Aaron Brooks

On Aaron Brooks and life after Steve Nash in Phoenix

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Steve Nash has defined the Phoenix Suns franchise since the summer of 2004, but every passing day brings the Suns that much closer to parting with their only remaining star. Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, and Amar’e Stoudemire have all come and gone, and the last great remnant of the Suns team that embarked on Seven Second or Less’ maiden voyage will likely be out of Phoenix by the end of the season. By this time next year, Nash will be almost 39 years old and an unrestricted free agent. As committed as he’s been to the Suns over the last half-decade or so, the man would be twiddling away the twilight of his career on a fringe playoff team if he elected to remain in Phoenix beyond the completion of his current deal.

With Nash no longer in the locker room, controlling the offense, and selling tickets, the Suns will have a lot of introspection to do. If Phoenix lets Nash’s contract expire without dealing him for assets of some kind, the team will be left with what’s functionally a blank slate in terms of roster construction. Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress are all rotation-caliber players, but they lack the ability to collectively grant their team a post-Nash identity. The Suns will have options, but for the moment appear lacking in the ability to execute a rebuilding plan with any kind of expediency.

That said, the one unknown in Phoenix’s future that could potentially shift their long-term plans — if only slightly — is Aaron Brooks. The Suns already gave Brooks a qualifying offer back in June, giving them the right to either retain him for another season or match any offer sheets he gets as a restricted free agent. That should extend Brooks’ trial run in Phoenix, and give Alvin Gentry and his staff time to properly evaluate whether Brooks is able to act as some kind of Steve Nash surrogate in order to keep the current offensive system in place after the former MVP’s departure. That may not sound like much, but a capable initiator — armed within a team’s proven stylistic approach and given effective sets to work with — would at least give the Suns a very basic foundation.

Brooks is coming off of the most disappointing season of his professional career, but that’s true in part because his play had previously never garnered much expectation at all. The ’09-’10 season served as his public arrival; Brooks’ per-game averages shot up to 19.6 points and 5.3 assists per game, good enough to earn him the league’s kind-of-bogus Most Improved Player award. Brooks was able to live up to his solid per-minute projections from his first few seasons in the league, and play well for a winning team that barely missed the postseason.

Yet his latest campaign was a fair bit more disastrous, as Brooks combined injury, poor play, and a worse attitude in order to put up some incredibly underwhelming numbers . Houston traded Brooks to Phoenix mid-season for Goran Dragic, and a surface-level glance at that production and narrative would deem Brooks unworthy of starting responsibilities just about anywhere.

But Brooks is a better player than he let on last season in Houston, and he showed just enough in his 25 games as a Sun for us to wonder how extended playing time in Gentry’s system might bode for Brooks’ career. Don’t let his mere 9.6 points per game fool you; Brooks played limited minutes as a Sun, but he produced at a level virtually on-par with his offensive production in ’09-’10. That doesn’t make him an offensive star, but all signs point to him being a decent shot creator and a strong outside shooter in Phoenix for as long as they’ll have him.

Picking out the inconsistencies

A player who posts unremarkable points per game averages for two consecutive seasons to start his career, manages one season of almost 20 points per game, and subsequently falls back to Earth in the following year naturally garners some skepticism. Yet in Brooks’ case, his per-minute averages suggest he was capable of solid production in each of his four NBA seasons to date. It’s his minutes per game that have dictated the variance in his production, all the while his efficiency has stayed within a much smaller range. Brooks’ latest partial season in Houston was still a step down, but his uptick in Phoenix was enough of a return to normalcy to quell the thought of Brooks’ 2010 season being an aberration.

Instead, the real inconsistency appears to be Brooks’ randomly slashed three-point percentage. After starting out his career as an average shooter from the perimeter and improving that percentage in his second and third seasons, Brooks’ shooting from beyond the arc plummeted to .284 in his 34 games for Houston last season. Perhaps Brooks won’t consistently be able to shoot around 40 percent from three-point range as he did in ’09-’10, but there’s something to be said about Brooks’ best shooting season coinciding with his most consistent playing time.

The fluke in Brooks’ profile is this latest season, if only because his awful shooting percentages sandbagged what otherwise was a comparable statistical campaign. We can expect that shooting to return to a more acceptable mark in the year(s) to come, as he’ll likely settle in at slightly above the league average in three-point percentage.

