Why Aaron Brooks Is in Perfect Position to Thrive with Chicago Bulls

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Why Aaron Brooks Is in Perfect Position to Thrive with Chicago Bulls
USA TODAY Sports

For the Chicago Bulls, spark plug Aaron Brooks is the definition of the rich getting richer. If Derrick Rose can stay healthy, the 6'0" scorer can serve in spot duty for the defensive juggernaut.

For Brooks, he's headed to a team built to mask his weaknesses and maximize his strengths. Coach Tom Thibodeau may not seem like the best teacher for Brooks and his lightning-quick trigger, but history shows the defensive guru has enjoyed plenty of success with undersized scoring guards.

Brooks has yet to officially join the Windy City's finest, but the partnership could become official at any time.

"Though a league source said a deal isn’t finalized, talks to sign the 6-foot guard to a veteran’s minimum contract are in the advanced stages," K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday.

The price doesn't sound like a bargain now, but it could easily appear as such in the coming months.

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Brooks' skill set is limited.

He's an explosive scorer (career 17 points per 36 minutes, via Basketball-Reference.com) and a fairly reliable shooter from distance (career 36.8 three-point percentage). His career 41.3 field-goal percentage highlights his struggles with efficiency, and his career 3.4 assists average shows someone far more comfortable creating for himself than for others. Defense has never been a strong suit.

At 29 years old, he might be past the point of reinvention.

But that's OK for the Bulls.

They'll take what he can give: slithery dribble penetration, long-range shooting and a self-starting offense. Thibodeau has turned similar one-dimensional players into potent weapons in the past.

Brooks, as Comcast SportsNet's Aggrey Sam noted, "follows in the tradition of C.J. Watson, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin, who recently signed with Detroit." All four players enjoyed varying levels of success under Thibodeau, either serving as insurance behind Rose or as an emergency replacement for the former MVP.

Brooks, hopefully, will be nothing more than extra Rose insurance behind combo guard Kirk Hinrich. Rose has played only 10 games over the last two seasons, shut down first by a torn ACL and later by a torn meniscus.

Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

Rose's health will be the single biggest narrative in Chicago's 2014-15 campaign. Time will tell how that part of the story plays out, but for now everything sounds promising.

"I think I was ready a long time ago," Rose told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears in late June. "Right now is about just getting all the wrinkles out. I've been playing for a long time, even though nobody has [seen it]."

If Rose is healthy, Brooks will be called upon to provide a spark whenever Chicago's offense stagnates. If that's the extent of Brooks' assignment list, he's more than equipped to thrive in this role.

"As a third point guard used to provide an offensive punch in certain matchups, this is a good signing," wrote NBC Sports' Kurt Helin.

Brooks' best NBA season was 2009-10, when he played and started all 82 games for the Houston Rockets. He set career highs in points (19.6), assists (5.3) and player efficiency rating (16.0), via Basketball-Reference.com, and edged out Kevin Durant, George Hill and Marc Gasol for the Most Improved Player award.

Troy Fields/Getty Images

However, he's started only 44 games in his three seasons since—he spent the 2011-12 campaign in China—as his microwave scoring touch makes him a strong change-of-pace option off the bench.

He split last season between the Rockets and Denver Nuggets, doing his best work in Denver as an injury-riddled backcourt opened the door for ample playing time. In 29 games with the Nuggets (12 of them starts), he put up 11.9 points on 40.6 percent shooting and 5.2 assists in 29.0 minutes a night.

Brooks excelled in pick-and-rolls, converting those plays at a rate of 0.91 points per possession, via Synergy Sports (subscription required), which ranked 22nd in the league. He shot 45.6 percent out of those sets and hit 48.8 percent of his looks as a spot-up shooter with the Nuggets.

If he can work comfortably off the ball, Thibodeau would have the option of playing him with Rose in an small, speedy lineup. The Bulls played at the third-slowest pace in the league last season (92.72 possessions per 48 minutes, via NBA.com), but Rose's return could be a reason to dial that up, at least in limited stretches.

Chicago has some explosive athleticism on the wing with Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. Shooters Mike Dunleavy, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic could be dangerous weapons out in the open floor. When Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah are manning the frontcourt, the Bulls will have a pair of high-octane bigs.

That's where Brooks could make a major impact. His aggressive mentality forces defenses to react, and he'll take whatever is given to him. He exploits driving lanes, but if he brings help with him, he can spot an open teammate.

In terms of raw talent, Brooks might have the most of Thibodeau's substitute floor generals. At the least, Brooks is arriving under better circumstances than most of his predecessors.

Lucas had three years of international and D-League experience before signing with the Bulls. Augustin was waived by the Toronto Raptors last December before landing in Chicago and subsequently leading the team in scoring. Before Robinson and Watson joined the Bulls, each spent the previous season with the stat-padding Golden State Warriors. They had numbers, but they weren't exactly the easiest to trust.

All four players had something to prove, and Thibodeau helped provide them a platform to do it. It isn't hard to imagine that pattern repeating now with Brooks.

There's a certainty with Brooks.

He's been a potent scorer at each of his NBA stops. In four of his last five seasons, he has averaged at least nine points a night, despite averaging more than 25 minutes only once during that stretch.

The Bulls know what they are getting, and it's something they've used brilliantly in the past. This is simply the icing on the cake for what has already been a potentially game-changing summer for the Bulls.

Considering the quality of Chicago's offseason haulPau Gasol, McDermott, Mirotic—Brooks is an easy piece to overlook. Some nights during the regular season, fans might forget that he's there.

But when he does make his presence felt, he'll do it in a big way.

Brooks had a pair of 20-point, 15-assist games last season. Only All-Stars Chris Paul and Stephen Curry had more. When Brooks is on, he can be awfully hard to stop.

The basketball world might have forgotten how good he can be. History says the Bulls will help him send out that reminder.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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