Aaron Brooks will get the money that he wants, at some point, but for now, it's probably best for him to prove himself further, because despite the shiny Most Improved Player award that sits on his mantle (that's where Michael Jordan kept his trophies in Space Jam, so I assume that everyone does the same), there are plenty of Aaron Brooks skeptics out there.
Take Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference. Or Dave Berri of the Wages of Wins Journal. Or any other stat-driven basketball nut. They've got beef with all of the hubbub surrounding the fourth-year player out of Oregon, and they've got a decent point, too. Aaron Brooks wasn't exactly an efficiency machine in 2009-2010, despite the giant increase in points per game. You've got to look deeper than that.
I get that Brooks is worried about the new CBA. It appears that everyone is, and rightfully so. But the Rockets aren't in the business of giving out extensions, so Brooks will have to wait. The question becomes: is Brooks, right now, worthy of a huge pay increase this upcoming summer? It's not as easy an answer as you might think, because as effective as Brooks showed he could be at times, his weaknesses became just as evident.
So, where do we start? Let's take aim at his numbers from last year, beginning with his assist rate, which sits at a pedestrian 20.39 according to HoopData.com. Even Nate Robinson fared better in AR than Brooks. How about his shot selection? Brooks averaged nearly three shots per game between 16 to 23 feet, the least efficient shot in basketball. His conversion rate from such a distance? Thirty-nine percent. Try shaving off the long two's, why don'tcha?
As good as Brooks was behind the arc in 2009-2010, he suffered in a particular category: shooting three pointers off the pick and roll. According to Synergy Sports, Brooks launched 83 bombs off the P&R last year and only made thirty percent of them, which dragged down his overall percentage quite a bit. Think about it: how many times did you see Brooks go behind a pick, take a long hesitation dribble, cock the ball back over his head and hurl a prayer towards the rim last year? It became rather annoying, because despite his inability to make such a shot consistently, Brooks kept on, well, keeping on.
Care to know whose APER was higher than Brooks'? Try newly-extended Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry, who scored a contract deal worth nearly $25 million this offseason.
Care to know what other advantage Lowry had over Brooks this year? His contract was up. He stopped making money and needed a new deal. Either he would re-sign with the Rockets, or he would move elsewhere. Fellow re-signee Luis Scola found himself in the same position. He got money because his contract was up.
Despite my attempts to bring the sub-six-footer down to earth (don't get me wrong: he's still a budding All-Star at the position), the Rockets don't have a preference in dishing out new deals. Brooks simply falls in line behind Scola and Lowry on the contract timeline. His deal expires at the end of this season, and when it does, the Rockets will address the issue. As David Clark points out at The Dream Shake, nobody gets an extension from the Rockets. Nobody.
("Nobody beats a Goodson deal... nobody.")
Unfortunately for Brooks, despite his improvement and his increase in popularity and name recognition, he still must convince the Rockets that he is worth a gigantic raise. Teams around the league with pressing issues at point guard will pay Brooks whatever he wants. The Rockets, who are plenty comfortable at the position, may be hesitant to commit too much money to him at this point.
Fortunately for Houston, Brooks likely won't approach last year's mark of 19 points per game again in 2010-2011, which can be a large selling point for teams who don't take the extra step to look at per-minute statistics. With added depth throughout the roster and a marginally healthy Yao Ming back in tow, Brooks won't be counted on to carry the offense like he was last year. This should bode well for A) The Rockets' chances of re-signing him, as he may not stand out quite as much to opposing teams in a lessened role, and B) his efficiency and his defense, two of his most pressing concerns.
Sure, Brooks can heave from deep with the best of them. He has no doubt improved his decision making and his ability to attack in the lane. But can he defend larger guards? Can he muscle up Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams? Can he make an impact on offense without shooting the ball so much, something off which Kyle Lowry has made a living?
I'll give Brooks this: he put up with a ton of garbage around him last season and managed to emerge relatively unscathed. It was his first full season as the starting point guard. His go-to player in the post, Carl Landry, got traded. He didn't have a Yao Ming to throw the ball to on the block. In all, there were nine new Rockets on the roster who weren't around the year before, and for a point guard - the "floor general" - that's a tough adjustment to make.
Above all else, Brooks needs to prove to the Rockets that he's not simply interchangeable, and that inserting him into the starting lineup makes the team better. For all of the highlights that he provides on a nightly basis, his play could be much improved, regardless of his trophy.
Patience is a virtue, and can also lead to a fat new contract, so long as Brooks' focus doesn't leave the court. Once he gets ahold of the whole basketball aspect of basketball, the money will be waiting for Aaron at the end of the tunnel.