Hope as a playmaker

Even in a golden age of point guards, Nash’s vision is unparalleled. In that regard, Brooks is a poor substitute; he sees the most obvious and immediate trees in the forest, but fails to see the forest itself for the trees. Passing is a simple action for Brooks rather than a mechanism through which an offense functions, a reality that warranted him a “shoot-first,” label.

Yet Brooks’ skill as a set-up man surfaced a bit when he was asked to back up Nash. His mere 25 games in Phoenix provides a terribly small sample size, but in those contests Brooks posted easily the highest assist rate of his career (35.3% — on par with Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, and Tony Parker). His assists per minute didn’t just crank up as a product of the Suns’ fast pace; Brooks was legitimately making plays for his teammates more than ever, as he benefited from the perimeter shooting and offensive fluidity that makes the Suns such a marvel.

Rick Adelman’s offense can be a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t exactly empower the point guard. By using the high post as a focal point of the offense, Adelman took the ball out of Brooks’ hands in Houston and pigeon-holed him into a label he barely had a chance to earn. Next season could serve as a referendum on Brooks’ ability to create plays for others.

The bad news

There’s no getting around it: if Brooks is going to be a regular for Phoenix going forward, they’ll have to account for his defensive limitations; Brooks is undersized and lacks the defensive technique to properly make up for it. Starting from square one with a defensive liability isn’t ideal, but again, the Suns aren’t without a ton of assets at this point. Brooks is capable of becoming a decent contributor (if not a tradeable asset down the line) for Phoenix, and any new deal he signs would be under the more team-friendly limitations of the next collective bargaining agreement. The Suns could lock up a good offensive player for relatively cheap, and considering the limitations throughout the rest of a Nash-less roster, Phoenix can’t afford to be terribly picky.

Brooks isn’t a poor enough defender that his weakness can’t be hedged elsewhere in a potential lineup, meaning all Phoenix has to do is keep him in mind when selecting wing players to put on the floor with him and bigs to cover the space behind him. So long as the Suns are willing to begin reconstructing their team with that consideration in mind, Brooks could be a very affordable playmaking option with decent long-term returns.

NBA policy change kept Draymond Green off All-NBA first team, Paul Millsap off third team

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 01:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks tries to steal the ball from Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 1, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Draymond Green received 431 points in All-NBA voting.

DeAndre Jordan received 317.

Yet, Jordan made the first team while Jordan made the second team.

Why?

The NBA explained in its official release:

Players who received votes at multiple positions were slotted at the position where they received the most votes.

Green got 85 votes at forward and 39 at center, so he was eligible only at forward. Jordan got all 89 of his votes at center.

That’s perfectly reasonable, but it wasn’t always this way.

The NBA changed its rules last offseason after 2015 voting concluded, according to league spokesman Tim Frank. Instead of sliding players to a position they rarely played if they got any votes there, players are now eligible at only the position where they received the most votes (though voters can still mostly slot players where they deem appropriate on individual ballots). An increase in multi-position players sparked the new policy.

And, fundamentally, it’s good switch. The league should have a clear policy and stick with it rather than trying to interpret the line on a case-by-case basis.

Sure, there’s room for quibbling. Is 50% the right threshold rather than, say, 30% Would basing it on points rather than votes work better? Will all forward/centers get tilted toward forward because there are twice as many All-NBA slots at forward than at center?

But, more than anything, a clear and fair policy – and this is both – is better than no set policy.

This is also a noteworthy policy, because it had a clear effect this year.

If Green were the first-team center, Paul George would’ve made the second team at forward and Paul Millsap would’ve been a third-team forward. (Thankfully, Millsap finished ahead of Anthony Davis – who played both power forward and center, got more votes at forward and could’ve made about $25 million more over the next five years due to the Derrick Rose rule – or else this would’ve been a much bigger can of worms). Jordan would’ve been the second-team center, DeMarcus Cousins third-team and Andre Drummond bumped.

On the flip side, adopting the current rule sooner would’ve changed some results from the last couple years.

Cousins was an All-NBA second-team forward last year despite getting more votes at center, and Pau Gasol was the All-NBA second-team center despite getting more votes at forward – which obviously means the net effect is nil.

