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Brooks vs. Dowdell, or Numbers vs. Perception

In a post today on Ball Don’t Lie, Kelly Dwyer examines the recent success of Kyle Lowry, named last week’s Western Conference Player of the Week. In trading backup point guard Aaron Brooks to the Suns, the Rockets freed up even more minutes for Lowry and ignited their 11-3 record since the All-Star break. Dwyer makes passing mention of Brooks as a defensive liability, calling him a “sieve” on that end of the floor.

As someone whose unhappiness with the Suns’ acquisition of Brooks is well documented, I found myself nodding along – even while noting that the rules in today’s NBA don’t exactly allow point guards to lock down one another on the defensive end.

Somehow, Aaron Brooks is responsible for this defensive breakdown. Awesomeness is responsible for the high-five.

Yet for all of Brooks’ defensive shortcomings, I find myself most agitated with his performance on offense. One would be wise, of course, to temper expectations whenever Steve Nash rests – few starters in the league are capable of reaching his level, let alone backups. Even with lowered standards and a desire to appreciate the hustle and tenacity of the bench (BUZZWORDS! UPSIDE! HEART! CAPTAIN BACKUP!), though, I cringe. A Brooks-led possession rarely ends — to my eyes — with anything other than a hastily hoisted three, early in the shot clock. Perhaps a perfunctory effort at a pick-and-roll and dribble penetration is made, or a flash of Afterburner speed displayed in mad dashes and caroming cuts with or without the ball. Regardless of the means, observation leads me to write off Phoenix’ scoring chance of scoring in the end when Brooks plays the point.

Then again, we all know the caveats of small sample size. They most often rear their head in discussions of statistics, surely, but I’d be remiss to believe that my attempts to capture all of the intricacies of the game during a viewing often distracted by chat, research, and writing are successful – perhaps even to consider such sessions effective. I am no Sebastian Pruiti, no Coach Thorpe, though I try to learn from the best every day.

I use statistics, then, to help filter my observations. A superficial glance at the playing time for each of the Suns’ backups reveals little: Dowdell is averaging just over 13 minutes per game in 5 appearances since Brooks joined the team (including during his one-game suspension for throwing a ball at a referee); the team is 2-3 in those games. Brooks averages 17 minutes per game for Phoenix; the Suns are 5-6 in his appearances.*

*Worth noting – 2 of the losses for each player are common (the two nights that Steve Nash missed with a pelvic injury). Dowdell has also seen minimal time in a blowout win against Milwaukee and loss to the Nuggets, games in which Brooks received the bulk of the minutes with Nash on the bench.

Digging deeper divulges a bit more detail. The number that really jumped out to me and will affect the way I watch the rest of the season is one of my favorite numbers, efficiency difference for team lineups (courtesy of basketballvalue.com – all statistics through games completed March 19th). Again, we’re looking at very small samples – the minutes played by these combinations of players are about 20% of the minutes logged by the starters – a lineup that itself is short on minutes thanks to the midseason trade with Orlando.

What makes this small statistical blip notable, as luck and rotations may have it, is that the most common lineups for both Brooks and Dowdell include the same four teammates: Mickael Pietrus, Jared Dudley, Hakim Warrick, and Marcin Gortat. This group with Dowdell has played 68 minutes; with Brooks, 63. In a similar number of possessions (130-124), the Dowdell squad — referred heretofore as Team VT — is -9.27 points per 100 possessions. More alarmingly, their offensive rating is an atrocious 96.15. That number is more putrid than it first appears given that it comes against almost exclusively backups, squads rarely known for their defensive prowess. Many of the problems I associate with Brooks based on what I see appear to actually manifest with Team VT.

As for Team MIP (a reference to Brooks’ Most Improved Player award), they outscore their opponents by 10.48 points every 100 possessions. Their defensive rating is slightly better than that of the starters,* as is their offensive rating. Furthermore, Team MIP has logged significant minutes against the Celtics’ four All-Stars, with either Nenad Krstic or Glen Davis on the floor. The latter is Boston’s crunch time lineup, and Team MIP actually outperformed those five Celtics in their match-up on the year, though in an extremely small number of possessions.

*As is Team VT’s DRtg. Overall Team DRtg: 109.59. Starters: 105.59. Team VT: 105.43. Team MIP: 104.03.

Do I believe the numbers or my eyes? In truth, I choose to open my mind to the possibility that what I see should not believed – in either case. I choose to reverse course and not yet draw a conclusion. Most essentially, I choose to continue to watch more closely, with a more educated view of what I’m seeing.

Tags: Aaron Brooks Better Common Lineup Efficiency Zabian Dowdell

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