Q&A on Goran Dragic and Aaron Brooks

To discuss Thursday’s trade between the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, I got together with Michael Schwartz, author of Valley of the Suns, ESPN TrueHoop’s Phoenix Suns affiliate.  What ensues is the transcript of our discussion:

Rahat: So let’s jump right to it.  What were the reactions to this trade on your end?

Michael: My first reaction was surprise. The Suns did not plan on being active at all at the deadline and if they did something I thought it would involve relieving their glut at the wings. Dragic has been ingrained as the point guard of the future for so long I just didn’t think it was possible he would be dealt. But he was brought in by a different regime and has really failed to take another step after his breakout sophomore season so perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise.

Overall I think the trade makes the Suns better this season but I question where it fits into any kind of a long-term plan. I think Brooks will provide the kind of spark for the second unit that Dragic failed to provide and he will provide the offense that unit has been missing since Leandro Barbosa was shipped out. But I look at Brooks’ advanced numbers and his horrible assist ratio and I just don’t love him as the Suns’ point guard of the future, especially coming from an all-world distributor like Steve Nash. From what you’ve seen of AB, how legitimate are these concerns?

Rahat: Brooks is not a playmaker, period.  He’s at his best when he has the green light to score and not worry about setting up the offense.  He struggles with interior passing and was so poor at post-entries that the team just gave up on having him on the same side of the court as Yao when the latter was healthy.  As you would imagine, he is also a pretty bad defender.

On the flip side, he’s a legitimate weapon.  The regression in his numbers this season can largely be attributed to an ankle injury and frustration over his contractual status.  His favorite victims are Derek Fisher and Steve Blake.  He can spot up, come off screens for 3’s, take his man off the dribble, and is also dangerous from mid-range.  Made huge strides last season with a floater near the basket, correcting a tendency from previous years to be stuffed at the rim.  While Brooks is primarily a scorer, one of his greatest virtues was that he rarely holds onto the ball; he is very decisive in his moves.

Brooks is a classic sparkplug but his weaknesses preclude anything more.

What is Dragic’s upside?

Michael: Dragic is much more of an all-around player who can impact the game on both ends. He thrives in an up-tempo game and is fantastic using his athleticism in the open court. He’s also studied at the school of Steve Nash for the last two and a half years and can often be caught trying to emulate some of Nash’s moves to set up teammates. His jumper can be streaky but he does a nice job of attacking the basket, leading some to believe his future may be more as a combo guard than a pure point as he has a little Manu Ginobili in him.

Ballhandling has always been a Dragic weakness as he is susceptible to pressure, but the biggest thing with him is confidence. He looked like a timid freshman scared to play with the varsity boys during his rookie season and then played and felt like he belonged during his breakout second season. This year we’ve seen more of the timid Dragic and he’s failed to take command of a Suns second unit that’s been in flux all season.

Like Dragic, Brooks has seemed to regress this season. Was his Most Improved Player season the outlier or is it his play this season?

Rahat: Aaron Brooks is not as bad as he has played this season nor is he as productive as his basic statistics last season would suggest.  A lot of that scoring you saw last season was inflated by usage he would not enjoy on a good team.

Can Dragic be a competent starter or is his upside as a super-sub?

Michael: That’s exactly what I thought on the subject of Brooks watching from afar.

Dragic can definitely be a competent starter. I’ve always thought his ceiling was as an above-average starter just outside of the top 10 point guards in the league. He’s certainly shown the ability to run a team, and at the end of last year I thought he might be ready to grow into a starter’s role now, just not for a team that starts Steve Nash.

I’m still puzzled as to why Dragic has struggled so much this season. His basic stats are very similar to last year, he just hasn’t had any of the monster games he enjoyed even in the regular season last season (before his breakout game on a national stage in Game 3 against the Spurs). His +/- numbers this season are atrocious and while I know they can be very variable year to year that corroborates the eye test in that he just doesn’t look as steady as he did last season.

I know Brooks has been unhappy that the Rockets decided not to give him an extension. What kind of deal do you think he’s looking for and what would you pay him? Do you think this is a player worth a sizable long-term investment?

Rahat: Outside of the top 10?  Wow, I did not realize he had that kind of upside.

Regarding Brooks, I had been advocating a trade since last season.  Based on what Kyle Lowry got, my assumption is that AB would be looking for $7mill-$8mill/year, a cost not palatable for the current structure of this Rockets team. This is not to say Brooks isn’t worth that much — that could be appropriate value on the right roster — but it wasn’t worth it for the Rockets.

Michael: The Suns had assembled a role players of the future rotation what with their young core of Dragic-Dudley-Childress-Warrick-Frye-Lopez-Gortat, and of that group Dragic was thought to have the most star potential. I would temper that by saying he has the most potential to get burned out on the NBA and go back to Europe if he can not regain his mojo in Houston. He has shown enough flashes of being a very good player that many in Phoenix are sad to see him go.

I think $7-8 mil is too much for another role player on a roster of well-paid role players that lacks any kind of a star or even future star when you look into the post-Nash future. At the same time the Suns can’t just let him go after sacrificing Dragic or a pick for him so I fear Brooks will join Josh Childress, Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick on the list of overpaid Suns role players.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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