Rebuilding Brewer



Jonah Ballow
Wolves Editor/Writer

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David Thorpe
NBA analyst for ESPN.com

Jonah Ballow with David Thorpe

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Returning from a season-ending knee injury, Corey Brewer focused on reworking his jump shot and regaining his astonishing athleticism. Jonah Ballow caught up with ESPN.com analyst and pro trainer David Thorpe for the story behind Brewer's resurgence.

Jonah Ballow: Let's start with your process and how you worked with him during the offseason this summer, for a guy who's recovering from ACL surgery.

David Thorpe: The Timberwolves had been working with Corey in the summertime on just trying to get back at least semblance of athleticism. I saw him in Las Vegas at the Summer League, and he just didn't look at all like who I had been watching for three years in college. I watched him in Florida and live in Florida, so I caught most of Corey's games when he was a Gator, and I knew that that wasn't Corey. I knew Corey's agent, and we talked about it. He wanted to get a little bit of a break from the work in Minneapolis, and we thought we maybe could help a little bit trying to get some of his athleticism back. So, that was probably more the primary focus, even more so than shooting. Just trying to get him back to being athletic. My workouts tend to be 150-200 dunks a morning, and I thought within two or three days even of a three week process, we started seeing some signs of him starting to get some confidence back in the knee and in the legs and overall. The Timberwolves' head trainer came down to watch him, and then they sent down an assistant coach to watch him, and they were pleased with his progress. Once I saw him making some progress as an athlete, then we really started talking about playing smart basketball and getting his mechanics more towards where they were as a shooter and as a ball handler, and try to teach him as much about basketball. He had such a strange couple of years there, having different coaches and then the injury and having another new coach come in with Coach Rambis, we just thought it would be smart to have him understand as much about the game as possible so that no matter what Coach Rambis wanted him to do, he would be able to adjust to it.

Jonah Ballow: How important was it to get that foundation, to get his legs back from under him after a surgery like that? As we all know, watching him in Florida, he was a supreme athlete that really liked to attack the basket. To get him back on par before the season began, you had a short amount of time to work with him, how important was that process?

David Thorpe: Well, I think he would probably argue about that idea of a "short amount of time." Three weeks of really hard training is hard, and he was tired when he left. But yeah, obviously three weeks isn't three months, but it was enough time. I actually think that it was extremely important for Corey--it might be different if we were talking about someone else. You know, I had Steve Francis in my gym this summer trying to recover from his knee surgery, and he didn't need to get back to an elite level of athleticism (it probably wasn't going to happen anyway) and it certainly wasn't the most important thing as far as his experience. For Corey, being so young and inexperienced, to all of a sudden have to learn to play an old man's game would have been really unfair and, quite frankly, not at all effective for him. So, we had to get back that bounce. You know, he and I laugh about it now, but once he got it back it isn't just a matter of having the physical ability; it's also having the mental clarity to recognize, "okay, I've got it; I can use it." Then you have sort of anticipating opportunities to jump, and I knew he was back all the way when he had that pretty famous dunk over Derek Fisher. Literally before the game that day, we talked about making athletic plays in Los Angeles where the game's going to be fast. He told me afterward that he wasn't thinking of that exact message; it was more of a confidence, like "I'm going to go dunk this thing." And that's when I knew that he knew himself that his legs were back.

Jonah Ballow: Specifically, what has changed about Corey Brewer's jump shot?

David Thorpe: Well, I don't really remember a lot of what it looked like before. I hadn't really watched it a ton before, prior to coming to our gym, I just remember thinking it was pretty broken when he got there. But I would say probably more than anything else was his selection. I'm a big believer in the fact that it really doesn't matter what kind of mechanics you have, bad shots and getting poor opportunities to take shots tend to miss. No matter how good of a shooter you are. One reason that the best shooters tend to miss more shots than they maybe should is that they just take bad shots, and I thought Corey in November was taking a ton of forced threes. Almost like forcing himself to be that player that he wasn't ready for yet. We talked a lot in December about slowing down, not taking as many threes, learn and read the game in other ways, and get more involved in the triangle offense as a passer, as a cutter, looking for the ball more. I told him that a three-point shot would come at the right time. And on the second part, the mechanical side, Corey was--and sometimes still does--he gets his head and shoulders far in front of his feet when he's going to shoot, because he's trying to stay low. But what happens is this: when you catch the ball and then try to stand up quickly, your head goes flying backward, and that's kicking your legs out in front of you to counter balance your head or you're going to fall on you back. So you kick your legs out--it's an unconscious move--and therefore your balance is awful. Because you have poor balance, it's very hard to have a great mechanic or stroke with your right arm, and it really threw his whole shot out of whack. So I actually talked a lot about--and I know the Wolves have worked him a ton--on just being more balanced and jumping straight up and landing straight down on two legs and not one leg. Not kicking his legs out in front of him, holding that form, and putting his hand to the rim and leading to all sorts of shooting cues that we worked on a lot this summer that we still talk a lot about literally every game day, almost. We talk about those kinds of things, just understanding the mechanics of it. But, it all starts with selection. Forcing threes is never a good idea in any offense.

