Rewind to June 23, 2011. I'm watching the NBA Draft at my house with two of my friends, waiting for the Celtics to be on the clock and make their first round selection. It's become an annual thing with my friends where we become enamored with a prospect who's been rumored to be on the Celtics draft radar. Our fascination stems from our belief that not only will the player fit well in Boston, but he'll be, at the very least, intriguing to watch. In this past draft, that player was Dennis Schroeder (OK, that was mostly me, not my friends). In 2012, it was Royce White (whew). In 2011, our focus was directly on MarShon Brooks.
At the time, Brooks wasn't considered a lottery talent. He wasn't a unique, hard-to-come-by player. Heck, the only skill he had that was going to translate well at the next level was his ability to score. He was compared to offensive dynamos like Jamaal Crawford and as ridiculous as it sounds, Kobe Bryant. In his senior season at Providence, Brooks even dropped 52 points in a game against Big East powerhouse Notre Dame.
But that was just what the Celtics needed. Offense off the bench was an issue and Ray Allen wasn't getting any younger, so Brooks appeared to be a good fit. The problem was that he was projected as a mid first-round pick, likely to be selected somewhere in the high teens. The chances that he was going to slide down to Boston at No. 25 appeared unlikely.
Back to draft night. My friends and I were watching as the lottery picks concluded. A personal favorite of mine in Kawhi Leonard was taken by the Indiana Pacers, only to be traded to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill minutes later. The usual draft day trades went down and some interesting picks were made. As we entered the 20's, my friends and I noticed that a certain power forward was still undrafted. We knew coming into the night that Kenneth Faried lasting to No. 25 was a pipe dream, but suddenly it was becoming a possibility. Two picks later, boom. Faried went off the board. A little bummed out, we thought, "Well, there's still Brooks." After two more picks, Boston was on the clock with Brooks still available. No sooner did the words come out of David Stern's mouth that we started high-fiving.
But the draft giveth and the draft can just as quickly taketh. We soon learned that Brooks was being shipped to New Jersey in exchange for JaJuan Johnson, who was chosen two picks after Brooks. As many fans do, we of course talked ourselves into the trade and Johnson in the next few days. We know how that worked out for Boston.
Fast forward to late June, 2013, when it came out that the Celtics and Nets agreed in principle to a blockbuster trade. Various emotions and thoughts came with the news but Brooks' involvement as a piece in the trade was an afterthought. After my friends and I came to grips with losing two future Hall of Famers, we sarcastically accepted that "Hey, at least MarShon Brooks is finally coming to Boston."
The landscape of the Celtics this time around for Brooks is a lot different. Not necessarily dimmer, just different. It's a situation which will afford Brooks much more opportunities. Aside from a a few key returning players, roles are up for grabs. There is no set depth chart, rotation or pecking order. For a player who failed to show much improvement in his second year, it's a fairly welcoming situation.
Brooks' steep drop in production from his promising rookie campaign was primarily due to the Nets' acquisition of Joe Johnson. After starting 47 of his 53 games in in 2011-12, Brooks saw time in the starting five only twice in his 73 games this past season. This wasn't a case of a player retaining his role when coming off the bench either. Brooks' playing time plummeted from 29.4 minutes per game to 12.5.
Yes, Johnson was a roadblock to Brooks seeing any extended time on the floor but there were other factors at play as well. For one, the Nets committed to establishing a "win now" brand in Brooklyn and trying to wrestle some of the grip on New York away from the Knicks. Along with trading for Johnson, the Nets also brought in veteran players who could help win games. There was just fewer minutes available for young, developing players.
Brooks, however, didn't help his case for playing time. He's always been considered a liability on defense and as a score-first type of player, his shot selection sometimes doesn't sit well with his coaches. After establishing himself as an up-and-coming player in his rookie season, his trade stock came crashing down last year. That didn't stop Boston from adding him as a piece to the trade though.
There's no reason to give up on any young player this early into his career, but it especially makes sense in Brooks' case . His 5.4 points per game, down from 12.6 from the previous season, certainly looks bad, but his stats per 36 minutes were either nearly identical, or slightly above his per 36 numbers from 2011-12. His shooting fluctuated and that can usually be attested to context. For instance, he shot 42.8 percent from the field in his rookie year while playing for a New Jersey team that was likely much worse than this Boston squad. Playing on a better team with more offensive options last season, Brooks' shooting improved to 46.3 percent.
Overall, Brooks has the tools to be a prototypical shooting guard. His 6-foot-5 frame will be a bonus to Boston's undersized backcourt and while Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee provide strong defense, the Celtics have been searching for scoring from a two-guard not named Ray Allen for quite some time.
The stigma of being one of the incoming former Nets isn't likely to wear off anytime soon. Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans won't be the most popular players among fans who want to see Boston shed salary and move on from retread veterans. With continued improvement in his third year, Brooks can separate himself and remind Celtics fans of the excitement they felt when it seemed he was coming to Boston the first time around.