By Steve Lichtenstein
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There are times when I watch sophomore Brooklyn guard MarShon Brooks and I think back to a young Kobe Bryant.
To reiterate an important caveat I wrote in the preseason, I realize that Bryant entered the League as an 18-year old while Brooks will turn 24 later this month, so I’m not saying that there’s the same upside. There’s also no evidence that the competitive drive that propelled Bryant into the upper echelon of the NBA’s all-time greats is inherent in Brooks’ DNA.
But when Brooks has his game going, he is a threat to score from almost any spot on the floor, Bryant’s signature basketball attribute. While Brooks needs to work to improve his three-point shooting accuracy, the combination of his uncanny ability to weave into the lane on penetrations and his deadly pull-up jumper can be pure Kobe-esque.
I’ve also watched the Nets struggle with their offensive consistency throughout the season’s first third, so I guess that’s why I’ve joined the many fans who have been wondering, “How come Brooks hasn’t been able to get more than cameos in these games?”
Under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, there are indications that Brooks’ role could be expanding. After serving as an emergency point guard in Friday’s wild 115-113 double overtime victory at Washington, Brooks was a force as the first guard off the bench last night as the Nets routed Sacramento, 113-93, at the Barclays Center.
Brooks ripped the defensively-deficient Kings for 15 points in 26 minutes, going 7-for-14 from the floor while also filling up the stat line with 3 assists, 2 rebounds, a steal and a block. Though Brooks misfired on all three attempts from beyond the arc, he more than compensated for them with several dazzling forays to the hoop for scores.
Friday’s story was more about quality than quantity. While Brooks played only eight minutes, they were significant. Star point guard Deron Williams picked up his third foul halfway through the second quarter. Backup C.J. Watson was unavailable because of a knee injury and rookie Tyshawn Taylor played as if tied by a bundle of nerves. In a tight game that had no business being that way, Brooks stepped up to run the offense, scoring 6 points and dishing for two assists with only one turnover.
Of course, that only left me wishing for more. As I screamed at the screen while the Nets offense stagnated late for the umpteenth time this season, thus allowing the lowly Wizards to hang around for an extra hour, I couldn’t believe Carlesimo did not opt to reinsert Brooks, if only for the offensive juice.
It’s no secret that Brooks wasn’t a favorite of recently fired coach Avery Johnson. Grasping how to play NBA defense has been as tricky to master as a foreign language for Brooks, who can have issues staying in front of players quicker than a chair.
Johnson justifiably preached team defense all through training camp, during which Brooks fell behind due to an ankle sprain. As the season got under way, it became clear that Johnson was more comfortable relying on veterans like Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Bogans.
Stackhouse, wearing Jackie Robinson’s number 42, provided major contributions in big games as the Nets got off the ground in their new Brooklyn abode. However, he is 38 years old, which requires accommodations such as being deactivated on one of the team’s back-to-back nights. Also, Stackhouse has not been the same since he was kicked in the leg on Jason Kidd’s infamous game-winning three-pointer in that heartbreaking loss to the Knicks almost a month ago. A career 30.7% three-point shooter entering the season, his 53.6% efficiency in November looks more and more like a fluke.
Then there’s Bogans, a player whom, like his counterpart due west in Knicks forward Ronnie Brewer, I can’t fathom what he does on the court to earn all that playing time. What do they have on their coaches?
To be fair, Bogans did save the Nets’ bacon in both overtime periods on Friday. He hit a three-pointer to ignite a comeback from an eight-point deficit in the first extra session and then sandwiched a couple of inside scores (the first a three-point play) around a hard-fought steal from Washington guard Jordan Crawford at the start of the second overtime.
Still, in 37 minutes, both the stats and the human eye indicated Bogans was otherwise barely present. Standing in the corner as an afterthought on most possessions, Bogans finished 3-for-9 from the floor, including 1-for-6 on primarily wide-open three-pointers. If you take out a six-game hot streak in mid-December, he is converting a measly 25% of these uncontested long-range opportunities this season.
Oh, and as for Bogans’ defense, I have yet to see any evidence that he is anything beyond average. Crawford burned the Nets for 23 points, with the YES announcers pondering out loud what I was muttering to an empty room, “Why isn’t Carlesimo going back to matching Crawford up with bigger-bodied Gerald Wallace?”
And, in another flabbergasting move, there was Bogans on the court during the Nets’ final possessions. As expected, Bogans treated the ball like a hand grenade. At least he didn’t turn it over.
But why not involve another credible scorer, like Brooks (or even Andray Blatche), instead?
Oh well, it’s still too small a sample, with this past weekend’s slate of low-flying fruit a poor barometer of anyone’s standing, for me to pass final judgment on Carlesimo’s handling of Brooks. It appears that, barring a repeat of that December swoon, he will be barking the orders for the rest of the season. I have to get over the disappointment that neither Phil Jackson nor Jeff Van Gundy will be riding in on their white horses to take the Nets to the NBA elite in 2013.
The good news is that Carlesimo seems to be making progress in keeping the players on the far end of the bench confident, with forward Mirza Teletovic another intriguing cast member if he keeps improving, while on this 5-1 run.
In Brooks’ case, he doesn’t have to match Bryant’s leap, but I think there’s certain similarities in their skill sets such that the Nets should continue to look to Brooks as a potential cure for some of the woes that have plagued their attack against the better teams this season, at least enough to warrant an encore on Tuesday in Philadelphia.
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What are your thoughts on Brooks’ future? Sound off on the team’s season so far in the comments…