LOS ANGELES - Kwame Brown has grown up as a player in the past couple of months. The Los Angeles Lakers can only hope he’s fully matured off the floor as well.
Brown has proven in this playoff series with the Suns that the last several weeks of the season — when the light started to come on for him at both ends of the floor — were no fluke.
His numbers have jumped; more importantly, he’s become a force inside for the team, a development that has helped the games of other Lakers, notably forward Lamar Odom.
Off the floor, the Lakers are awaiting more information on a police matter of concern.
Los Angeles police confirmed Tuesday the Lakers center is the subject of a sexual assault investigation in an incident that allegedly happened after the Lakers’ Game 3 win over the Suns Friday night in Los Angeles.
On Wednesday afternoon, Brown said, “I’m just staying grounded and staying with my family. I’m confident it will get resolved.
“I’ve got to roll with the punches. Life goes on.”
Brown came to the NBA directly out of high school as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft, but struggled in his four years with the Washington Wizards. He started slowly, managed to average 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in his third season, then slipped backward.
Off the floor, stories emerged on the challenges Brown faced. For example, he was said to be unfamiliar with such basics as shopping for groceries.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, asked Wednesday if Brown has a support system in place, said, “Yes. I’ll leave it at that.”
On the floor, his confidence has shot up with his numbers. His playoff averages are 13.0 points and 6.4 rebounds compared with 7.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in the regular season.
Helping his development has been Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Hall of Fame center who now works as a Lakers assistant coach.
Brown’s improvement came as he learned to “recognize what he can do to help the team,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
“He has a lot of physical tools, but not knowing how to use them to help his team was a problem for him.”
Abdul-Jabbar believes the lack of college experience, where players can develop in a less pressurized atmosphere than in the pros, hurt Brown.
“He had to learn how to apply his talents to the game, work with the other guys and develop the judgment and insight into the game that would allow him to be an effective player.” In this playoff series, Brown has flashed solid interior passing skill, a trait usually associated with a crafty veteran.
“He hasn’t always done it,” Abdul-Jabbar acknowledged.
“There was a time when they’d hit him with a pass and he wasn’t ready for it and it would be a turnover.
“Now, he’s starting to catch it and hit the other guys.”
Abdul-Jabbar said his role with Brown is to “work with him on his habits . . . correcting bad habits.”
For example, Brown used to hold the ball down low in traffic.
“It’s simple when you talk about it,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “But we all have habits that start when we’re in grade school.”
The Lakers can only hope those habits are solid, in every respect.