The Relationship Between Houston Rockets guards Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.’
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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  • Kevin

    there are times in that video where brooks and martin look like a pair of nunchucks.

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  • Why Houston Rockets guards Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks are so …: Mobley still had not been given the freedom t…

  • Why Houston Rockets guards Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks are so …: Mobley still had not been given the freedom t…

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  • Easy

    You pointed out a very important fact: superstar players who can carry the team through the playoffs is extremely difficult to acquire. So although both Brooks and Martin are probably no more than high end role players individually, playing together, they may have the equivalent impact of a superstar plus a good role player.

    Perhaps the recent elevation of Brooks to almost an elite status has something to do with this. Maybe Brooks is a bit overrated now because he is made better by Martin's presence. A lot of people say that players on the Suns team are overrated because of Nash. Maybe the whole Rockets team is “overrated” because of each other.

    Only a handful of players in the league can be considered “complete” players. All the rest need to fit with teammates whose skills can augment their strengths and/or hide their weaknesses.

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  • flipasta

    “Maybe the whole Rockets team is “overrated” because of each other.”

    I like that. Adelman does an admirable job of putting pieces together, and I think he's blessed with pieces, like you said, that are elite at their respective skillsets.

    This article is a great look at what makes these two so good together, when people were scared that their skill set would be too redundant. I think you hit the nail on the head: These guys, while no pass first guards, are very capable passers in a system that allows both of them to get solid looks consistently.

    I also agree with your “superior team attack theory” in the last paragraph, Rahat.

    I've never believed it was absolutely necessary to have a 'take over the game' wing player to win a title. If you can score efficiently consistently (including 'crunch' time), no matter how those points come, there's no reason you shouldn't be a contender offensively. I think this exemplified in the Spurs and Pistons championship teams. If Kobe and Lebron can get those in various isolation sets, good for them, but thats not the only way to win down the stretch.

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  • Easy

    Duncan is (or was) a “take over” guy, although he's not a wing player.

    The Pistons was the only exception that won without a superstar. But you know what, Adelman almost got another “exception” done with his Kings. Webber was not a take over guy, neither was Peja. But the team functioned so well together. They could have beaten the Lakers and gone on to championship had they not got robbed by the refs. So, if anybody could do it without a take over guy, it's Adelman.

  • flipasta

    I think we have different definitions of a 'take over guy'.

    Tim Duncan is, without a doubt, a player who change play after play down the stretch runs of big games by either scoring, low post defense, help defense, or off the ball defense/offense. His level of play in all facets of the game make it no surprise he is the best player on a consistent championship caliber team.

    My point was merely that he's never been, nor has he been expected to be, a player who consistently became an iso option on offense play after play. Manu and Tony aren't expected to do that either, because the Spurs simply never operated their offense that way.

    When the Lakers would employ isolation sets for Kobe down the stretch, the Spurs would simply run sets that weren't too different from what they ran in the second or third quarters of the same game.

    I agree that the Pistons and Kings had the same philosophy. My point was simply that if the 2011 Rockets aren't good enough to be on that level, it isn't necessarily because we don't have a 'closer' down the stretch. It isn't a prerequisite to compete for a title as some people seem to think.

  • DaGabe

    Nice thread.

    I'd like to hear your thoughts on where Smith + Maxwell would fall in this list because the 2 of them relied so much on Hakeem for their offense that I don't even think you could put them up with Martin / Brooks – if based solely on their own skills to work off of each other (I think just about every highlight would somehow include Hakeem)…So, given the fact that the team with Smith/Maxwell won a title maybe there's a strong opportunity for the 10-11 team to compete for a championship when Yao is healthy (not that Yao = Hakeem but the formula is similar (albeit MJ had to sit out a couple years, but I digress))…

  • Matt D

    I don't think you saw the play-off game when the duo of Smith and Maxwell ran the team. Smith was great in fast break situation and he as a good 3-point shooter. When “Mad Max” got hot, he was deadly from all over the court. He could drive, dish, rebound and play above adequate defense. However, when Max got hot, he developed tunnel vision. All Max could see was the rim. Yes, Hakeem did the heavy lifting, but Max and Smith gave meaningful contributions.

