A funny thing happened in the second quarter of last night’s game. Entering the second quarter trailing by eight, the Nets cut back into that deficit (winning the quarter by five) behind the energy and disruption of Sundiata Gaines, the force and power of Kris Humphries, the marksmanship of Anthony Morrow and of course, the overall leadership of Deron Williams.
Noticeably absent from that 10-minute run of competent basketball? MarShon Brooks, the Nets rookie and darling who observed the action from the sideline for all but 1:26. MarShon checked out of the game at the 6:37 mark of the first quarter, missing about 17 straight game minutes in the first half.
Things didn't improve for Brooks in the second half. As the Nets fought to keep up with the suddenly capable Wizards, Brooks saw just four minutes in the third quarter. In the fourth, after Deron Williams and Avery Johnson's ejections, Brooks got another shot and responded with a few plays. For his effort, he was rewarded with the full burn of the quarter, but for those watching, that fourth quarter was a mere formality to a game won for Washington when the whistle sounded Deron’s second technical.
Either way, there has been a noticeable change in MarShon’s game. Gone is the volcanic “swag” that oozed out of Brooks’ body, replaced by hesitancy and indecision. Because I’ve never had a conversation with the man, or read any quotes suggesting as much, I won't claim that MarShon has lost his confidence, but there’s been a noticeable shift in the rookie’s game. What’s changed?
For starters, the Nets wing positions have improved. When the season started, Brooks could hardly do wrong. Simply checking into the game was cause for jubilation in Newark, likely because the in used toy collection that was our wing rotation, MarShon was the shiny new toy, just dying to be played with. But now, with Gerald Wallace's acquisition and Gerald Green's emergence, Avery Johnson can hand out his wing minutes more like the chef of a four-star restaurant and less like the server at a soup kitchen.
As the Geralds continue to impress, it gets harder to keep them off the floor. Anthony Morrow is a swish away from turning into Jimmer Fredette (BYU version, of course) and in last night’s game, Gaines couldn’t be taken off the floor, so Avery elected to use Deron and Gaines as his backcourt, further squeezing minutes.
Just look at DeShawn Stevenson. Prior to the arrival of Gerald Wallace, Stevenson was a starter playing close to 20 minutes a game. Since? He hasn’t touched the floor, recording three DNP’s. Minutes at the wing are simply harder to come by.
The other contributing factor to MarShon’s loss of time is the fact the he’s just not playing well. Since the All-Star break, Brooks’ shooting numbers are down across the board, as is his scoring (10.1 ppg post break, down from 14.6 before). The obvious reasoning could be the abstract “rookie wall”, if there ever was a season for a wall's effect, this year’s lockout-shortened sprint would be the one.
Hit the snooze button on your alarm. The player that Brooks showed he was in the beginning of the year is still there, and as he adds more to his game things will only get easier. Keep an eye on how Avery handles his minutes from here on throughout. Minutes are the magic elixir to a player’s development, and as the constant tug-of-war between future and present wages on, I just hope Avery handles them with care.