A more significant position bend came with the 2014 All-Defensive team. Andre Iguodala was a first-team guard despite getting more votes at forward. Holding him at forward would’ve sent him to the second team and bumped Kawhi Leonard. Patrick Beverley would’ve gone to the first team and Tony Allen to the second team at guard.

Report: Rockets hiring Mike D’Antoni

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29:  Head Coach Mike D'Antoni of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a score against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center on April 29, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. The spurs would win the game 92-87 and the series 4-1.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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James Harden reportedly had a role in picking the Rockets’ head coach.

So, of course they hired someone who’s not particularly interested in defense.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

D’Antoni can be an excellent coach if he has a roster that fits his up-tempo spread style, and a defensive coordinator would also help (Sorry, James). If Houston is committed to surrounding D’Antoni with the requisite resources, this could be a strong hire. On the bright side, this roster is ripe for turnover – notably Dwight Howard, who clashed with D’Antoni on the Lakers.

Most of all, the Rockets just needed a fresh start after last season’s stinker. They were bound to get that no matter whom they hired.

It’ll be on D’Antoni to prove he can provide more of a bump than any viable coach would’ve.

At minimum, though, Houston should be more exciting.

All-NBA teams announced, and Anthony Davis loses $24 million

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 14:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks the ball over Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 14, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA has released the list of players selected to the three All-NBA teams, and most of them are the people you’d expect to make it. But two players are affected by the voting in very different ways: Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard.

Here are the selections:

FIRST TEAM ALL-NBA

SECOND TEAM ALL-NBA

THIRD TEAM ALL-NBA

These selections are fine. There are areas where it’s possible to quibble (is DeMarcus Cousins worthy despite not being on a playoff team? Should Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard switch spots?) But the voters largely got it right and honored the right group of players.

The much more interesting dynamic is how the voting affects the contracts of Lillard and Davis, who were both Rose rule candidates. The so-called “Derrick Rose” rule, put in place in the 2011 CBA, allows players signed to a five-year “designated player” extension to earn a larger percentage of the cap and higher annual raises if they either a) win MVP, b) get voted as a starter to two All-Star teams, or c) make two All-NBA teams during their rookie contract.

Davis and Lillard both signed five-year max extensions last summer. Davis made first team All-NBA last season, so he would have been eligible for the Rose rule if he had made a team this year. But he fell short in an injury-plagued season in which the Pelicans missed the playoffs. His extension will now be worth around $120 million over the five years, instead of $145 million.

Lillard, meanwhile, made third team All-NBA last season, so his second-team selection this year secures an extra $24 million over the course of his extension. This won’t matter much for the Blazers, who are so far under the salary cap that they can sign pretty much anybody they want, but Lillard has to be happy with the recognition after he was infamously left off the Western Conference All-Star team this season.

Magic will look to make a splash in free agency this summer

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic dribbles the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 31, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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This is going to be a big summer for the Orlando Magic. They’ve been rebuilding for the past four years, since the Dwight Howard trade in 2012, and have amassed a promising collection of young talent including Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon. They just hired a coach, Frank Vogel, with a proven track record of success in the playoffs. Now, they want to take the next step in the rebuilding process and get back into the playoffs. With as much as $46 million in cap room, CEO Alex Martins told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel that he wants to make a splash in free agency and add some veterans to surround their prospects.

Why the sudden openness for the notoriously tight-lipped Magic?

“Because that’s what we need at this point in time to take the next step,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Secondly, this has been a plan, this has been a process. The first part of the plan and the process is to develop your own [players] and grow your own [players]. And when you inject veterans at the wrong period of time, it has an impact in the way that you’re trying to develop your corps of young players. It can’t just happen immediately. It’s got to happen at a certain point in time — after your players have matured and developed.

“And we always believed that this summer and next summer were going to be the two summers of free agency for us that we needed to focus on after developing our young guys.”

The Magic aren’t traditionally a destination franchise for big-name free agents, the exception being the summer of 2000 when they landed Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. But they made a big offer last summer to Paul Millsap (who decided to stay in Atlanta), and are expected to make a run this summer at Millsap’s teammate, Al Horford. Horford played college basketball at the University of Florida, so he has ties to the area, as does Chandler Parsons. Whether or not they land any of these names, their combination of location (Florida has no state income tax), young talent and a well-respected coach should get them into the conversation this summer.