The Knicks did not exactly wow anybody last night. But thanks to J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and a fourth quarter wake up, they still were good enough to beat the Orlando Magic, who I’ve now seen play three times this season, and… well, let’s be happy the Knicks aren’t the Magic.
To me, one of the critical differences between last night and the four previous Knicks victories was the presence, or absence, of Ronnie Brewer. Last night, with Brewer suffering from swelling in the surgically repaired knee that kept him out for much of the preseason, he played just 17 minutes, a season low, and wasn’t the factor he’d been all year. This isn’t just a question of shooting; defense wasn’t as good, rebounding was down. Brewer clearly wasn’t himself.
But there’s a different question to ponder: exactly what is Ronnie Brewer?
The smart money has been on Brewer falling back to earth in a big way. After all, his Player Efficiency Rating this year, even after last night, is 17.1. It was 12.3 last year, 13.8 the year before.
And yet, Brewer does have a history of performing at a higher level. It just happened a while back. In his second season, back in 2007-08, he was an 18.4 PER player. The season after that, he was at 16.1. And his true shooting percentage in each of his first three seasons was higher than his 2012-13 effort to date.
How he got there was very different. He shot terribly, and rarely, from three-point range in all three seasons, and every season since. In fact, the most threes-per-game he’s attempted came last year, with 1.5, and his best percentage from three also came last year, at 27.5 percent. He’s at 3.8 and 50 percent so far this year.
The question becomes, then: has Brewer figured out how to hit threes? If he has, he can be the kind of player he’s been so far, which is to say, well above average offensively, to go along with stellar defense.
There’s another option out there, too. He’s just back from knee surgery, and that shows in his 43 percent shooting from two-point range, significantly lower than his career norms. One can expect that he can make up some of the regression in three-point shooting with better shooting from two as his knee gets better. So the bet isn’t completely on unsustainable perimeter shooting with Brewer, either.
Also worth remembering: Brewer, even if he’s merely the offensively limited player he was last year, is still an overall asset. But it is far from settled that Ronnie Brewer is simply that and no more.