By Matt Citak
Corey Brewer was bought out by the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of February, and a reunion with Billy Donovan seemed inevitable. It had been a few years since Brewer was truly an effective NBA player, and many people around the league believed his old college coach could get the veteran forward back on track.
It’s only nine games into his tenure with the Thunder, but it is already quite clear that reuniting with Donovan was exactly what Brewer needed to revitalize his career.
In 54 games (including two starts) with the Lakers this year, the 32-year-old forward averaged 3.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 0.8 steals per game. His three-point percentage sat at a measly 18.6 percent (on 0.8 attempts per game), while his free-throw percentage was an unimpressive 66.7 percent.
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In the nine games he’s played with Oklahoma City, Brewer looks like an entirely different player.
The 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 28.3 minutes per game over the last three weeks, which is the most he has played since the 2013-14 season. During this nine-game stretch, Brewer is averaging 11.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. He has shot the three-ball significantly better than during his time with Los Angeles, making 38.2 percent on nearly four attempts per game, with a free-throw percentage of 95.7 percent.
To put it simply, it has been a tale of two seasons for Corey Brewer.
But it’s not just Brewer that has been playing well. Donovan inserted Brewer into the Thunder’s starting lineup on March 8, just two games into his stint with the team. The result? Oklahoma City went on to win six consecutive games, including a win over a desperate Los Angeles Clippers team fighting for a spot in the playoffs, and a road win in Toronto against the NBA’s best home team. During that six-game span, Brewer lead the NBA in steals (16) while the Thunder’s PACE improved from 20th (98.69) in the league to seventh (101.93).
The winning streak may have come to an end in Boston last night due to a late collapse by the Thunder, but it does not take away from the value and boost Brewer has provided OKC over the last few weeks.
When Oklahoma City lost Andre Roberson for the season because of a torn Achilles in late January, many thought it would be too big of a blow for the Thunder to overcome. Roberson is one of the league’s better defenders, and his production on the defensive end of the court would be hard to match.
But since entering the starting lineup, Brewer has been all Billy Donovan could have hoped for, and more. The veteran forward has racked up multiple steals in five straight games, totaling 16 steals during that stretch. Brewer’s defense has been relentless (as evidenced by his six-steal performance against the Clippers), and he brought with him an energy boost that has helped elevate the Thunder to the four seed in the Western Conference.
Will Brewer be able to keep up this level of play for the remainder of the season? Prior to this stint with the Thunder, the 32-year-old hadn’t shot over 30.0 percent from long range since the 2009-10 season.
But even if his numbers do dip, it is evident that Brewer is OKC’s best option to share the backcourt with Russell Westbrook heading into the playoffs. Not only can he perform on both ends of the court, but he also provides the team with the spark that had been missing since Roberson went down.
While it is still too early to say for sure, the Thunder’s addition of Brewer could end up being one of the NBA’s most underrated moves of the season.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.