  • DaGabe

    I was a youngster but I saw all the playoff games, even went to a Kenny Smith basketball camp (probably the nicest and most down-to-earth celebrity I've ever met).

    I recall some games where they were amazing, but if my memory serves me well, it seems like usually Dream would kick it out to 1 of them, rather than the duo creating for themselves the way that Martin and Brooks do.

  • DaGabe

    I was a youngster but I saw all the playoff games, even went to a Kenny Smith basketball camp (probably the nicest and most down-to-earth celebrity I've ever met).

    I recall some games where they were amazing, but if my memory serves me well, it seems like usually Dream would kick it out to 1 of them, rather than the duo creating for themselves the way that Martin and Brooks do.

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  • Quinn

    Most NBA pundits babble on about how you need one clear-cut guy you can go to in an ATO play every game to win it for you; I fundamentally disagree with that assertion. The 'team-attack' style you mention is both proven to work as the model for a championship team, though it is rare. This rarity is conditioned by the growth of a player relative to the time before he is up for a new contract.

    Aaron Brooks is the perfect example; if he stays in Houston for the summer, then the Rockets have an extremely valuable asset on the cheap. With a Yao-centric lineup, this is a team that will not have a single glaring weakness: well-rounded defense, the ability to score inside and out, the ability to fast break or play a plodding half-court set, etc.

    And on the issue of AB and KM being different because of their ability to draw contact, I think you're a little off; rather, both have the ability to create contact, it's just that KM gets the calls because he's gained a reputation as that kind of player. I think AB takes a lot of hits without calls, but that may just be me.

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  • Matt D

    That’s funny!

  • Matt D

    You are right DeGabe, but it worked.

  • Matt D

    The Kings argued with the Refs. and lot sight of the goal: To win a chanpionship!

  • Jeremy

    I'd have to say that due to their age and familiarity with the coaching staff, or lack thereof, an acurate apraisal of the Brooks/Martin combo cannot be made. Though perhaps not the most athleticaly gifted duo the Rockets have retained at guard, I have a feeling that by the time this chapter closes in Rockets’ history, it will be arguably the best backcourt option the Rockets have ever employed. Perhaps not for individual exploits or accomplishments or combined stats but rather through their puzzle-pice configuration into a team which must provide open looks to almost every player in order to succeed at a high level (i.e- move the ball and play as a team) Even with the inclusion of Yao, this fundamental truth of our game will never change. The “take over” player aspect is merely the ability for teams to thrive with poor decision making and absent of team play execution, the reality of the sport is however the ball gets in, be it through an individually remarkable talent or focused team play, once its in the points count. Its natural to loose focus and energy in the last legs of a game, especially given the schedule, and a take-over player is merely a contingency plan. The most prolifically important factor in every NBA championship has been an inside presence, it seems to me and as we will have ours returned to us in short order along with the ever-developing guard and wing prospects in our roster, our future looks bright. Say what you will about Ariza but it was clear he was inserted into a roll he simply was not made to play. The reason most roll-players are roll-players is simply due to the fact that those special game changing players were given something at birth that they did not get. The amount of talent, dedication and work which is necessary to lace up sneakers in an NBA practice gym is immense and should never be ridiculed. Ariza wasn't given a natural gift a minutely small amount of people get, he couldn't transcend from roll-player to superstar in one season, this is true. That doesn't mean he's a bad player. Until Artest's last second heroics in game 5, all of LA was wishing they had Ariza back. There's a reason for that, if you notice how after Martin's arrival, Ariza became more comfortable and thus more productive in his role, you should be able to figure it out. No, we do not have one of the handful of individuals who can embarrass world-class athletes with their quickness, strength, or inspired playmaking notions down the stretch but what we do have is a cohesive collection of individuals whom are far greater than the sum of their parts. When that is taken into account its far easier to assume that due to the nature in which their specific attributes fit into the teams play, the Brooks/Martin combo would be seen as the pinnacle era of the Rockets back-court set. Jeez that was long and tangential…..

  • Acc696

    Man that was probably the best paragraph i have ever read in my life

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