The fading of Ronnie Brewer, early-season hero

Ronnie Brewer blows past MarShon Brooks for an easy layup. (NBA.com)
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Ronnie Brewer, though he didn't receive the plaudits or attention that Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith or even Jason Kidd did for hot start of the New York Knicks this season, played a surprisingly large part in it.

Brewer played 20 minutes or more in 12 of the team's first 24 games. He shot better than 40 percent from three-point range, and started every game at small forward, allowing Carmelo Anthony to move to his more effective power forward spot.

But Brewer began to struggle with his shot in early December, and has seen first his production, and then his minutes, suffer as a result. Since the December 6 win over the Miami Heat, Brewer has managed to shoot below 26 percent from the field, and under 17 percent from three-point range.

His defense is solid, but that kind of offensive ineptitude makes it had to keep him on the court. Accordingly, he hasn't logged 20 minutes in a game since receiving exactly that December 17, in a loss to the Houston Rockets. He's been starting, doing so in 32 of 33 Knicks games to date. But he isn't playing much after those first few minutes.

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Brewer's slump, and the seemingly imminent return of Iman Shumpert from a knee injury that has sidelined him for much of the season, means the Knicks have a clear opportunity to upgrade. But it also leaves Brewer without an obvious role.

Consider that when Shumpert returns to the Knicks, and Raymond Felton heals his fractured pinky in a few weeks, they can put together a first unit that includes Felton at point guard, Kidd at the shooting guard spot where he excelled early this season, Shumpert at small forward, Anthony at power forward and Tyson Chandler at center.

Depending on the opposition's strengths, Shumpert could be asked to guard the opposing point guard, shooting guard or small forward. Shumpert is highly unlikely to shoot as poorly as Brewer, and if he is anything approaching the player he was last season prior to the knee injury, he will be value added on defense, even above Brewer. This lineup is, in essence, a juiced version of the group that started 18-5.

But the second unit that produces doesn't have a natural fit for Brewer, either. Marcus Camby slides to center on the backup Knicks, playing the Chandler role. Amar'e Stoudemire would be the Carmelo Anthony of this group, providing an offensive focal point and drawing defenders in, leaving the other three Knicks more space for open shots. Steve Novak, occupying small forward, and J.R. Smith, the highly dangerous scorer at shooting guard, would be in position to take advantage. Pablo Prigioni, who has made tremendous strides in his play of late, would be the quarterback.

There's no real room in that group for Brewer, particularly with Smith's defensive talent eliminating the need for a backcourt stopper. Hypothetically, if an opposing team had two perimeter threats so lethal on their second unit that both Smith and Brewer were needed, that could raise a need, with Brewer subbing for Novak. But practically, no N.B.A. team actually has that much offensive talent.

None of this takes into account Rasheed Wallace, who provides the Knicks additional scoring, rebounding and interior defense when he plays, nor Kurt Thomas, who continues to rebound at his career rates. It is possible to imagine either or both filling in for Stoudemire, as needed, or when the Knicks seek to go bigger.

As for Brewer, that would leave him on the outside of any projected Mike Woodson rotation. Really, he has made that necessary with a shooting slump that has now lasted longer than his hot shooting start. He still has a bit more time to prove that the slump is as much of an outlier from his true talent (which his career numbers support) as his accurate beginning to the season.

But if he doesn't before Shumpert returns, then Felton, it is hard to see Ronnie Brewer, a key ingredient in the start of this season, playing much of a role in the rest of it.