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Kwame Brown: A Bust But Not Wholly Unproductive

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Four hours to kill in Kansas City International Airport last night led to lots of time cruising through the wonders of this here World Wide Web.  Well, maybe not cruising per say.  KCI does have the gift of free wireless Internet, but the speed of said Internet connection certainly leaves a bit to be desired.

Hey!  We're three sentences in, and we're already off topic (I'm shamelessly excusing my general scrambled nature due to the airport experience, which was a tour de force fiasco all around).  Long KCI rant short, the lengthy wait allowed me the privilege of stumbling on HOOPSWORLD's Stephen Litel's interview with Kwame Brown, who had some pointed comments about media perception of his career:

"They (the media) just try to make me out to be someone I'm not," Brown tells HOOPSWORLD. "Everyone who knows me or knows anything about me knows that, so that's what keeps me going. I mean, media is going to be media."

"Most guys don't take the time to get to know anybody because they write whatever sells the papers," continues Brown. "If there's a negative thing out about a guy, why waste your time trying to find out the truth? They just keep it going."

"I'll go to a team that wants me, I want to be there and I'll be healthy again," says Brown. "I'll get a full summer of work and not a full summer of surgery. I'll come back, ready to go."

Initial reaction:  Yeah, Kwame!  Easy column upcoming!  Time to rip on a player who has spent an entire career being absolutely useless!  Go crazy, SW!
 
Truth be told, I'm not feeling terrible about that initial sentiment.  But while it still holds a fair bit of water, it certainly isn't as on the money as one might think.

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That Kwame Brown has been a bust rests generally unquestioned.  To think that this guy was picked first overall in the 2001 draft -- two slots ahead of Pau Gasol, no less (and ten ahead of Kedrick Brown) -- remains an incredible indictment of Michael Jordan's ability as an executive.

You knew that much already.  That is what happens when a player is drafted first, doesn't work hard and winds up averaging 7.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in the first seven seasons of his career.  He is considered a bust, and rightfully so.

But too often, some of us (yours truly is certainly guilty as charged) fall into the trap of thinking that Brown has been completely useless as a pro, and the fact is that this isn't entirely the case.

It is easy to forget the fact that His Airness lost patience with Brown quickly enough in Washington that he earned the bust label with such rapidity that through his first seven seasons, he has averaged just 23.7 minutes per game for his career.  Only once has he cracked the 30 minutes per game plateau over the course of an entire season.  That year, his third in the league, Brown averaged career highs of 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.  Nothing to brag about for a number one pick, but not terrible numbers either.  In fact, over the course of his career, Brown's per minute production has stayed in the same relative area, as he has compiled career averages of 12.4 points, 9.6 boards and 1.2 blocks per 40 minutes while shooting upwards of 48 percent from the field.  Those figures aren't great by any means, but they are at least close to respectable on a 'workmanlike' level.  Further, as certain studies have indicated (particularly this one by Tom Ziller), per-minute efficiency tends to remain constant with increased minutes.

Those statistics don't blow anybody's doors off by any means, but they do indicate that Brown hasn't been the complete black hole of productivity that we commentators sometimes paint him to be.   Prior to taking a look at the statistics last night, that is exactly the perception I had of Brown.

Chances are, a lot of that has to do with the fact that there are explanations galore as to why he never got more minutes.  He has spent the vast majority of his career out of shape and likely didn't have the physical endurance to be playing significant minutes.  Similarly, word since his days in DC has been that the man isn't the world's hardest worker, and that he spends too much time mouthing off and not enough time working on his game.  Hard head and soft belly aren't a good combination.

Meanwhile, the positive stats certainly don't tell the whole story.  As a result of his weight issues, Brown has never moved that well on the floor as a pro, thus preventing us from seeing the big-man athleticism for which he was touted coming out of high school.  He has never established himself as anything close to a dominant defender, and he spent far too much time attempting to fashion himself as a mid-range shooter offensively, which simply isn't something he can do at this point.  He needs to learn to get up the floor better, and he needs to stick to dunks, lay-ups and not turning the ball over as his primary offensive goals.

All those flaws have made him a horrendous number one pick.

But they don't necessarily make him the nothing of a player I have long considered him to be.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not a Kwame fan and never have been.  As has been made clear in this space before, I can really do without guys who don't put in enough work and who aren't killing themselves every night on the defensive end.  At first read, Brown's comments come off as a ridiculous, and in some regards, they still are.  This guy has failed to live up to every conceivable expectation that came with being picked first overall.  He has earned a reputation as someone who routinely isn't in shape and has from there been thusly labeled as someone who doesn't work as hard as he should.  Despite Brown's claims about injuries in recent years, those media assessments of his career still seem fair overall.  His guarantees about how strong he will be when he returns really weren't that necessary.  This dude really seems like one of the last who should be calling out the media.

And he probably is.

But with that said, for this writer at the very least, reading Brown's comments led to a harder look at his production over the course of his career, and it turns out that he is right about one thing: People like me may have been deservedly hard on him as a top selection, but chances are that we really have been too harsh on him so far as his overall worth as a basketball player.

Maybe that harshness no matter what comes with the territory of being a number one pick.  Maybe not.  But either way, Kwame Brown's career might be worth looking at from another perspective sometime.  Perhaps there is more hope for this guy to return as at least a serviceable player than many of us expect there to be.

I wouldn't count on it, but I wouldn't be so quickly to rule it out anymore, either.