Since the trade, when both in the lineup for the Houston Rockets, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin have been scorching hot, terrorizing opponents.
In the post-championship era, the Rockets have never had two guards mesh as well offensively as they do today. Tracy McGrady and Bob Sura composed the best backcourt they’ve had, just by virtue of the former being a top 5 player at that time and the latter still being very productive. But Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks make up the best duo.
The two guards play so well together because of their skillsets. Before I delve into that, let’s examine the skillsets of the other backcourt pairs the Houston Rockets have had in the post-championship era.
- Maloney – Drexler: While a shell of his former self, Clyde was still very good off the dribble and difficult to handle in the post, but he was never a very good shooter. He could spot up for 3’s (with that awkward release where he kicked his legs back and shot the ball over his head) but he never had the fine skillset to stop on a dime and pull up like the elite guards in today’s league. Maloney was elite as a spot-up shooter, but one of the worst in the league off the dribble.
- Mobley – Dickerson: Neither player was more than just a set shooter. Mobley still had not been given the freedom to create and Dickerson, despite his physical gifts, did not have the handles to drive at the NBA level.
- Francis – Anderson: Francis was the best finisher the Rockets have had in the post-championship era, and early on, was also very efficient on shots pulling up off the dribble, freezing his defenders with a crossover that ended up in his left hand for the shot. However, he was not a good set shooter. Anderson, despite the success he enjoyed in Jerry Sloan’s system, had the dubious distinction of actually being less skilled than Trevor Ariza.
- Francis – Mobley: By this point, with more freedom, Mobley had developed into a dangerous off-the-dribble scorer. He also had a mid-range game and was a good set shooter from behind the arc. Francis was the same as described in the bullet above.
- McGrady – Sura: McGrady was all-world and could pretty much do any and everything. However, Sura, while relentless and very productive, was somewhat limited by his declined athleticism. Bob didn’t have the skillset to create off the dribble and while he did attack the basket, lacked the footspeed at this age to be considered ‘dangerous.’
- McGrady – Alston: McGrady had regressed by this point but was still dangerous on account of his passing and ability to create. While Alston was extremely reliable as a ‘game manager’, with the exception of a few rare spurts, he was a total non-factor offensively. In fact, most of the time, if you didn’t notice Rafer’s presence, that meant he was having one of his better nights. Alston has to be one of the greatest paradoxes that basketball has ever seen: a playground point guard who couldn’t penetrate. One has to really wonder why Skip, one of the greatest ball handlers in human history, didn’t invest the time into improving his shooting and finishing at the basket. He had the other tools to be an All-Star.
- Brooks – Artest: Aaron was not nearly as dangerous last season attacking the basket as he was prone to being blocked. Ron was just dreadful. From ‘3’, he was either scorching hot or ice cold. Off the dribble, everything came to his left; nothing good came from the right. With Houston, Artest never posted up, and with his added bulk and declined athleticism, was very ineffective driving to the hoop. To his credit, Ron was an underrated passer.
- Brooks – Ariza: I have gone into depth on Trevor Ariza’s skillset on this blog.
What makes our current duo of Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks so dangerous is that both possess the same very valuable abilities.
Both players can drive, finish in the lane, spot up for kick-out 3’s, shoot off the dribble, shoot off screens, score in transition, initiate the offense, and find open teammates. Except for some differences (ie: Martin’s ability to draw contact), the two players have almost the same skills: it is precisely because Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin are interchangeable that they are so complementary.
Both players are what one would classify as unselfish or passing shooting guards. Guys looking for their shots but, while not exactly ‘good’ passers, willing and able to find teammates.
In terms of individual skill, as a duo, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley were better than Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin. If you played a game of 2 on 2, I would put a lot of money on the former pair. The problem, however, is that Steve and Cat were redundant. Except for their pet alleyoop set, they couldn’t play off of each other; they had to take turns each trip down the court.
Both Francis and Mobley were at their best when isolating off the dribble. But because Francis was such a sub-par passer, Mobley’s spot-up shooting wasn’t utilized in Francis sets. Similarly, because Francis could not spot up at all and because Mobley was an atrocious passer, Francis could not be involved in any plays called for Mobley.
Also, contrary to popular belief, that Houston Rockets team did not push the pace, so neither player scored much in transition. In fact, Francis was probably the worst point guard in the entire league at running the break – he would drift to the wing like a shooting guard rather than keep the ball in the middle of the court as is required by the point guard.
Let’s now turn our attention back to Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin. They’re not individually as good as Francis and Mobley but are so much more dangerous because they can play off of each other. They’re strengths are amplified because the defense cannot key in on them as they could on the earlier duo.
Both players can bring up the ball and initiate the offense, allowing the other to roam free and spot up. They can both attack the basket and are both competent enough at passing to find each other off penetration.
Most important though is their shooting. Because both players can spot up or come off screens, both players stay involved as threats in every play, amplifying each other’s strengths. With Francis and Mobley, the defense could just key in on one of the two during each play. In our present case, that’s not possible, and it makes the duo very difficult to defend.
Neither Aaron Brooks nor Kevin Martin is good enough to carry this team down the stretch of multiple playoff games. That type of player is usually needed to win a title. Unfortunately, they are also impossible to acquire.
What makes the mutually beneficial relationship between Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks so significant is that it enables the strategy which must now be taken for the Rockets to win. No one player will lead them to a title. Yao cannot do that. For the Houston Rockets to succeed, they will need to overwhelm opponents with a superior team attack. The unique ability of Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin to feed off of each other in individual sets is a step in that direction.