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Steve Aschburner

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Nets rookie MarShon Brooks is averaging 15.4 ppg so far this season.
NBAE via Getty Images

On-the-job training paying off for Nets rookie Brooks


Posted Jan 27 2012 12:30PM

• Rookie Ladder: Brooks at No. 3

In this scrunched NBA season, Nets guard MarShon Brooks is getting a crash course in rookie.

With New Jersey's heavy road schedule so far, Brooks has gotten the newbie treatment -- shuttling bags, fetching this, carrying that -- more than usual. He had to drag himself off the plane Sunday night in Chicago, two games into the Nets' first taste of back-to-back-to-backs.

Then there's all the actual basketball stuff coming at him, 100 miles an hour: Opponents scouted, video watched, game logged, showered, gone. Then do it all over again, hopefully cleaning up his mistakes while honing his strengths.

One month in, Brooks seemed to be doing fine. He ranks second among all rookies in scoring (15.4 ppg), fourth in minutes (29.8), topping 20 points five times in 16 appearances while giving the Nets a shot creator who -- from certain angles, in quick glimpses -- has shown a little bit of Kobe Bryant in his game. And maybe the biggest compliment to this point: The rookie already is missed when he's not available.

Brooks was a late scratch against the Bulls Monday when his left ankle tightened up on him. The tendinitis also kept him out of New Jersey's victory over Philadelphia Wednesday.

"We're hoping it's not chronic," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "We just think part of it is probably fatigue. When he comes back that means we're going to have to monitor his minutes a little bit. Maybe he's not going to be able to play 38 minutes. Maybe it's 28.

"Here's a kid that you could count on somewhere between 15 and 22 points when he plays. And he adds another element, another ball handler to our starting unit. ... He means so much to our program. We can't put him out there in a detrimental position."

Rarely do guys drafted at No. 25, just six months earlier, get so much love.

It's not just about what the Nets miss from Brooks when he's unavailable (he was to be a game-time decision Friday at Cleveland). It's what Brooks misses from his crash course workload in NBA Rookie 101.

At Chicago, for instance, he would have experienced the thrill of chasing veteran Richard Hamilton through and around screens, up and down the floor, sideline to sideline. Brooks said he had been looking forward to the chore. "I did want to play against Rip," he said. "Reputation. Big game. Real good defensive team. I'm still learning, so I wanted to see sort of where I'm at. Everybody's testing me."

It has been almost nothing but exams so far, with very little classroom or study time, in this mad-dash 2011-12 season. The lockout wiped out summer league for Brooks and other rookies. It squeezed training camps down from a month to just two weeks. It spit out a schedule that forces young guys to learn on the job, when it counts, lights high, rather than in the practice gym.

But then, obstacles are nothing new for Brooks, who turned 23 Thursday. He faced them heading into the NBA Draft in June, stemming from his age and, more so, his stay of four whole years at Providence. These days, entering the Draft that late in a college career is the equivalent of logging in for online dating when you live with Mom and have tape on your glasses. Stigma, bigma.

Yet Brooks had little choice. He barely was on the NBA's radar prior to his senior season, his college numbers jumping from 14.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 1.4 apg as a junior to 24.6, 7.0 and 2.5.

"When you're around for four years, it's almost like, 'Why?' he said. "Well, I grew up in college. I just took a little bit more time. I didn't have a good buzz at all [as a junior]. That's when I just worked harder that summer with my trainer."

Then Brooks slid to No. 25 before Boston snagged him -- and promptly traded him. There had been talk that Indiana was interested at No. 15, until the Pacers cut their Kawhi Leonard/George Hill deal with San Antonio. The long wait through two dozen other selections gave him some incentive for this season. Better still, it got him to -- for him -- the right team.

"Every draft pick who wasn't a lottery pick felt like they should have been," said Brooks, handling himself in an interview like a vet, at least. "And every pick who got drafted in the late 20s felt like they should have gone in the early 20s.

"Definitely I have a chip on my shoulder. I worked out for a lot of teams -- I felt I worked out well in front of a lot of them, and they decided to pass on me. For whatever reason. It really doesn't bother me at this point. In the summer, it was my motivation to work harder. I couldn't ask for a better situation. Being born in New Jersey, on top of the fact of being able to play right away."

Johnson says Brooks, in some ways, fits his notion of "my ideal player." He likes his scoring ability, his feel for the game offensively and his long arms and anticipation that should be able to force turnovers and trigger a transition game. He knows Brooks, beyond getting healthy, needs seasoning, attention to defense and continued indoctrination from more experienced teammates. Which has been ongoing.

In the rookie diary Brooks does for the New York Post, he wrote of the obligations -- hazing sounds too strong -- he has endured: Before every game, DeShawn [Stevenson] wants 38 straws and a large Coke. I get embarrassed every time I go into McDonald's and I have to count out 38 straws.

But Brooks gets value back. "DeShawn's been helping me with defensive rotations. Just calling me in the mornings, making sure I'm on time. First on the bus, first on the court, last to leave. Basically it's just little things. Once you get to a certain age, it's tough for somebody to 'teach' you the game of basketball. But it's all the little things -- he's teaching me the NBA world. 'Be on time. Yes, you can wear this. No, you can't wear that.' "

Said Stevenson, 30, who entered the NBA straight out of high school 12 years ago: "I got him. Me and D-Will [Deron Williams] got him. We've got some great veterans right here. We stay on him and he's gonna be all right. He's just in a groove right now.

"He was, what, the 25th pick? I don't understand that. He can score the ball, he's very talented. He's going to be a problem."

When Brooks' development was put on hold by the lockout, he made the best of it, picking up some leftover degree credits and working with his trainer. He knew he was getting shorted in terms of prep work -- Brooks wanted summer league to adjust to pro officiating -- but knows every other rookie was as well.

"Obviously, I wanted to come out and play high, play very well coming off the bat," he said. "The Nets did a good job of having game tape ready for me -- in the offseason, I studied a lot of the plays, things like that. I was amazed at the pace of the game."

Brooks has learned the game, learned his role ... and learned a thing or two about the business of the NBA. Given his early impact, the ongoing Dwight Howard speculation has swirled around him, too, as a player who might be headed to Orlando if such a deal gets done. Nets forward Derrick Favors went through it a year ago as the Williams deal swelled, and now Brooks has that as a possible distraction.

"As a team, we came together [from the rumors]," he said. "We just ignore those situations."

Said the rookie who is doing what he can, as fast as he can, to make sure he's never ignored again.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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