When Andre Roberson went down in Detroit in late January, it changed the course of the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s season. The Thunder had just found their stride the month before, posting a record of 17-0 since December 1st when their whole starting 5 was available. At the time, OKC was sitting 5th in the West, but in a conference so crowded that just four and a half games separate 3rd from 10th, every game truly matters.
The Thunder went on to lose 7 of their next 11 games without Roberson, the true defensive anchor of the Thunder whose value prior to the injury was routinely questioned among the fanbase. With Roberson in the lineup, the Thunder were among the top 5 defenses in the NBA. Without him, they fell to 29th. Yikes.
The overwhelming assumption was that OKC would make one or more deals before the deadline to snatch up both a bench scorer and a rental on the defensive end for Roberson. That didn’t happen, however. The deadline came and went and General Manager, Sam Presti stood pat, elected instead to bank on the buyout market rather than overpay for a rental. The result was the reunion of Corey Brewer and Head Coach Billy Donovan.
The two won a pair of National Championships at Florida in the mid-2000s, and Thunder officials hoped to recreate a little bit of that success. On paper, the move was of little consequence, and understandably so; Brewer was averaging just 4.3 PPG and .7 assists with the Los Angeles Lakers. Brewer wasn’t a difference-maker. And then he signed with OKC.
In 5 games with OKC, Brewer has started 3 games, averaging 25 minutes per night and 11 points. His rebounding and assist numbers aren’t that different, but the difference with Brewer compared to Josh Huestis, Alex Abrines, and Terrance Ferguson is simply that Brewer keeps moving. He understands the flow of the offense and how to play off the ball and contribute through his defensive effort and hustle. Like Roberson, he’s slashing corner-t0-corner, getting put-backs and back-door cuts for easy looks.
Need to lockdown an opposing team’s hot scorer? Brewer can help. Need to spell Paul George for a stint and take on the primary defensive assignment? Brewer is capable. Need quick hands, hustle plays and someone to run the floor on a fast break? Brewer is your guy, man. But how’s his shot? Russell Westbrook routinely breaks down defenses with his penetration but he needs someone he can kick it out to every now and then and knock down a shot. Well? Brewer has been serviceable since signing with the Thunder.
In 5 games, Brewer is shooting 39% from beyond the arc -granted on less than 20 total attempts. But if you look at his career, his effectiveness falls off sharply. He’s a 28% three point shooter over the course of 15 seasons, and the picture doesn’t get any prettier if we look at just this season. During this season in LA, Brewer was flat out abysmal from deep, connecting on just 19% of his three point attempts… Hm. Still, he’s shooting 47% overall from the field, so he’s got that going for him. Which is nice…
Since inserting Brewer into the starting lineup, OKC has gone 3-0 and has even moved into 4th in a stacked Western Conference playoff picture. What’s more, Brewer’s new teammates, the OK3 (Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony), have each taken turns praising the new Thunder guard.
He’s been doing a great job. He’s getting his hands on basketballs. Obviously, being savvy and knowing the game is a huge part. He’s doing a great job.
– Russell Westbrook
We knew what he could bring. I think everyone knew what he brings to the game defensively. Offensively, he’s fitting right in. He’s making the right plays offensively. He’s cutting when he has to, he is knocking the shot down when he is open, and he is making plays on both ends of the court.
– Carmelo Anthony
Brewer brings a certain bounce and energy to the team that has been lacking since Roberson’s injury.
The change is equally refreshing for Brewer who averaged just 13 minutes a night for the Lakers. Over the past three games in particular, Brewer has scored 39 points, citing a growing confidence now that he knows he’s going to play big minutes.
Brewer’s addition has resulted in a Thunder team that is once more beginning to find its footing as playoff time nears. Whether Brewer’s presence can ultimately help OKC to a deep playoff run remains to be seen, but either way, Brewer may well have a new home beyond this season.