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Brooks the latest small guard to come up big for Chicago
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He may be the mightiest of Thibs’ Mighty Mites, the cavalcade of small guards who continue to come up big for the Bulls.
“Great, great, terrific,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday after practice about the latest entrant, Aaron Brooks. “He and Kirk (Hinrich) have great chemistry together in our second unit. They’ve played very, very well.”
It’s one of the more important positions for the Bulls given the health concerns and ensuing caution regarding the health of Derrick Rose. Bulls public relations Monday listed Rose, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler all probable for Tuesday’s home game against the Orlando Magic.
Rose and Gibson both missed Saturday’s last second win in Minnesota with ankle sprains. Both practiced Monday with no apparent issues. Butler made the winning free throws Saturday in his first game back from his thumb sprain and seemed to come through playing just over 39 minutes with no issues.
In the midst of that and easing quickly into the rotation and the flow of the offense has been the veteran Brooks, who is averaging 13.3 points and 4.3 assists on 58.3 percent shooting and 60 percent on threes in 22.3 minutes per game. With Rose out Saturday, Brooks scored 16 points with five assists off the bench and has been a pivotal force in impressive early season bench play as the reserve group has had several big quarters to keep the Bulls in games.
“We have guys that can play (off the bench) itching and ready to play,” said Brooks. “Tony (Snell) is a great, great guard in this league. With Jimmy going down, Tony stepped up and played. Kirk moved to the starting lineup. So we have a lot of different pieces and can play different ways. It just makes us more versatile. Not a lot of teams have guys that can go 14 deep.”
It’s been a pleasant departure this season for the Bulls as 10 players have been in the rotation most of the 2-1 start with the reserve group led by Gibson and Brooks playing a major role as Hinrich has been starting.
The Bulls’ reserves have outscored the opposition in two of the three games and overall by a total of 116-90 in the three games.
“We’ve got a lot of depth, we’ve got a lot of scoring,” said Gibson, who projected he should be able to play Tuesday if there are no setbacks. “We’re trying to figure out our defense right now, trying to figure out our rebounding. It’s about timing, just pushing through it. We did a lot of things today as far as rebounding drills, a lot of different things we haven’t done in a while. It’s good. When you think about it our offense is a lot better from last year and we’ve got a lot of unselfish guys. Once we get the defense and the other things going it’s going to be real scary.
“I think we can score a little bit better other than the fact that we had veteran leaders on that second unit,” said Gibson when asked about this reserve group compared to the popular "Bench Mob" of 2010-12. “We had guys like Kyle Korver, who’s a knock down shooter. We’ve got guys (now) that are much younger; they’re still trying to figure the system. But it’s scary at the same time because we’ve really got a lot of offensive weapons, guys that really feel unselfish and really haven’t taken their shot yet.”
There has been some hesitation, at times, on the parts of rookies like Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott.
But none from Brooks, who looks to be as good as any in the line of succession from John Lucas and C.J. Watson through Mike James, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin.
Brooks, 29, is a fearless scorer with a good three-point touch who was a starter for Houston but bounced around with five teams the last three years (Houston two different times) and playing overseas. As a starter for the Rockets in 2009-10, he averaged 19.6 per game and was the league’s Most Improved Player winner. He’s scored as many as 43 points in a regular season game, one more than the regular season career high for Rose.
He’s fit in quickly with the Bulls, though he never quite expected to be in Chicago.
“You know what? I don't know where the Bulls came from, honestly,” he said Monday after practice. “During the summer, it wasn't really on my mind to go to Chicago because I didn't know it was an option. We were looking at Denver. It seems like I always end up back in Houston. But then when the Bulls came over and it was like, ‘That's a perfect situation.’ (The) Bulls weren’t on the list. Then like I think the same day I heard about the Bulls was the day I signed. So it's a blessing. It's early, but hopefully it can continue progressing and get better.”
Brooks is a natural scorer in the mold of someone like Robinson, though a better passer. Brooks is quick into the lane and confident with his shot.
“I had some rough years,” the fiery six-footer acknowledged. “But it's been a good few games, getting more confident and making some positive stuff happen.”
And stuff has been happening with the reserves.
Gibson, of course, has been the rock as the leader of the second unit. He’s averaging 16 points and 5.5 rebounds and shooting 71.4 percent in his two games. The others have had important contributions. McDermott had 12 points and five rebounds against the Knicks; Snell had 10 points and played good defense against LeBron James in the second game; Nikola Mirotic had 12 points and eight rebounds, primarily in the first half when the Bulls opened up a big lead against the Timberwolves.
It’s been an encouraging addition, especially with Rose and Gibson missing a game and Joakim Noah easing his way into the season.
Brooks has meshed nicely with Hinrich and provided vital offensive boosts for a Bulls team averaging 106 per game, which is fourth in the league in scoring. It’s a refreshing and surprising departure for a Bulls team that has averaged more than 100 points per game just once since the 1996-97 season. That was in Rose’s rookie season when the Bulls averaged 102.2. The Bulls last season averaged 93.7 per game.
“I think we're just loosening up a little bit, being more free,” Brooks said of the reserve group. “We know the offense better. So it allows us to make other plays within the offense, knowing where we can get shots up instead of just being robots and stuff. We're starting to get there. Nikola is playing very well, picking it up and that helps our team. Great (to play with Hinrich). Kirk's a very versatile player. I like to consider myself as well. As long as we can defend and rebound, which has been tough for us (as) we have to do a lot better at that, it makes us more dangerous.
“We don't do useless drills (with the Bulls),” noted Brooks. “It seems like everything is for a purpose. One thing I admire about Thibs is he's precise and he's consistent. Whether you like it or not, you have to respect the consistency. He's pretty consistent. I think that's why he's a great coach.”
Asked about Gibson’s jibes that the second unit keeps outplaying the starters, Brooks said: “I don't want no part of that.”
But the Bulls are pleased Brooks wanted a part of their team.