Former University of Oregon point guard Aaron Brooks ran away with the NBA’s most improved player award, the league announced Thursday.
Brooks, taken by the Houston Rockets with the 26th overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, set career highs in points per game (19.6), assists per game (5.3) and rebounds per game (2.6) in his third season in the league. His scoring average increased 8.4 points from the 2008-09 season.
The Seattle native received 403 out of a possible 615 points to win easily; Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, San Antonio’s George Hill and Memphis’ Marc Gasol tied for second with 101 points each.
The Rockets turned to Brooks to lift the offense in the absence of Yao Ming (injury) and Tracy McGrady (traded), and the 25-year-old point guard delivered, starting all 82 regular-season games and leading Houston to a ninth-place finish in the Western Conference at 42-40, eight games behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot. He set a franchise record and led the league in three-pointers made with 209 and became the sixth player in league history to top 200 three-pointers and 400 assists in the same season.
Brooks had a career night on Jan. 13, 2010, when he scored 43 points on 14-for-30 field-goal shooting while playing a career-most 59 minutes in a 120-114 triple-overtime victory over Minnesota.
On March 17, he dropped in a career-best seven three-pointers on seven attempts in a 107-94 home victory Memphis. In that game, Brooks went 11-for-14 from the field and finished with 31 points and five rebounds. Two days prior, he also scored 31 points, on 11-for-17 field-goal shooting, in a 125-123 victory over Denver.
Brooks finished 16th in the league in total assists with 409, and his 19.6 points per game tied Memphis’ Rudy Gay for 21st best overall.
Brooks’ 2009-10 statistical improvements continue an upward trend since his rookie season. In 2007-08, Brooks average 5.2 points and 1.7 rebounds while playing in 51 games. During his second season, he improved to 11.2 points and 3.0 assists while playing in 80 games and starting 35.
Brooks’ season-by-season improvements in the NBA are nothing new; he made similar strides during his last season with the Oregon Ducks.
As a senior for Oregon, Brooks improved from a 10.8-points-per-game average the previous season to 17.7. More importantly, he blossomed into a leader for a Ducks team that reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight before losing 85-77 to eventual national champion Florida.
Aaron Brooks profile, NBA