The Bulls offense has been absolutely scorching so far this season. They are 7th overall in the league in points scored per 100 possessions, according to Nylon Calculus's numbers (which use actual possession counts, rather than estimates), dropping in 111.4 points per 100. They're even (slightly) ahead of Cleveland and its much bally-hooed Big 3. To my eyes, the Bulls offense doesn't look all that different. It's still post-up heavy and has a lot of pointless curls that take a long time to develop and ultimately lead to open 19 foot shots. It doesn't *look* fluid and certainly doesn't look like an offense that should be easily within the league's top 10. So what, exactly, is going on? Well, there's a number of factors (the others of which I'll probably look into more later), but perhaps the biggest one is that, through 8 games, Aaron Brooks is playing like an absolute offensive superstar when he's on the floor.
How good has Brooks been? He's scoring 22 points per 36 minutes on an absolutely absurd 66.8% True Shooting. Those are numbers more in line with an elite scoring big, dunking in easy bucket after easy bucket from 3 feet and in, not a teeny tiny point guard launching swagged out off-the-dribble threes.
Now, about those three pointers. Brooks is 15 of 26 from three this season, a sizzling 57.7%. Brooks is a good 3 point shooter (37% for his career), but this short little run has been outstanding. It also definitely won't last all season. But those buckets still count in the games they've come in and they've helped boost the Bulls offense to new heights. When you consider the degree of difficulty on some of the shots that Brooks takes, it's all the more impressive how accurate he's been.
Brooks really loves that right wing, pull up three pointer. Something to watch, as the season progresses, is whether teams begin to take this spot away from him a bit more. In this particular spot, it's just a poor effort by Gerald Wallace, with the Celtics way ahead, that lets Brooks get loose for this shot from one of his favorite spots. Brooks will also take this shot as pull up jumper in transition, as a trailer, and basically whenever he can get open for it.
For his career, Brooks finishes at the rim (from 0-3 feet of it) at a pretty poor rate of 51.2%. It makes sense, as he's a small guard without a ton of strength to bang around amongst the trees down there. Aaron's not going to do the Derrick Rose move where he jumps into a crowd and bounces off several dudes because he's so strong. He's just not built like that. But, so far this year, Brooks has been finishing at a much more respectable 64.7% inside of 3 feet.
It's worth noting here that it's not as if the Bulls have played a bunch of teams with very good interior defense. The Pistons, Celtics, Knicks, Cavs, Magic, Sixers and Timberwolves are all pretty weak defensive teams, particularly in the paint. Brooks has definitely taken advantage of the weak defense. As you can see in the gif above, he blows by the Celtics Phil Pressey and finishes around and through Jared Sullinger, who takes a horrible angle to try to stop him.
For most of his career Brooks has been basically a scoring guard who only passed occasionally. His career Assist % is 23.8%, which is pretty low for a point guard. It's more in line with the numbers you might see from a combo guard or a shooting guard or, you know, a player like Aaron Brooks, a microwave scorer off the bench. Eight games into this season, though, Brooks' Assist % is 38.4%. If you like your numbers in the per minute variety, Brooks is averaging 7.6 assists per 36 minutes compared to his 5.2 assists per 36 minutes for his whole career. This is doubly impressive when you factor in the Bulls' below average pace presenting fewer possessions for Brooks to dish out these assists. It's not wholly surprising that Brooks has seen a bit of an uptick in assists, as he's been given full freedom in the second unit to either score or to initiate the driving action that will open up shots for his teammates. Given that the other members of the second unit he generally plays with (Kirk, Doug, Mirotic, and Taj) are not going to break down a defense off the dribble, unless it's already been sent scrambling by an initial breakdown, Brooks' dynamism becomes essential for the bench unit to score. Once Aaron's done his work off-the-bounce, the guys working off him have good to great complementary skills attacking closeouts, spotting up, or rolling to the basket off a pick. The combination of the two has added up to more assist opportunities for Brooks and he's been taking advantage.
You can see the value of Brooks' penetration in the above play. As he blows by Alexey Shved, K.J. McDaniels' eyes are glued on Aaron and he turns his head away from Doug McDermott in the corner. McDaniels is a good athlete so when Brooks hits Doug with the pass, K.J. is able to fly out to recover. That flying recovery, though, opens the door for McDermott to dribble drive past McDaniels, something he would be unlikely to be able to do without the initiating drive from Brooks to set McDaniels out of position.
Of all the things that he's done better than his career norms, it is his playmaking for his teammates that has the best chance to sustain itself. Brooks will be the second unit's only off-the-dribble threat against a set defense all year, and so, as a result, will have both the opportunity and responsibility to make things go for that group.
It's been a bummer that Derrick Rose has been out as much as he has been, but the Bulls have been very lucky. They've had a player who has performed just as well or better than Rose could have been expected to play in those games. In fact, through the 8 games of the regular season, Brooks has a slight lead over Rose in per-possession production metrics, Player Efficiency Rating (23.4 to 22.8), Win Shares per 48 minutes (.217 to .158), and Basketball Reference's new Box Plus-Minus - a boxscore estimate of +/- impact (+2.6 to +2.3). We shouldn't expect Brooks to keep this level of play up for 82 games, because some of the things he's done so far aren't sustainable for anyone, least of all a backup point guard on the veteran's minimum contract. What we should do, though, is appreciate just how well he's done to kick off the season. He's a big reason why, despite all the injuries to Rose and others, the Bulls are 6-2.
Stats for this post via the indispensable basketball-reference.com.