Jonah Ballow: When we talk about the future direction of this franchise, I know that Corey is a big part of that, and he's played the shooting guard spot. Did you talk about that at all during these offseason workouts, or is this something that you're communicating now during the year? Do you talk about that position, because I know that he's been looked at maybe as a small forward and not so much as a shooting guard, but pretty much starting at that spot every game this year for the Wolves?

David Thorpe: We didn't talk specifically about shooting guard, although he told me he thought he'd definitely have a chance to play because I think Coach Rambis had talked to him a little bit this summer, which was a smart thing for Rambis to do, to put that seed in his mind. But I had Courtney Lee and Kevin Martin in the gym this summer as well, and we did a lot of stuff for them -- to me, wings and guards are a lot the same, more or less. I'd rather see Corey more at the "3," I think he's be more effective on the glass if he was allowed to be more involved in the glass and defending guys who were more around the rim. I think that'd be a good spot for him. Coach Rambis has to do what he has to do, he doesn't really have much of a choice here, and the reality of Corey is a very underrated passer in that offense. If he could just get his turnovers more control. Part of that is that he really does see things and anticipates well, and so there's always risk involved in that. I think he needs to become a good wing player, and that way Coach Rambis can use him at either spot, and really in that offense they're just names of positions. You can play a lot of different pieces, which is why I'm a huge believer in what Coach Rambis is doing as well, because you can really play guys like Corey in different spots because of the way that offense moves.

Jonah Ballow: You watch a lot of basketball and we've read a lot of your work on ESPN.com as an analyst, what do you think of his chances as the Most Improved Player? Obviously everything that stands out surrounds his shooting, but as you mentioned on the defensive end of the floor, as a guy who can get out on the passing lane and also finish on the break, it seems like Corey Brewer is now more of a well-rounded player in his third season.

David Thorpe: I think so. I think that's a big-time product of what the coaches have done and the shifts they've installed there, and Corey's obviously hard work to be better and to be coachable. I don't really know the history of the Most Improved award. I know that one of my other students once finished second, and in my opinion he was far more improved than the guy who won, but the guy who won--Monta Ellis--his team went to the playoffs. Minnesota's not going to make the playoffs, so it seems unlikely that he would win the award. But I think it's likely that he'll get some votes, and really I'm not sure that matters as much as [the fact that] he needs to be a guy that the Wolves can count on moving forward, to be one of those core guys. Hopefully they draft a terrific player in this draft, no matter what position he'd play. Because Corey can play both wing positions, he should be okay, and he's a guy that I think they can walk on forward as someone that they can count on, but he has to earn that every day going forward.

Jonah Ballow: David, I know you touched on this a little bit, but how important is it to have a guy like Corey Brewer in the lineup, a versatile type of player like that, that you can move around in multiple positions?

David Thorpe: I think it's really important, but to be honest with you, I think the best thing that Corey brings to the table (except for athleticism) … is that he really just wants to win. I've had the good pleasure of working with both him and Joakim Noah, two thirds of that great front line for the Gators that won two championships, and they're the most selfless guys. Noah and Brewer both could care less about any stat. Corey and I have never talked about his streak, it just means nothing to him. He just wants to win. He's so desperate to win, and when you watch him play you can see that emotion. If he has two points in a game, but someone has ten points, he's the first guy to congratulate him. He's just very selfless that way; it's kind of who he is. To me that's the more valuable trait. He has talent, but he uses it just to try and help the team win. That's pretty rare in the NBA, especially you have a young player who's trying to earn his spot. He gets it; he knows that the most important thing is trying to find a way to get the Wolves back in the playoffs, and I think he's going to be a big piece of them moving forward.

Jonah Ballow: Now we just need to pack some pounds on him, right?

David Thorpe: You know, it's funny you say that because my strength coach last year, who's worked with a ton of great players, he said Corey might be the strongest player he's ever seen for his weight. He said he has an amazing understanding of how to use his body as leverage, and I think that comes from the Florida strength program -- it's really, really good. Obviously, they have a world-class football program there that helps. I don't know what kind of weight you can put on him; I'd be fearful to put too much weight on, because I'd be worried about what that would mean to his lower extremities skeletal-wise. It'd be nice to put on some weight, but you have to be careful with it, and most importantly you just have to continue to add strength. Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson, I can go down the line -- look at Tim Duncan. He plays the inside position, he's a very thin man, and there have been guys that have made it through this league a long time without having huge muscles, and I think Corey can be one of those guys too.

Jonah Ballow: We appreciate your time. That's David Thorpe of ESPN.com and he also works out with several of the NBA players during the offseason. Thank you so much for this analysis on Corey Brewer.

David Thorpe: My pleasure, thanks.
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