The Rising Career of Jabari Brown: From D-League to the Lakers

In North American baseball and hockey, the minor leagues have been a fact of life for many decades. In these sports, teams draft or sign talent, then, allow the talent to develop in one of various levels of feeder organizations.  However, the modern NBA didn’t have an official minor league system until 2001 when the NBA Development League was established.  The D-League is still a less vital piece than the American Hockey League or Minor League Baseball systems, but several former NBDL players like Marcin Gortat have gone on to have solid NBA careers.  The latest NBDL player to burst onto the NBA scene?

Jabari Brown.

Brown excelled playing college ball at Missouri, averaging over 20 points in his final season, alongside fellow guard Jordan Clarkson, who would also be signed by the Lakers.  However, Brown seemed to be overmatched during last season’s training camp.  As a result, he hardly appeared during preseason; the 13 minutes played during the final exhibition were by far the most he received in any game. That set the stage for his demotion to the D-League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders.

Coming off the bench in his debut, Brown scored 13 points and hauled in 5 rebounds in 22 minutes.  In his next appearance against Rio Grande Valley, Brown got to the free throw line often and ended the night with 23 points.  After that, he put up 30 points, including 5 for 7 from deep versus Idaho.  Over 39 games, Brown averaged 24.4 points, including 39.2% overall from behind the arc and a single game team high of 50 points. He even ran the fast break well and made strides on defense in grabbing a steal per game. In short, there’s no question that the chance to play regularly did wonders for his psyche. Critics might have pointed out that this came against weaker competition than you see in the NBA, but then came Brown’s promotion.

On March 10, Jabari Brown was signed to a 10-day contract with the Lakers where he would remain the rest of the regular season.  He scored 11.9 points per game during this span, including an eye-popping average of 22 points in the final 4 contests.  Brown also played heavy minutes with Clarkson, including an April 13 game when they played nearly the entire contest and were in fact the only Lakers to log over 30 minutes.  Clarkson showed his chemistry with Brown by feeding him on a layup, and later provided the dish on his 3-point basket.  Brown then went into the offseason with a bang by putting up 32 points against Sacramento in the finale two days later, making his case to be part of the franchise’s plan going forward.  Not only did he continue to shoot well from outside, he was able to fight through double teams and get to the hoop for easy buckets. Some pundits chalked up this showing as a rookie playing out the string on a depleted roster, but in my eyes that would be ignoring the growing body of work he has put together.

Following his new multi-year contract, he reported to Summer League in the offseason and scored 53 points during 3 games played.

The Lakers have little to lose by giving him a chance this season: they play in the tough Western Conference, where they won just 21 games last campaign.  Sure, there will be guys ahead of him on the depth chart like the venerable Kobe Bryant and veteran Louis Williams.  Still, Kobe’s health is a question mark and Williams has already played 10 years in the league.  Coach Byron Scott is known to like Brown’s aggressiveness. Now, he needs to give him good minutes off the bench to see if he can sustain this performance level while honing his obvious offensive talent.  Brown can already shoot from long range, hurt opponents with his transition game, play help defense, and penetrate when the defense gives him room. At the least, I feel that Brown is a solid rotation player, but his ceiling could be much higher.

Even when you include Brown’s 37.1% three point shooting over the final weeks, the Lakers ranked 17th in that category during 2014-15. As far as threes attempted, they finished even lower at 25th. This is a franchise that needs Brown’s stroke in a major way, plus he comes with the added bonuses of improved defense and capable ball handling.

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photo via llananba