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Weekly countdown (cont.)

Posted: Friday December 7, 2007 3:57PM; Updated: Monday December 10, 2007 11:08AM
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Not only is Utah's Ronnie Brewer shooting 52 percent from the floor this season, but he ranks third in the NBA in steals per game.
Not only is Utah's Ronnie Brewer shooting 52 percent from the floor this season, but he ranks third in the NBA in steals per game.
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1. Ronnie Brewer, Utah Jazz -- The Jazz went into training camp uncertain of the answer to their one remaining question: How to fill their need at shooting guard? Would rookie Morris Almond provide the deep range they were seeking? Could they live with Gordan Giricek? C.J. Miles?

The unexpected solution came from Brewer, the son of former NBA player Ron Brewer and a No. 14 pick who gave Utah a spotty 4.6 points in 56 games as a rookie last year.

"This summer I was trying to get in better condition," he said. "And I tried to improve my shot because that's one of the things coach [Jerry] Sloan wanted me to do."

If the starting job was open, then what was to stop Brewer from claiming it? He was the surprise of training camp and has provided a highly reliable -- and altogether unexpected -- 14.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 steals in his 30.8 starter's minutes. At 6-7, he moves nonstop like a smaller version of Andrei Kirilenko.

"I think the Jazz are a little shocked," an opposing team's personnel scout said. "One thing about him and Kirilenko is that they're both long guys. Let's say they're running a regular 'floppy' set -- they call it '11' in Utah. Brewer comes off, and rather than shooting like most teams do, Utah likes to curl [around] screens. So Brewer curls it and it takes him one step to get to the rim. That's how long and athletic the kid is, and he's a very good defender too with his length."

Brewer is not the prototype shooting guard. He appears to stroke the ball diagonally, as if waving mosquitoes away from his forehead. Rather than fundamentally reinvent his jump shot, he worked last summer to become reliable.

"My elbow is going to stick out regardless," he said. "It might not be the prettiest shot or the most fundamental, but I worked on it and made it consistent. Playing with these guys, I'm going to get open shots because they're going to draw attention to themselves."

Brewer's stroke may prevent him from living on the three-point line (where he is 5-of-20 this year) and that's a good thing: He is most effective roaming the floor, shooting 52 percent while exploiting the seams created by Utah's ball movement amid Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams.

"Who's this? Who's this?" Williams said before a recent game in New York, as he shuffled across the visitors' locker room with his head lowered and his hand raised high. Teammates laughed at his impression of Brewer waving for the ball.

"Then the defense tends to overplay me," answered Brewer, who has benefited from more than a few ensuing backdoor cuts this season.

The Jazz could still use a deep backcourt shooter off the bench. But Brewer appears to be a snug fit with their starting lineup -- even if he wasn't quite what they were looking for.

"Ronnie worked very hard in the summer and he deserves the credit for his improvement," Sloan said. "He came in, he wanted the job, he was working very hard, he was very diligent. And it's amazing how that works if you feel like you've been mistreated -- and he probably felt that way a little bit last year, because he was a young player and he didn't understand. But the bottom line was he knew he had to work, and he did the work."

Four pop quiz questions

4. Name the first thing to happen this season:

(a) Lakers trade Kobe Bryant
(b) Nets trade Jason Kidd
(c) Knicks fire Isiah Thomas
(d) Gilbert Arenas comes back from knee surgery

ANSWER: (d)

The prognosis in Washington is that Arenas may be ready by March 1. The Wizards will be cautious, and they surely won't risk his health to rush him back. But we have a better chance of seeing Arenas on the court again this season than of seeing those other events happening.

3. How long should the average player spend warming up?

(a) Just enough to poke his head out of the locker room and smell the boiled hot dogs
(b) 15 minutes
(c) 30 minutes
(d) One hour

ANSWER: (b)

At least that's what Zach Randolph is saying now.

The 6-9 forward spent his opening years in Portland going all-out for 45 to 60 minutes against his fellow young Blazers. He would return to the pregame locker room sweated through like Karl Malone at halftime of the Western Conference finals.

Randolph is a 26-year-old with the Knicks now, and last week one of their assistants asked him to tone down the regimen. Randolph agrees that his pregame work may have been tiring him for the fourth quarter.

"So I'm probably going to go to seven spots and shoot seven times from each spot," he said. "Go into the post, spin move." No more sweating? "No, I'll still work up a sweat," he said. "A little sweat. Nothing crazy."

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