During the second half of last season and through the post season run to the Western Conference Finals, Corey Brewer became a Rockets favorite. The Greyhound's all-energy style helped make the Houston second unit a swirling dust cloud of steals, fast breaks, and three-point bombs.
His ability to run the floor, jump the passing lanes and press to the bucket on the run infected the second team with the enthusiasm and belief to make Game 6 against the Clippers happen, and when Daryl Morey resigned him in the offseason to a 3-year, $24-million deal, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Brewer had several serious suiters in the Sacramento Kings and the New York Knicks who were likely willing to drop some serious coin, but Brewer smartly elected for a better shot at the postseason and returned to the Rockets with thoughts of being a key piece in a potential Championship contending season.
But much to everyone's surprise and disappointment, as the Rockets have gotten off to an uneven 4-4 start, Brewer's terrible play is one of the main contributing reasons the Rockets have looked so discombobulated.
The second team was a strength of this squad last year, and with the notable exception of fast-improving center Clint Capela, the backups, lead by Brewer, have mostly been a black hole this season.
Brewer just hasn't looked himself, and his stats back that up. He's averaging just 6.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals on only 31.3 percent shooting, including an embarrassing 13.2 percent from downtown and only 62.5 percent from the line in 23.4 minutes per game.
His points average is his lowest since his second season in 2009, his rebounds the lowest since 2012, and all three of his shooting percentages are their respective lowest of his career.
His analytics are just as bad.
His offensive plus-minus (-5.0), defensive plus-minus (-1.3) and overall plus-minus (-6.3) are, by far, the worst of his career. He also has negative win shares and a negative value over replacement (VORP) for the first time since his rookie year.
His affect on the lineup while on the floor is even more startling, as the Rockets are a negative 19.3 with Brewer on the floor in any capacity, and as you whittle things down to two and three-man combos with Brewer the common denominator, you'll struggle to find just about any combination leaving behind a positive result.
So what's caused this precipitous drop-off in the Greyhound's play? He sure looks like he's tried to come out with the same energy, effort and impact as last season, but the effect just hasn't been the same.
For starters, he's playing the game a bit differently than last year. We know Brewer for driving all the way to the cup and for shooting the open three. Last year, 35 percent of his shots were at the bucket (within 0-3 feet) and 33 percent of his shots were at the three-point line, his top two shot types.
Those numbers have both taken a dramatic dip so far this season, as he's only taking 23 percent of his shots right at the bucket and 23 percent from downtown. Taking it to the hole is the main purpose of Brewer's involvement in this system, and it's unfortunately been replaced by more shots from the paint (3-10 feet), which is obviously a less efficient shot than the dunks and layups we're used to seeing. A whopping 45 percent of his shots have come from between 3-10 feet this season (last year it was 17.3 percent), which suggests an inability to get all the way to the rim with the same type of regularity we've seen in the past.
Consequently, his efficiency suffers. He's actually shooting better from 0-3 feet so far this season than in last (73.3 percent to 64.5), but the pitiful 20.7 percent he's shooting from the paint on a much larger percentage of shots is crumbling his shooting percentage and effectiveness.
The drop in how much he's shooting from downtown also shows he's likely struggling with a lot of the same chemistry and continuity issues the rest of the squad is suffering from.
Brewer rarely creates his own three-point shot. It comes as an open opportunity off of another player's drive, post-up or making an extra pass, and this lack of ball movement (a direct symptom of the chemistry issues) means not just less overall threes, but also less open threes. Again, we see his shooting percentage suffer.
He's never been great from downtown (just 28.8 percent for his career), but he'll need, at the very least, to double the 13 percent he's currently shooting to maintain some sort of effectiveness in this system.
There's obviously been an adjustment period going on for Brewer, as he's spent more time on the court with Ty Lawson than he has with any other player, while last season's most regular court mate, fellow Headband Brother and second team spark plug Josh Smith moved on to the Clippers in the offseason. The two had wonderful chemistry together off the bench, and the Rockets hit the reset button over the summer when they let Smith go.
Brewer's now playing mostly alongside a struggling point guard still looking to carve out a niche of his own with a new team and system, and though growing pains are to be expected, it's also not helping the formerly reliable Brewer get out of his own funk. This should all shake itself out in some form or fashion as the season progresses.
There is, however, one other possibility. Brewer is 29 years old currently and will be 30 before the season is up. That's not totally ancient for an NBA player, but it is getting up there, especially for someone who's game relies so much on energy and athleticism and less on skill and technique.
It's rare to see a slow decline and fade with these types of guys. More often than not, their athleticism falls quickly and precipitously off of a cliff, taking the rest of their game with it. It is possible we have front row tickets to the beginning of the end of Brewer's career.
He has looked a step off and two steps slow all season on both ends of the floor, and maybe we never do again see the whirling 'hound sprinting all the way to hoop in a dizzying array of dunks and layups several times per game.
We'd like to believe that as Brewer gains chemistry with some of the new players and as the team as whole spends additional time together and looks more like the Rockets we expected to see, the old Corey Brewer will begin to emerge from the horrible stink that's enveloped his start to the year.
But the only way we'll know for certain goes back to that one, four-letter word that's been uttered ever so often in the first two and half weeks of the season: