Speedy Rockets G takes home NBA's Most Improved award
Aaron Brooks likes proving doubters wrong, and he did it this season, even though the Houston Rockets could not.
The speedy, 6-foot point guard was named the NBA's Most Improved Player on Thursday, after setting career highs in points (19.6 per game), assists (5.3) and rebounds (2.6). His scoring average went up 8.4 points from 2008-09, the highest increase of any qualifying player.
The Rockets finished 42-40 and missed the playoffs, an expected outcome after Yao Ming missed the season with a foot injury. Brooks ably picked up the offensive slack in Yao's absence, starting all 82 games while the roster seemed to be in flux all season.
"I didn't go into the season to win a big award like this," Brooks said. "I would love to be in the playoffs with this award, but due to the circumstances, we didn't get there. But this is a great award.
"This is a great accomplishment for me, one of the most important awards I've earned in my life."
Brooks, the Rockets' first-round draft pick in 2007 out of Oregon, set a franchise record for 3-pointers made (209) and became the sixth player in NBA history to record at least 200 3-pointers and 400 assists.
When he was drafted, Brooks remembers those who suggested the Rockets made a poor choice. But he worked his way into the starting role, cut down his turnovers and improved his 3-point shooting accuracy for the second straight season.
He thinks he made the biggest leap forward this season in his decision-making.
"The game slowed down a lot for me," Brooks said. "I was making the right plays. I still have a lot of improvement to make. With that said, hopefully, I can win this award next year."
Brooks earned 403 of a possible 615 points, including 62 first-place votes, from a panel of 123 sports writers and broadcasters. Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City and George Hill of San Antonio tied for second with 101 total points.
The 25-year-old Brooks was surprised he won, considering his competition and how the Rockets' season turned out. He's the first Houston player to win the award, though former teammate Tracy McGrady won it in 2000-01, when he played for Orlando.
"Kevin Durant was in there, he had a great year and his team is in the playoffs," Brooks said. "There were a lot of guys up for this award and I'm honored that they chose me to be the guy that won."
Daryl Morey became the Rockets' general manager just before the 2007 draft, making Brooks his first pick, (26th overall). Morey said he's surprised how rapidly Brooks has developed.
"Aaron's a 25-year overnight success," Morey said. "If you look throughout his career, through Oregon and into the NBA, he's improved every single year. This year, he gets the recognition.
"But what made us decide to draft him, was he was a guy who was counted out -- too small, doesn't pass the ball enough, won't make it in the NBA," Morey said. "We felt like he had the talent to do it. He's obviously shown that. We see great things for Aaron going forward."
Brooks said the next individual honor in his sights is becoming an All-Star, an award usually connected with team success. For now, he'll settle for the satisfaction of silencing critics who predicted that he was too small to make it as an NBA point guard.
"Everybody has limitations," Brooks said. "My height, as far as inches-wise, might be a disadvantage. But I think there are advantages to being short. I use it to the best of my ability. I'm not complaining. I don't wish I was taller, I'm happy with who I am, and I go out there and play that way."