Aaron Brooks, comfortable in the lanes

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By Sam Smith | 3.05.2015 | 8:33 a.m. CT

It happens fairly often when you are watching Aaron Brooks, the newest Bulls starting point guard with Derrick Rose recuperating from injury. Brooks dribbles around, the 24-second clock running down and Brooks circles around to the right, ducks between a pair of defenders, the ball about waist high and then with a flip and a spin he puts the ball up, off the backboard and in. And you’re thinking, “How the heck did he do that?”

“I don’t know what to credit to or what the science is, but I think it probably has something to do with the bowling,” says Brooks, who gets yet another tough assignment Thursday when the Bulls host the Oklahoma Thunder and the electric Russell Westbrook. “The strength in your hands, the spin.”

NBA players have exceptional abilities to handle and shoot the basketball. It becomes almost an appendage, where it has been for many most of their life, always dribbling or tossing a ball. Like a baseball player will secure a beloved bat or a football player with his prolate spheroid. NBA players do amazing things with the dribble, the pass and the shot. But few work the ball as magically as the barely six foot Brooks with artful spins and scoops and angles one can barely imagine.

Not all that different from a big sweeping hook or sharp diving cut with a bowling ball, perhaps.

It’s not a sport, or game if you insist, you hear much about around the NBA. But Brooks is an aficionado, arguably the best bowler in the NBA, as his longtime buddy Nate Robinson insisted in striking the right chord earlier this season when the Denver Nuggets were in Chicago.

And it’s perhaps no coincidence the diminutive Brooks without the explosive jumping ability of someone like Robinson can have a productive NBA career. Brooks is a good three point shooter and fast. But spare him the sympathy. His play is vastly enhanced by his unusual ability to get shots off despite seemingly trapped in a veritable 10-pin of very tall men.

Though Brooks initially had a bad leave in moving into the starting lineup for Rose, he broke out in Tuesday’s win over the Wizards with 22 points and eight assists. That included five consecutive points with under three minutes remaining as the Wizards were in the midst of scoring in five straight possessions after the Bulls led by 10 points with 4:33 left. Brooks’ points were the only ones for the Bulls in that Washington run that otherwise could have put Washington ahead. Brooks’ three pointer and runner were the Bulls last field goals of the game and deciding baskets as Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol then closed out the Bulls 97-92 victory with free throws.

Plus, Brooks, not known for his defense, did a commendable job against All-Star John Wall. Wall had 21 points and 11 assists, but just two points in more than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.

“I thought Aaron had a tough matchup and hit big shots for us,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “He’s a big shot maker in the fourth quarter. We‘re asking him to do a lot and I think he’s going to get better and better as we head down the stretch.”

Brooks will get a chance to test that in the national TNT game Thursday, which also is the return from cancer treatments of sideline reporter and west suburban Batavia native Craig Sager. Brooks likely will line up against the 7-10 of point guards for the Bulls, Westbrook, who Wednesday in an overtime win against the 76ers had his fourth consecutive triple double with a stunning 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. It’s the greatest such run since Michael Jordan in 1989.

The Thunder is without reigning MVP Kevin Durant out with a foot injury. But Westbrook is coming off being named Player of the Month with the best play of his career even in his return Wednesday from a facial injury that requires wearing a mask. Plus, the Thunder is trying to hold onto the final playoff spot in the Western Conference while the Bulls try to hang on in their own way with the injured Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson.

It started as a gutter ball of a throw for Brooks taking over at starting point guard for the first time this season as the Bulls went to their 20th different starting lineup against Washington with Tony Snell at shooting guard. Brooks was averaging 10.7 points on 25 percent shooting in three games before his 22 and eight game Tuesday. But Brooks is no turkey. He has started before, mostly notably averaging 19.6 points for the Rockets in 2009-10. He was a starter for Denver averaging about 11 points in part of the 2013-14 season. He figures to start the rest of the month until Rose’s return.

And he hopes to continue throwing strikes.

Perhaps like he did during All-Star break when instead of the beach like most NBA players, he hit the lanes in Seattle for a tournament. He came up with a 284 game, which wasn’t his best, starting the game with 10 consecutive strikes. He’s got a 299 to his record, though he doesn’t mention it much because he said his brother had a 300.

“I’ve been bowling since I was born,” said Brooks, who wears a bemused smile at just about everything. “My mom and dad met at a bowling alley. It’s always been fun, a family thing. It brings back good memories every time I’m in a bowling alley. They’d bowl in a bowling league when I was about three and I’d be next to them bowling left handed and right handed all day. To me they were pretty good. When I got older, I realized they weren’t that good.”

Brooks, 30, says he rarely bowls during the season, but enters leagues and tournaments in the summer with his brothers. He said he usually averages about 210.

“After middle school, I stopped for a long period time because of basketball and then started again freshman year of college,” recalled Brooks.

He was a state basketball champion, player of the year and McDonald’s all-American from Washington state, then he went to college at the U. of Oregon. He was a Rockets’ 26th pick in the 2007 draft. He played for the Rockets, Suns (traded for Goran Dragic), Kings, Rockets again, in China for a year and Denver before landing with the Bulls last summer. He was the league’s Most Improved in 2010, the award Butler is favored to win this season.

Brooks says he has about two dozen bowling balls and uses a 15 pounder.

“I’m pretty decent,” Brooks says.

The Bulls will take that on the basketball court as well.