Stephen Silas told Armoni Brooks to always stay ready. Stay locked-in. And to stay focused. So when the right opportunity presents itself, you are prepared to make the most of it.
Brooks made a substitution for Kelly Olynyk with 2:26 left in the third quarter. The game appeared to be all but over, with the Houston Rockets trailing 99-83 to the Phoenix Suns. In the final 14 minutes of the game, Brooks nearly led the Rockets to an improbable comeback inside Phoenix Suns Arena. He scored a career-high 14 points while connecting on four of his five shots from the outside.
The Rockets still fell short, losing 126-120 to the Suns on Monday. But Brooks’ performance was a victory within itself for the Texas native. The game was a testament to how far Brooks had come since ending his collegiate career at the University of Houston in 2019.
“It was awesome to see. He is a kid who came in and has been working hard with John Lucas. I had him in during the fourth quarter of a tight game, and he was stepping up and making shots. It was great and something really cool to see.” — Silas
Fate is what led Brooks to a career performance against the Suns. Less than two weeks ago, Brooks was in the airport on his way to New Zealand when he received the news that the Rockets had signed him to a two-way contract. Tears began to flow as Brooks reminisced on his long journey to the NBA following the call.
The New Zealand National Basketball League was going to be Brooks’ fifth time signing with a professional team after going undrafted in 2019. He played for the Washington Wizards during the 2019 NBA Summer League before signing with the Atlanta Hawks that August. Prior to the league’s suspension due to COVID-19, Brooks appeared in 45 games for the College Park Skyhawks in 2020 — Atlanta’s G-League affiliate team.
Despite the talent, sometimes it will take several games before a player of Brooks’ caliber can leave an impact on the hardwood floor, especially when the team has had little to no practice due to the compressed NBA schedule. But Brooks’ final stop gave him his most preparation before joining the Rockets.
He spent three months getting accustomed to the Rockets’ system in the G-League bubble with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Vipers ran their offense based on a high volume of three-point shots (18.3 3PA) — similar to the Rockets (40.1 3PA). Brooks thrived in Orlando, averaging 16.8 points while leading the G-League in most three-pointers made (57) and shooting 37.5 percent from deep.
“[It took] a lot of sacrifices. The G-League bubble, going in there and trying to play my best and giving my team everything I had. I was expected to be overseas in quarantine right now. But being able to be here and playing on this level is a dream come true and it could not happen at a better time.” — Brooks
Brooks’ lone season with the Vipers is hence why it only took a pair of games for him to have an impactful performance for the Rockets.
But a career night in Phoenix was all the more special before Brooks could score a single basket. Brooks experienced his first “oh, wow” moment of his NBA career when he stepped onto the court and saw Chris Paul and Devin Booker standing in front of him. It marked the first time he received meaningful minutes in an NBA game that did not come during closing time.
According to Silas, the Rockets’ goal during the final month of the 2021 season is to develop their young core for the future. And Brooks could be well on his way to becoming a building block for the Rockets should he replicate his Phoenix performance alongside Houston’s other budding stars.
With Brooks, the Rockets had three Viper alumni who made vital contributions to Houston’s near comeback victory against the Suns. Kenyon Martin Jr. scored 9 points and pulled down 7 rebounds, while Kevin Porter Jr. added 22 points and dished 14 assists in the loss.
“Honestly, I’m still upset we lost because we got within striking distance. But it feels good to be able to go out there and get some experience and minutes under my belt. I tried to help this team make a late run to come back and get this W...We push but it wasn’t enough to get it done tonight.” — Brooks