AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Ronnie Brewer's first hard-hitting lesson on what it will take to make it in the NBA came last season in Denver, where the Nuggets assigned a stay-down-low center to guard the Jazz's so-called "shooting" guard.

The insulting insinuation: Brewer's probably not gonna hoist up many outside shots, because he has so much trouble knocking them down even when he's open.

"I told him, 'Does that you send you a message somewhere that 'You've got to work on your shooting?"' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan recalled earlier this week.

Somebody had to say it to then-rookie, so far be it for Sloan — who says "sometimes I'm being the bad guy for telling the truth" — to shy away.

Lesson No. 2 came Wednesday night, when Sloan, go figure, found something else to harp on — despite the reality that Brewer looked impressive to many eyes while scoring a team-high 17 points and hitting 6-of-8 from the field in the Jazz's 90-81 preseason-opening loss to Milwaukee.

"Well, he got some points out there. He was able to shoot the ball," the oft-gruff Jazz coach said. "But the biggest thing is he's got to, you know, try to keep himself involved defensively."

Never mind that Brewer, who started, did use his long reach to create a couple first-half steals, and that Bucks star shooting guard Michael Redd — who merely dropped 57 points when Utah visited Milwaukee last November — managed just 17 of his own on 7-for-14 field shooting.

"He's got to get right back in and be involved defensively," Sloan said. "A couple times he got caught (not displaying) the kind of effort we need from a young guy, the kind of effort we need to get better.

"He was playing a great player," added Sloan, whose Jazz open a three-game preseason trip tonight at Detroit. "You can't always just say, 'OK, beat me.' You've got to get up and try to take something away from him. That's part of learning."

That established, the Jazz may be learning something about a potential answer to their dire needs at the 2 spot.

During training camp in Boise last week, Sloan lauded Brewer — who missed most of the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league with a strained hamstring — for his offseason conditioning.

The Jazz coach also praised the athletic 2006 lottery pick for how he can "get on top of the basket."

It's almost as if — shhh, don't let him in on the secret — Jazz decision-makers quietly are pulling for Brewer to emerge as the winner of a starting spot vacated when veteran Derek Fisher left for the Los Angeles Lakers.

And if that's so, things sure seem to be falling into place.

Nine players on the Jazz roster are capable of playing at off-guard, but that number is slowly but surely dwindling.

Deron Williams is the Jazz's obvious pick at point, and any minutes he sees off the ball will be few and far between.

Swingmen Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring can play interchangeably at shooting guard and small forward, but Harping (knee, ankle) is hurt for now, and this season the Jazz seem as interested in posting up Kirilenko as they do using him at the 2.

Besides, using those two together is a more likely late-game look than a viable long-term starting proposition.

Offseason signees Jason Hart and Ronnie Price both offer small-lineup options at shooting guard, but both remain busy simply learning the Jazz offense — and were used primarily at the point Wednesday.

That leaves Brewer fending off veteran Gordan Giricek, sophomore C.J. Miles and rookie Morris Almond.

Almond looked quite comfy in his preseason debut, hitting 4-of-7 in 27 minutes and showing he could develop into a legitimate contender for regular-rotation minutes.

But he's, well, a rookie.

Miles, battling a mild ankle sprain, logged just four minutes against the Bucks and missed both shot attempts. That combined with less-than-raving reviews from Sloan regarding conditioning could have the 2006 second-rounder in a hole.

Then there's Giricek, who has made 86 starts for over the Jazz's last three regular seasons — plus another three in the playoffs when Fisher wasn't available last season.

Giricek played all 12 minutes in Wednesday's disastrous fourth quarter, arguably telling in that he's 30 years old and established vets typically don't play so much late in exhibition openers.

Giricek also missed all five of his shots in the fourth, and that combined with a historically shaky relationship with Sloan could signal that Brewer indeed has the early upper hand.

Not that Brewer, who did the bulking of his scoring inside and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts last season, necessarily sees it that way.


"I don't know," Brewer, whose awkward shooting technique stems from a childhood waterslide accident, said when asked if he felt he'd made his case Wednesday.

"Back of my mind, just playing basketball," he added. "Be fundamental, be solid on defense, be solid on offense — and I think if I do that my ability will speak for itself."

In the meantime, a certain no-holds-barred coach speaks for him.

"He's young," Sloan said of the 22-year-old University of Arkansas product. "He's got to keep pushing himself to get better and better each time."

And that is precisely why Sloan didn't steer clear of telling a tale from Denver.

"That's the pure hard-cold facts of this business," the Jazz coach said. "Regardless how much you love the kid, how hard he works, there are certain things you've got to do to be able to play.

"He's shown that he's worked very hard to do that," Sloan added, "and that's the No. 1 step."

Contributing: Linda Hamilton

E-mail: [email protected]