When the Suns dealt for point guard Aaron Brooks only minutes before this year’s deadline, they were looking for both a spark off the bench to put them back into the playoff picture and possibly even the eventual successor to Steve Nash.
Nineteen games later, the Suns have been officially eliminated from the playoffs and Brooks’ inconsistent play hasn’t nearly convinced fans that he’s the man to replace the two-time MVP when he inevitably rides off into the sunset.
Since the trade that sent Goran Dragic (the guard who was formerly being groomed to be Nash’s replacement) and a protected first round pick (now known to be the Magic’s draft choice) to Houston for Brooks, the Suns are 9-12 while the Rockets are an impressive 13-5, making a late surge towards the eight seed.
Brooks has seen his stats decline slightly since donning the purple and orange but his numbers seem more understandable when you consider that he’s getting nearly six minutes less a game than he was with the Rockets earlier this season.
The problem though has been that his presence hasn’t made anything easier on the aging Nash. During the crucial stretch in which the Suns were fighting for playoffs hopes, Nash still played 35+ minutes in 10 of the 17 games, showing head coach Alvin Gentry’s lack of confidence in Nash’s backup ball-handler.
Even when he’s been given an opportunity to showcase his potential as the starting point guard of the future, he hasn’t exactly made the most of it. The Suns are 1-3 in the four games Brooks has started due to Nash injuries, with Brooks averaging 11.8 points with 6.3 assists on 41.3% shooting. And in the Suns only win with Brooks as the lead point guard, third-stringer Zabian Dowdell played as many minutes as Brooks (24) and had 14 points and 5 assists to Brooks’ 12 and 6.
The most disappointing of his stats though might be his assist numbers. Brooks shift from the Rockets more conventional system to the Suns pick-and-roll based offense was expected to create a boost in his assists, as it has with most guards in the past. Instead, his numbers have remained virtually the same (3.8 to 3.9) while Dragic has lost 1.5 assists per game moving away from the Suns more dime-friendly offense.
The acquisition of Brooks also puts the Suns in precarious predicament this upcoming offseason. With Brooks’ possible restricted free agent status, the Suns will have to either give him a respectable payday to keep him on roster or risk the possibility of him being poached by point guard hungry team. If the Suns don’t want to lose one of their few young building blocks and a first round pick for a two month rental, they could be forced to overpay to keep the 2009-10 Most Improved Player if another club comes knocking for his services.
Dragic, on the other hand, has a very affordable team option for 2011-2012, which would have allowed the Suns to see how well he handles a chance to start before they invest in him long term.
It seems at this point in time the Suns may have gotten the worse end of the deal, considering Brooks up and dowm play, the state of his contract, and the price it took to acquire him. And that sentiment isn’t dispelled by the fact that Dragic has been thriving in the Rockets system, hitting an incredible 55% from downtown since the trade, helping the Rockets feature the best statistical offense in the NBA since the trade deadline. But only time will tell if Brooks will be able fill some of the biggest shoes in the history of Phoenix Suns basketball.