Ronnie Brewer May be the Steal of New York’s Free Agent Class

All the talk this Knicks off-season has been about the flashy names. The Jeremy Lin debacle. Jason Kidd and his egregious 3 year $9 mil contract. The Camby man! Marcus Camby returning to the squad. The return of Rashweed Rasheed Wallace to the NBA. But for all the glam, a meat and potatoes player may end up the toast of New York’s free agent class. Signed on a veteran minimum contract from the Chicago Bulls, Ronnie Brewer is an exceptional wing defender. Chicago rated out best in the league in defensive rating, allowing just 95.3 points per 100 possessions. Having recording a defensive rating of 95.0 in 24.8 minutes a game last season, Brewer had much to do with Chicago’s defensive prowess.

Thanks to NBA.com Stats cube, we can see how Brewer’s on court presence impacted Philadelphia’s offense in the Bulls-Sixers first round matchup.

With Brewer on the floor, 83 minutes over 5 games, Philadelphia’s offensive rating dropped from 99.9 to 88.4. The Sixers true shooting percentage fell from 49.8% down to 44.5%. Chicago’s offense did struggle a bit with Brewer on the floor, but that had more to do with the loss of Derrick Rose to injury than it had to do with Brewer.

Those numbers are consistent with many of Chicago’s lineup statistics. According to Basketball Value, Chicago’s most used lineup by minutes last season was Rose-Brewer-Deng-Boozer-Noah. In 286.83 minutes played this lineup had an offensive rating of 112.38 and a defensive rating of 96.37, an overall rating of +16.01. Again, Brewer was a part of a lineup that had an excellent defensive rating.

If we look to synergy, we see that Brewer held his opponents to 37.2% shooting last season, including the playoffs. Brewer really excellent in defending isolations last season, holding opponents to just 31.8% on 66 shot attempts. For some perspective, lets compare these stats to those of Iman Shumpert, a great defender in his own right. Shumpert held opponents to 38.9% shooting overall and 33.8% in isolation. Brewer and Shumpert posted nearly identical defensive points per possession numbers, coming in at 0.8 and 0.81 respectively.

Defensive metrics are far from an exact science and they do not always tell the full story about a defender (look no further than Carlos Boozer’s 98.9 DefRtg last season), I think they are useful in the case of Brewer. His reputation as an elite, versatile wing defender is backed up by the statistics. So how does he fit in with the Knicks.

Unfortunately at a 24.4% career clip, Ronnie Brewer won’t contribute as a three point shooter. In fact, he is quite limited offensively as he shot only 42.7% last year. However, his defensive value will outweigh his lack of an offensive game. With Iman Shumpert sidelined with injury till at least December or January, Brewer is going to play a major role on this team. Health permitting, he should be the starter at shooting guard. At 6’7 225 pounds, Brewer has the ability to guard 1′s 2′s and 3′s. If the Knicks wanted to go really small, they could get away with using Brewer to guard 4′s as well. Given the depth of this Knicks team, Mike Woodson has a plethora of different lineup possibilites at his disposal. Brewer should be a good fit in most, if not all of them.

When Shumpert returns, the Knicks will really be able to do some interesting things. Woodson could play Shumpert and Brewer together and just lock teams up on the perimeter. A lineup like this would really be useful alongside Anthony at the 4 and Stoudemire at the 5, which would in theory open up the offense for both superstars. Against smaller teams, Woodson could run Felton with JR Smith, Novak, Brewer and Chandler and just run and gun, but keep a lockdown defender on the floor. The possibilities really are endless and it’ll be interesting to see how Woodson uses Brewer.

In todays evolving NBA with smaller lineups and more athletic wing players, you can never have enough elite defensive wing players. Most teams would kill to get one, but the Knicks will have two of the best at their disposal upon the return of Shumpert. For a team trying to overtake the Dwayne Wade-LeBron James led Miami Heat in the Eastern conference, this is huge. Only time will tell how Brewer ends up impacting this Knicks squad, but I think his impact will be immediate and it will be great. The Knicks should get great bang for their buck from Brewer and he should be a great fit on what was already a great defense.