At that time, the Wolves had just traded their first franchise player, Kevin Garnett, to the Boston Celtics and were looking to avoid a major letdown following his departure (insert Timberwolves joke here). In addition to a couple of the pieces acquired in the K.G. trade—namely Al Jefferson and Sebastian Telfair—Brewer, a lottery pick, was supposed to jump in and help the team remain respectable.
He had recorded the first triple-double in University of Florida history while leading Billy Donovan’s Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. But under the David Kahn/Kurt Rambis regime, Brewer was asked to be more than he was: a volume scorer, a lockdown defender and, ultimately, a franchise player.
On one hand, these are the expectations that come with being a lottery pick.
On the other hand, Kahn was an awful general manager, and Rambis was trying to run the triangle offense with Johnny Flynn, so it is safe to say, Brewer really wasn’t put in a situation to succeed.
In short, the whole team was a mess and Brewer suffered because of it.
The small forward was dealt to the Knicks in a three-way trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York, but he never played a game at Madison Square Garden and was waived. The Dallas Mavericks picked him up and allowed him to come along for the ride in their championship season. (Brewer only played 21 minutes in the playoffs and was scratched by Rick Carlisle from Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals all the way through the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.)
The Denver Nuggets, the other team in the Carmelo trade (obviously), picked up Dallas’ flotsam a year later, getting him and Rudy Fernandez for a second-rounder.
This salvaged Brewer, turning him into a productive NBA player.
Nuggets coach George Karl has been known to do this with several players: Greg Buckner, DerMarr Johnson, Yakhouba Diawara, Gary Forbes and Arron Afflalo, to name a few.
The key with Brewer was not forcing him to be something he’s not. He knew Brewer’s identity—a strong, defensive player with good transition skills—and put him in a fast-paced offense that needed a lockdown defender.
And voila, Brewer had success in the Mile High City.
By no means was he completely polished in Denver. He had a mental lapse in a deciding game against the Golden State Warriors during the playoffs, and even during his breakout following an injury to Danilo Gallinari, Karl told Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post, “Corey is just a mad man.”
Brewer had success in Denver, however, and comes back to Minnesota a better player.
He has an identity now: He is a borderline-elite defender who can score in transition. The deciding factor on whether he is worth that three-year, $15 million contract is his shot selection. Or, more pertinently, is he going to be selective, or is he just going to fire up a fusillade of random shots from all over the court?
Sound Defensive Player
When you’re a lottery pick joining a team that has just traded the best player in franchise history, nobody wants to hear that you’re going to turn out to be an elite defender with subpar offensive skills in a half-court set. As much as people love “defense” and “fundamentals” and all that good stuff—when it comes down to it, fans want to see lottery picks score, and Brewer struggles to do that on a regular basis, especially in a half-court set.
He is not going to snipe opponents from the outside, he’s not a slasher and his skinny frame does not allow him to go to the rim with authority.
The dude is still skinny, but he has bulked up enough to be a factor defensively. His main priority will be perimeter defense, but he won’t get trampled inside.
By the way, I love that people are reporting that he ate deep fried Snickers bars at the Minnesota State Fair to bulk up. He would have to eat everything in the food court, a tub of Sweet Martha’s cookies and an entire alligator in order to add weight. I honestly don’t think he could get fat if he tried.
Instead of being expected to carry the team offensively, Brewer joins a Timberwolves team where he can simply play the role of lockdown perimeter defender. Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, (hopefully) Derrick Williams and Shabazz Muhammad will handle the bulk of the scoring, and Brewer can just focus on keeping opponents from torching the team from beyond the arc.
Thrives in Transition
The only thing faster than Brewer’s metabolism is the offense that Karl ran in Denver. The Nuggets did their best Loyola Marymount circa 1990 impression, moving their offense at hyper-fast speeds in order to grind their opponents into the ground.
Brewer was allowed to flourish in the system, taking the ball from one end of the court to another and finishing near the rim. He continued to be erratic at times, but his productivity allowed his teammates to accept his play for what it is.
He's doing just a great job at bringing the energy. I'm just happy to see a guy (succeed) who was labeled coming into the league and hasn't been given an opportunity for some of things he can do, and he's finally being able to do that now.
He was no longer just a defensive player, but a lockdown defender that could score in transition. The coaching fostered it, the offensive system allowed him to do it, and ultimately Brewer’s productivity increased.
Minnesota’s offense does not move nearly as quickly as Denver’s, and Brewer will have to find his role in Rick Adelman’s corner scheme and be more productive in half-court sets. He will be equally well coached in Minneapolis, however, and his transition play will still be an asset.
As 1500ESPN’s Derek Whitmore points out in a recent column, the Wolves shot a poor 61.5 percent at the rim last year, while Brewer shot 65.1 near the peach basket last season, which is above the league average.
With Ricky Rubio at point and plenty of offensive talent to do the bulk of the scoring, Brewer will not need to be a threat in a half-court set. As long as he takes care of business after a rebound or turnover, he’ll be just fine.
Shot Selection is the X-Factor
Brewer’s success in his second stint will depend less on how the team is constructed or if he can score consistently night in and night out.
It will depend on which shots he decides to take.
Although he had some success with the corner three last year, Brewer is a poor outside shooter. That much was determined when he left and hasn’t really changed. Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger will be expected to pick up the slack there.
Brewer won’t really need to shoot much in the Wolves offense, but that doesn’t mean he won’t. This is where coaching and team leadership come in. If Brewer feels he has to play outside his comfort zone to help the team, he’ll hurt them, and he needs to be told to do his job and let the people around him do theirs.
Three years and $15 million will look like good money if Brewer plays his role, but it will be a waste if he tries to do too much.
It’s that simple.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.