When the Boston Celtics held a press conference to introduce their acquisitions from the Brooklyn Nets, there was considerably less hubbub than the one the team held before the 2007-08 season. Dubbed "the Sad Three," the faces of the comically aloof ex-Nets might be the defining image of the Celtics' season.
But while 2014 will surely be painful in Boston, there was one player at the press conference who the Celtics are genuinely invested in. MarShon Brooks is an electric 24-year-old scorer, the type of exciting young player Danny Ainge is trying to acquire. Brooks comes with plenty of flaws, but also enough potential to make him worth developing.
Truthfully, Ainge probably would have traded his veterans for just the bundle of first-round picks if NBA rules permitted it. But for the one player who is not simply filler, here's a breakdown of what Brooks can offer Boston immediately, and more importantly, his long-term ceiling.
For a Celtics' offense that has floundered the past few seasons, Brooks brings a welcome addition of pure shot-making ability. No, he'll likely never be a scorer on the level of Paul Pierce, but it's not a stretch to say the third-year guard is the second-best scoring option behind Jeff Green.
At 6'5", Brooks has decent size for a two-guard, and combined with his quickness, he can penetrate into the paint fairly easily. In 2011-12, Brooks shot 58.9 percent in the restricted area, which doesn't sound that impressive until you realize most of the players ahead of him are forwards and centers. Indeed, a look at his rookie season highlight tape reveals lots of drives and finishes around the rim:
Even in limited reps last season, Brooks still shot 62.6 percent in the restricted area on 126 shots, a sign that he can create high-efficiency looks even when receiving sporadic playing time. In his rookie season, Brooks received nearly 30 minutes a game, and took three times as many shots in the restricted area as any other zone:
Last season, the Celtics finished sixth in AST percentage, which is not surprising considering how many of their players needed someone else to set them up for a specialty shot (i.e., Brandon Bass from mid-range, Avery Bradley from the corner, etc.). Now, with Pierce and his go-to isolation plays gone, that number figures to rise even higher next year.
Obviously, team play is always the best way to score. If you look at the teams at the bottom of AST percentage, most of them were either bad offenses or good ones carried by a special talent (Knicks with Carmelo, Thunder with Durant, etc.). As a primary option in bench lineups, Brooks could have the freedom to utilize his shot creativity once again.
Offensive Inefficiency (For Now)
However, all that freedom comes with a price, and Brooks can submarine a team's offense when he's cold. Even in his rookie season, a perceived success, his per-36 numbers essentially mirrored those from last season's disappointment.
Not all of the development was bad, as Brooks did shoot better and showed better judgment in taking fewer threes. But a great way to measure a player's offensive efficiency is through the four factors, via Basketball-Reference.com, specifically effective field goal percentage, turnover rate and free throw rate.
Unfortunately, Brooks is between below-average to atrocious in those three areas. Among guards who averaged at least 25 minutes in 2011-12, Brooks' eFG percentage of 46.5 percent was well below the 48.8 average, according to Hoopdata.com. That number is a reflection on Brooks' insistence on taking contested threes, a terrible option for nearly every player in the league.
More concerning is his turnover rate, probably the one offensive skill Celtics' coach Brad Stevens must help Brooks improve the most. As the chart shows, his turnover rate suffers with high usage:
That's not entirely surprising for a player so dependent on isolations, a troublesome habit Brooks carried over from his college days at Providence. As Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com notes, Brooks can be a ball-stopper, a definite no-no for a truly efficient offense:
Brooks is coming off a forgettable 2012-13 season in which his stats plummeted to 5.4 points over 12.5 minutes per game. Brooklyn fans labeled him a ball hog who went isolation too often (mind you, this is a fan base that watches Joe Johnson on a nightly basis) and would suggest that Brooks is an inefficient scorer who brings little else to the table.
The advanced stats back up their claim. Brooks averaged 0.88 points per play last season, ranking in the 44th percentile, according to Synergy Sports data. And the downturn in minutes can't be blamed; he averaged 0.858 points per play and was in the 43rd percentile in his rookie campaign.
Brooks' inefficiency is characteristic of most scorers early in their career (check out these shot charts for Kobe and Durant), so this isn't cause for panic. Part of becoming a complete offensive player involves understanding an offensive system, knowledge Brooks doesn't quite yet grasp. Whether or not Stevens can coax some improvement in this area will go a long ways towards determining Brooks' long-term viability.
Swiss Cheese Defense
On the other hand, this current liability may be permanent. Brooks is a significant hindrance on defense, one even the Kevin Garnett-led Celtics would have struggled to cover up. In his rookie season, Brooks was in six of the Nets' seven most common lineups, which combined for a minus-10 rating.
That's not all on Brooks, as the Nets were a 22-44 team that season. But it does belie a player who lacks any real grasp of NBA defensive concepts. And unlike his offensive immaturity, the defense looks completely broken. Check out these two plays, where Brooks demonstrates stunningly poor defensive awareness and instincts, via CelticsHub.com:
Indeed, while Joe Johnson's arrival was the primary reason for Brooks' minutes decline, he easily could have emerged as a sixth-man scoring option if not for his porous defense. According to Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com, Brooks initially landed in the doghouse due to poor defense, which consequently led to shaky confidence:
'I don't think they [trust me] because I haven't really played against any good teams,' Brooks told ESPNNewYork.com after scoring 12 points in a 106-101 victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday night at Barclays Center.
Brooks was hurt during training camp and quickly found himself in Avery Johnson's doghouse because the Nets' former coach felt Brooks' defense wasn't up to par. With Joe Johnson anchoring the team's second unit, Brooks' minutes were sporadic at best. When he did get a chance, all it took was one turnover for him to be benched.
'I just try to go out there and play perfect basketball, and the way I play, it's kind of tough because I'm a risk-taker, and I try to make things happen. Every once in a while I make a mistake. It's just tough.'
Brooks may never be an asset on that end of the floor, but it's not impossible to survive in the NBA that way. Look at some of the worst defenders from last season and you'll see some pretty useful players, albeit usually on terrible teams. Still, so long as Brooks' defense stops being the brunt of jokes, he should be a net positive with his offensive talent.
The Big Picture
Brooks' advanced numbers will likely only show minimal improvement at best, considering the Celtics' situation. Like most players, he will probably be a net negative next season, especially if asked to anchor the second-unit.
However, patience is the operative word around the Celtics next season, which should afford Brooks plenty of minutes to work through his mistakes. In a similar situation for New Jersey, he showed the upside that makes him worth the growing pains. With Brooklyn fancying themselves a championship contenders, they simply did not have time for such a raw talent.
In the long-term, Brooks' upside may be something like Jamal Crawford, someone whose scoring and ball-handling outweighs his defensive limitations enough to become a significant rotation piece. Like most of Boston's current roster, Brooks will probably never be the center piece of a championship roster, but he could be a vital role player in time.
*Unless otherwise cited, all stats courtesy of NBA.com
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