PHOENIX — As much as Phoenix Suns fans don’t want to believe it, there will come a day without Steve Nash.
It may occur next season with an offseason trade, it may be the year after when his contract expires or it may not happen for another two or three years after that if he really does retire a Sun.
Utah GM Kevin O’Connor recently told Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby that his franchise needs to “savor” every moment it has left with Nash, and GM Lance Blanks called Nash a talent that only come around “once in a half or full generation.”
Yet on a day when the Suns shuffled out one Nash caddy (Goran Dragic) for another (Aaron Brooks), Phoenix’s most recent trade feels like a prelude to a Nash deal as much as Babby and Blanks danced around questions of Brooks as Two Time’s heir apparent.
Not that I blame them, of course they have to say that in this situation, but it seems clear Babby/Blanks is more comfortable rolling with Aaron Brooks as the point guard of the future than a struggling Goran Dragic.
Blanks feels this is a situation where both Brooks and Dragic needed a fresh start, but really the Suns felt they needed a fresh point guard of the future.
Brooks has been so frustrated with his backup point guard role this season that he recently earned a one-game suspension for walking off the court early in a win over Memphis.
Babby spoke highly of Brooks’ character and suggested that one incident in which he slipped on a banana peel does not color who he is.
That’s well and fine and I truly believe Brooks is a stand-up guy, but the reason he was so frustrated this year is because he’s not starting, which he won’t be in Phoenix as long as No. 13 is around, although he intimated to The Houston Chronicle that backing up Nash will sit better with him than playing behind Kyle Lowry.
“I’ll wait in line,” Brooks said. “That dude is a legend, MVP and a Hall of Famer. I’m ready to go be behind him and learn from him, just come in and help the team. It offers me a fresh start. I’m ready to go. I had some good years in Houston. Time to move on.”
Dragic idolized Nash to the extent I doubt he would have had a problem backing him up for another year after this one. He was “shocked” by the trade, according to Paul Coro, and truly loved learning from the master.
I expect Brooks to maintain that attitude the rest of this season, but this summer he wants to be paid as a restricted free agent and he wants an opportunity to play significant minutes. Brooks will only get that in Phoenix if Nash is shipped off to a contender elsewhere.
The next question to ask is whether it makes sense for Brooks to be the point guard of the future.
Whereas Dragic was a Nash clone (a seriously less talented clone, but someone who emulated his style nonetheless), Brooks is his own player altogether.
Assist ratio calculates what percentage of a player’s possessions ends in an assist. Last season when Brooks won the Most Improved Player award Nash ranked third among point guards and Brooks 59th, just ahead of some noted distributors like Daniel Gibson, Eddie House and Shannon Brown.
Brooks is one of the most gifted scoring guards in the league who can be unguardable in pick-and-roll situations at times and cam bring a team back from a large deficit in a matter of minutes. He thrives in the up-tempo style the Suns play, and last season he made and attempted more three-pointers than any player in the league, knocking them down at a 40 percent clip.
He’s lightning in a 6-foot frame, but I’d be hesitant to give the keys to my basketball team to him.
Purely for this season I love this move. Brooks should invigorate the second unit and help them play at that helter-skelter pace they played so well in last season.
At times the bench has struggled to score because it lacks that one go-to scorer it had last year in Leandro Barbosa, and Brooks will now take over that role. Double-digit scoring quarters could become the norm for Brooks, and I expect him to do much better than the 16 points Dragic lost every 100 possessions, which gave him an adjusted +/- of -12.04.
In our midseason predictions, I wrote that Dragic was the Sun that most needed to step up, and now the Suns will get that added production in the form of Brooks, a player Phoenix didn’t expect would become available in such a deal.
However, Brooks is suffering through a miserable year. His true shooting percentage of .465 ranks fifth worst among point guards (Nash leads in this department at .636), and his PER is down from 16.04 a year ago to 11.86. For those that prefer conventional stats he’s shooting 34.6 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from three after hitting 43.2 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from three last year when he averaged almost 20 a game.
He’s near the bottom of the Rockets in adjusted +/- (-7.20) after putting up a -0.28 last season (he’s far from a good defender), and he’s second to last in the entire league in Wins Produced at -2.2 wins and a -0.129 WP48 during his terribly inefficient 2010-11 after producing a below average 2.4 wins on a 0.040 WP48 during his breakout season last year.
Of course Dork Elvis Daryl Morey is aware of all those numbers and probably plenty more advanced stats that are proprietary to the Rockets. When Blanks says, “We are ecstatic to have someone of Aaron’s talents come to a situation like this,” and he’s dealing with Morey, I’m certainly a bit quizzical.
Of course style and fit matter so much in this league, and just like the Suns plucked a gem from Orlando in Marcin Gortat the way his talents fit the situation, they may have just acquired the ideal backup point guard to Steve Nash in that he is so different and can be a devastatingly effect of chance of pace gunslinger.
With Brooks and Dragic so similar in age we won’t be able to truly evaluate this deal until both guys are running their own teams, but the Suns are taking a major risk as The Dragon could certainly harness the talent he has so often flashed in his two-plus seasons in Phoenix and become an excellent NBA player.
Brooks should spark the Suns’ second unit in a way Dragic didn’t, and today I feel the Suns are closer to the playoffs than they were before the final minutes leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline.
But this deal wasn’t about whatever minimal improvement Brooks should provide this season, it’s about whether the Suns just found a successor to Nash they feel comfortable handing over the keys to.
“I think it provides an opportunity now for us to get better and hopefully in the future as well,” Babby said.
If Babby/Blanks had soured on The Dragon and saw this as an opportunity to pounce on a talented player suffering through an awful year, I understand pulling the trigger.
But as great of a fit as I feel Brooks will be as the bench’s new go-to scorer, I question whether he’s the kind of distributor that should be next in line to the Phoenix point guard throne.