's career numbers, and you won't find much progression one way or another. In so many respects, he's been the same player since he entered the league. But dig a little bit deeper and two seasons stand out from the rest: '03-'04 under Gregg Popovich and '06-'07 under Byron Scott. What sets them apart? He played approximately 15% of his total minutes at the point in each of those seasons, the only two times in his career that he got significant minutes there.

What's even more interesting is the remarkable dichotomy between the two years. As a point guard under Popovich ('04), Brown posted a horrid 6.1 PER. He didn't get too much overall playing time that year, but he logged 100 minutes at the point, a figure I consider statistically significant. Then as a point guard under Scott ('07), he posted a PER of 17.7. If you keep in mind that his overall PER's were similar in these two years (13 vs. 14), this is a substantial difference. What did Byron Scott know that Popovich did not?

The answer is method of usage. As a point guard in '04, Brown averaged 19.7 FGA per 48 minutes, significantly higher than the 14.5 he averaged as off guard. As a point guard in '07, Brown averaged 15.7 FGA/48 as opposed to 15.4 FGA/48 at the off guard. In sum, Popovich tried to use Devin Brown's biggest skill- scoring- at the point guard position. Brown may have brought the ball up, and even set up plays, but he still functioned as a shooting guard in the offense. I know assist numbers aren't good indications of passing, but Brown's AST/48 at the point in '07 (7.5) so dwarf his '04 AST/48 (2.6), that I can't help but infer a significantly more shoot-first attitude preached by Popovich.

I suppose the conclusion is this: If Brown is going to bring the ball up, let him function as more of a "pure point guard," even though he's more skilled at scoring than passing. Yes, it seems contradictory. But Byron Scott showed he understood this two years ago, and I hope he has a good memory.