This is a big year for Nysier Brooks. To this point, the 6’11” forward/center from Philadelphia has had the benefit of studying under an all-time great for the Cincinnati Bearcats in Gary Clark and one of the most important players for the program in the last two years in Kyle Washington. Now Brooks is going to be asked to take up his game in production, playing time and overall responsibilities.
It all starts with defense for Brooks. That’s the side of his game that will best indicate if he is ready to take a step into the limelight and be more than just the guy replacing Washington. With his height and where he will be positioned, Brooks needs to be a rim protector. In two seasons, he has blocked 4.1 shots per 100 possessions. He actually took a step back in blocks last season, but he still managed to record a block percentage (6.9) that was higher than Clark (5.0). If you can do anything as well as or even better than Clark, then you are doing something right.
Aside from blocking shots, Brooks can provide strong post defense, whether in one-on-one post-up situations or when he needs to move across the paint to help. He accelerated his development in those areas last year and posted a defensive rating of 85.3. Where Brooks is probably not going to get better is when teams switch and he is forced to defend on the perimeter. He doesn’t have the speed to keep up with wing players, but ideally Mick Cronin and UC’s phenomenal defensive strategy will make up for such situations.
Offensively speaking, Brooks has a lot of room to improve, but that doesn’t mean he needs to be a volume scorer to maintain a starting role. With Jarron Cumberland, Cane Broome, Keith Williams and Trevor Moore on the roster, the Bearcats are definitely going to lean on the perimeter to get most of its points. What Brooks has to do is be efficient enough to keep opposing teams honest and make it tougher to double-team the guys who will be shooting more often. That might seem like an easy mandate, but Brooks actually regressed offensively last season and wasn’t that effective with his shot. He shot 49.4 percent from the field overall (.507 true shooting percentage, .494 effective field goal percentage), which is pretty horrendous for someone doing his damage in close and not taking threes. He also had an offensive rating below average (98.9). Those are numbers that won’t fly for a starter, no matter how many points the primary scorers put up.
Luckily, there are some positive aspects to Brook’s offensive profile, specifically with his work on the glass. He actually had a 10.9 offensive rebounding percentage last season, which ranked third among Bearcats who played at least 300 minutes. He was also third in total rebounding percentage. However, while there’s obvious promise there, Brooks needs to be a constant threat to get double digits on the glass for him to really step up after the departure of Clark and Washington.
Looking at UC’s trip to Canada this past summer, there is evidence that Brooks is ready to be aggressive when rebounding, especially after he had seven boards in 16 minutes against Carleton. However, aggression could also be his enemy, as he fouled out in another exhibition against McGill. Taking what happens in the preseason at face value would be a fool’s errand, of course, but it isn’t completely meaningless.
Brooks is going to be given many more opportunities this year. Part of it is necessity and part of it is because he has paid his dues and its now or never time him to prove he belongs out there ever night. However, with the depth the Bearcats still have in the frontcourt, even if its pretty youthful depth, Brooks won’t just be given the starting role for good. To keep it, he’ll need to defend well, be even better on the boards and be at least a net positive on offense.