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Aaron Brooks is Crucial to Bulls Despite Playoff Struggles

The Chicago Bulls’ offseason was marred with predictability. The team agreed to new deals with Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy as soon as free agency started and retained the rest of their 2014-15 roster soon thereafter. Chicago fans have been deservedly critical of this approach, as this same roster couldn’t beat a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers squad in the second round. Nonetheless, one re-signing that took place this offseason was critical, even if it didn’t seem that way during the team’s disappointing postseason performance.

Aaron Brooks, who came back to Chicago on a one-year deal worth about $2 million (via a portion of the MMLE), was underrated coming off the bench last season.

The raw stats for Brooks were solid, but nothing really jumped off the page. He averaged 11.6 points and a disappointing 3.2 assists with a slash line of .421/.387/.833. He didn’t even put up a league average PER (14.4), which is surprising for someone with his offensive skill level. If you look deeper into the stats, you’ll find that Brooks was much more effective than his raw stats would indicate.

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The top four pick-and-roll ball handlers by field goal percentage last season were three MVP candidates…and Brooks (via NBA.com, min. 70 GP and 200 FGA). Brooks utilized the pick-and-roll for a whopping 46.0 percent of his plays and ranked in the 85th percentile in the league. With Brooks, defenders have to pick their poison in the pick-and-roll.

Over the Screen

Ramon Sessions made the right decision on this play to stay over the Joakim Noah screen, but he lost Brooks after the pick. Nene was frozen in help defense due to the threat of Brooks’s deadly shot. The result was a blow-by of Nene and a nifty reverse layup.

Stacey King often exclaims that Brooks is “a little man with big man moves.” Brooks regularly uses flip shots, floaters, reverse layups and even hook shots to finish in the paint. Despite his (generously listed) 6-foot height, Brooks scores in the paint with regularity.

Per SportVU, Brooks was tied for seventh in the league in points per 48 minutes on drives (min. 70 GP). The threat of the drive makes defenders think twice about going over screens aggressively. If the defender goes under the screen, good luck.

Under the Screen

The defender got caught going under the screen here, and Brooks stepped up and calmly knocked down the long ball. Brooks has near unlimited range and shot selection, so he’s not afraid of pulling up and shooting if a defender ever dares to go under a screen.

His shot is money with his feet set, and he’s a rare shooter who can fill it up from anywhere behind the arc. He was above average in every three-point area except the left corner. That low number is probably a victim of coincidence and small sample size because Brooks shot 52.9 percent in the right corner. He could fill it up in just about any shooting situation, per Synergy.

Spot-up: 88th percentile

Off screen: 90th percentile

Hand-off: 77th percentile

Pull-up: Team-leading 47.7 effective field goal percentage (min. two pull-ups per game)

Catch-and-shoot: Team-leading 59.4 effective field goal percentage, per SportVU

This kind of shooting versatility made Brooks an easy fit in any lineup of Tom Thibodeau’s choosing. Five of the Bulls’ top seven lineups included Brooks, per NBA.com. His offensive rating of 106.9 led the team and would’ve ranked behind Dallas as the sixth-best offense in the league over the course of the season.

Brooks added another dimension to an otherwise flat Bulls’ offense whenever he was on the floor. He especially worked well with Nikola Mirotic, as the duo was the third-best pairing on Chicago with a 9.2 net rating. The Bulls’ 108.4 offensive rating and 57.1 team true shooting percentage together was Golden State-esque levels.

The pint-sized guard is also capable of playing as an off-guard with Derrick Rose, as the tandem was sensational together in limited minutes (ridiculous 115.9 offensive rating and outscored opponents by 16.8 points per 100 possessions in 191 minutes). Fred Hoiberg will have a ton of lineup flexibility with Brooks to use in his dynamic offensive schemes. However, Hoiberg will also have to adjust for Brooks’s horrible defense.

The Bulls only allowed .4 points per 100 possessions more with Brooks on the floor, but that’s due to Thibs’s outstanding ability of hiding bad defenders. Brooks is overwhelmed in certain matchups, even random ones such as Matthew Dellavedova. He’s clueless defending the pick-and-roll (16th percentile, which made up for 53.9 percent of his defensive plays) and doesn’t have the size or smarts to bother players in any other set. If Thibs couldn’t help him defensively, no one can.

That dreadful defense, along with his milk carton performance in the playoffs (6.8 PER), makes his $2 million deal for next season a slight overpay. Jeremy Lin practically got the same deal with Charlotte while the likes of Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire, among others, took even less. Brooks also hasn’t shown the ability to be a full-time backup point guard with his almost non-existent playmaking skills, but Hoiberg’s offense is predicated on constant player and ball movement anyway. If Brooks was able to thrive in a stagnant Thibodeau offense, he should fare even better with Hoiberg. Brooks was worth bringing back, even if there were more attractive options on the market.

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