Monson: Brewer gets his shot, and makes it
Ronnie Brewer makes no secret of the fact that there have been difficult times for him in his three years with the Jazz. Times when he was confused about his role, times when he wondered if he even had a role on a club with so many other options.
Those options remain in place, all the familiar names, from Williams to Okur to Boozer and more.
As an offensive priority, Brewer ranks behind seven guys. He gets most of his opportunities off steals and breaks and bailouts to the weak side, when the pick-and-roll and other scripted plays fail, and occasionally on post-ups and slashes to the basket that end in angry, athletic flushes. On accidental possessions, he gets to shoot a jumper.
Even as a garbage man, though, Brewer works in the shadow of Paul Millsap, the Jazz's quintessential trash hauler.
But, of late, two things are happening for him that in previous seasons rarely occurred: He's playing a majority of minutes and he's stacking up loads of points.
Since the beginning of February, over a span when the Jazz have won all but one game, Brewer has averaged 37 minutes and 18 points.
And there's something else: He's become as steady and trusty as a Plott Hound, especially in the fourth quarter, when he's often helped the Jazz boost small, perilous leads into roomy zones of comfort.
Not bad for a shooting guard who isn't supposed to be able to shoot.
Truth is, Brewer can't shoot. Not in the traditional Hornacekian sense. The ball explodes out of his hands at the peak of a shooting form best compared with a breaststroker thrashing through choppy water.
But does any of that matter when the rock keeps finding the hole?
Brewer has worked on his shooting, and it gets no prettier, at least not until his shots hit the bottom of the net, which they more and more often do. He makes 51 percent. Typically, he grabs his offensive opportunities in raw bursts of a game's natural flow. Imposing a regular number of attempts is not his thing.
"If the ball doesn't come my way, I'm still going to play defense," he says. "I'm still going to pass the ball. I'm not going to force anything."
When Brewer does the former, there's no need for the latter.
In one recent game, he was shut out in the first half. He returned to get four fistfuls of points in the second, after Jerry Sloan all but rescinded Brewer's man-card.
"Coach Sloan knows my personality and I'm starting to read him a little better," he says. "He knows when he gets after me, it motivates me. I'm not a guy who, if he yells or cusses at me, is going to lie down and not play.
"He thought I wasn't hustling and I wasn't being productive, so he chewed me out. But I like that kind of stuff. He put me back in a minute later and I started rolling from there. You've got to continue to play. You can't throw in the towel."
There was a time not so long ago when Sloan's substitution patterns bothered Brewer. There were stretches when he was mostly a first- and third-quarter player, even when his defense could have helped the Jazz in more critical minutes.
Now, he plays those minutes.
"I like my situation," he says. "This is as high as my confidence has ever been."
In the wake of Larry Miller's passing, Brewer's been especially effective, scoring 26 and 21 points in his past two games. He says he fondly remembers Miller encouraging him through his first two years with the Jazz, particularly during rough periods when he was not playing as much as he thought he should.
"[Larry] pulled me aside and said: 'Man, do not ask to be traded because I still have confidence in you. You're going to be a star for this team, you're going to play a huge role.' I would say, 'Dang, I have no future here. I don't know why they drafted me.' He told me to just work hard. I'd fit in with the team, if I believed. That's what I did."
He fits in fine now, having become exactly what Miller predicted.
"As long as you play as hard as you can, you have no regrets," Brewer says. "That's how I want to do it. I want to be known as a basketball player who didn't take plays off, who left it all out on the floor."