CHICAGO -- Few, if any NBA players, are as comfortable in the lane as Aaron Brooks.
Not just the painted area of the NBA, either.
“Aaron’s a hell of a bowler,” childhood friend Nate Robinson said. “He’s probably the best bowler in the NBA.”
This is not a secret, as Brooks has hosted a charity bowling tournament in his hometown of Seattle and once bowled a 299, according to league sources (an old Q&A on the Nuggets website). His parents met in a bowling alley, and he spent weekends bowling as his parents participated in leagues.
“We bowled one frame,” Brooks said with a dismissive sigh. “It’s a one-frame tournament. He got a lucky strike. I’m pretty good. I’ll let my stats speak for themselves.”
Brooks and Robinson, who faced each other in the Bulls’ 106-101 win over Denver on Thursday, grew up together in Seattle’s basketball hotbed.
While Robinson prefers pingpong to bowling, both played basketball, football and ran track in an environment full of future professional athletes.
What was Nate -- still a fan favorite in Chicago for his one season here -- like as an 8-year-old?
“Same,” Brooks said. “Same, just bigger than everyone. Smaller, but physically bigger than everybody. Phenomenal athlete. You just had this sense that whatever he wanted to go pro in, he was going to do it. I know a lot of people say that loosely about kids. I never really say that, but for him, whatever he picked that he was going to do professionally, it was going to work out.”
What’s a Seattle basketball player like?
“We have fun,” Robinson said. “We just hoop, however it comes. We have fun and hoop, that’s it. That’s all we know how to do.”
“It’s weird, because you don’t really think about it like that, but I guess we’re all scorers,” Brooks said. “We have an edge to us. Being on the West Coast, it seems like it’s always East Coast bias for basketball. You kind of take that with you when you go on the court.”
Brooks is averaging 10.8 points and 3.1 assists, playing 20 minutes a game at a position where the star, Derrick Rose, has missed time and has minutes restrictions, and the backup, Kirk Hinrich, just missed the last five games. All three can play both guard positions, giving coach Tom Thibodeau multiple backcourt options.
Robinson thrilled, and scared, Bulls crowds two seasons ago when Rose was recovering from ACL surgery. Last year it was D.J. Augustin, who was signed off a quick stay on waivers after Rose hurt his other knee.
Both players turned their Chicago stops into multi-year deals elsewhere. It helps that Thibodeau's offense lets point guards attack.
“I know Aaron,” Robinson said. “For him he’s got a lot to prove after playing in Houston and not getting a contract that I thought he deserves and he thinks he deserves. For him, this is just a statement year for him to show teams, and other GMs around the league, not just the Bulls, that he can play.”
Brooks signed a one-year deal for $1.145 million this past summer. Back in the 2009-10 season, Brooks averaged 19.6 points per game for the Rockets, who drafted him in the first round in 2007. But he’s bounced around the league, with Houston trading him twice and waiving him once from 2011 through 2014.
"He kind of got lost in the shuffle," Thibodeau said.
Robinson, who is one year older than Brooks, wants to see him stick in Chicago, where Brooks and Rose made a formidable offensive duo.
“I hope it’s not a one-stop-shop type of deal,” Robinson said. “Especially with what he’s doing. Past years, they’ve shown they don’t want to keep guys who come in like myself and Aaron for too long. They had D.J. Augustin, who came in last year and did a hell of a job last year and look what happened.”
After the Bulls’ Christmas win against the Lakers, Thibodeau gave Brooks the Thibs seal of approval.
“He’s got a lot of toughness; he’s real smart,” Thibodeau said then. “His speed is something that’s hard to deal with. He creates scoring opportunities, he’s great in the pick-and-roll. He knows how to find people, and he has all the tricks. For a guy that’s small, he can finish around the basket. He knows how to use the board, he knows how to extend, get the ball away from the body against shot-blockers. He’s not afraid to get in there. He’s tough. He’s a hard guy defensively; he’s going to battle. He’s a hard guy to post up. He’s just tough, tough. The guy’s a winner.”
Injury update: Mike Dunleavy didn't practice with a "jammed" ankle, Thibodeau said. Dunleavy hurt the ankle on defense in the third quarter Thursday and didn't return. He is questionable for Saturday's game against Boston. He hasn't missed a game since joining the Bulls last season. Pau Gasol had the day off from practice. He's listed as probable with a left chest contusion.