I didn't want the Rockets to trade for Corey Brewer.
It seems insane to say now, but before December, he was one of the worst shooters in the league, playing heavy minutes on the worst team in the NBA after having been cast off from Denver. The Rockets had Troy Daniels, who could shoot the lights out but do little else, and I had forgotten what a useful player Brewer had been in an uptempo system in Denver. He didn't seem to fit Moreyball.
I quickly changed my tune.
It turns out, Brewer was exactly what the Rockets needed, and fit terrifically. The bench unit had been an unmitigated disaster before he was brought in. Dealing away Daniels and getting Brewer and Alexey Shved bolstered the unit, and Daryl Morey signed Josh Smith just a few days later made it solid. The Rockets never got all the way healthy, but the bench of Jason Terry, Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones was a coup for Morey.
Brewer was the best of the bunch, however. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 17.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.1 turnovers. Per possession, among players with at least 175 fast-break opportunities, he was No. 1 in the league in points created, at 1.28.
There were stretches in games where he carried the offense, especially crucial because those usually coincided with times James Harden wasn't on the floor. His length and athleticism combined with Trevor Ariza to create havoc on the defensive end, leading to run-outs, which, thanks to Brew, almost always meant points.
Part of the reason I was so wrong is he was just flat-out better when he wasn't asked to do as much for as long as he was in Minnesota. His usage rate went up, from 20 to 22 percent, but his turnover percentage improved, from 16.2 to 11.2 percent. His win shares per 48 minutes went from a paltry .028 to .091.
Those are all regular season numbers, but when the playoffs came around, he couldn't quite make the same game-to-game impact. He was crucial in the Rockets' massive comeback over the Clippers, including the huge turnaround in Game 6 when he was a plus-32 and gave Houston 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Outside of that, he lost all confidence in his foul shooting, which hurt. He shot just 28.6 percent from deep, which also hurt. He only managed one steal a game, below his season and career averages, and hindering his own ability to impact the game on the break. In the Warriors series, he was atrocious defensively, and the Rockets had to watch as player after player sprang free for open three-pointers (particularly Harrison Barnes).
But the way the season ended shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm for Brewer. He's back for the next three years at a very agreeable contract. He loves playing for Kevin McHale, fits seamlessly with the Rockets' pace — second in the league last year — and wholly embraces the bench role.
Next year's wing rotation is crowded. Harden and Ariza are the obvious starters, and Brewer's role is pretty clear. But it'd be a surprise — and, frankly, a waste — if he again played 25 minutes per game. K.J. McDaniels is getting $3.3 million a year and he doesn't deserve to continue languishing on the bench. Unless Sam Dekker is being converted entirely into a stretch 4, he might earn some minutes at the wing, too.
Brewer was a fantastic addition, and key contributor, to the best Rockets team in nearly two decades. Not only is he a positive force on the court, but the way he plays and the million-watt grin that's become his trademark make him easy to root for.
His three-year deal may not have been the Rockets' biggest offseason move, but getting Brewer at less than $8 million a season until he's 32 may have been Daryl Morey's best. Brewer isn't the best player on the Rockets, but (excepting the MVP candidate on the roster) he's become my favorite.