In his first two seasons with the Cincinnati Bearcats, Nysier Brooks scored in double digits just once. He did so on Nov. 23, 2016 against Samford when he netted 10 points exactly. With so few offensive outbursts, his career scoring average sat at just 2.5 points per game entering the 2018-19 season.
Of course, it would be folly to ignore the fact that during those first two seasons, an all-time Bearcat great by the name of Gary Clark and another vastly talented frontcourt performer named Kyle Washington held down the starting posts. Brooks was firmly entrenched in a reserve role, meaning he was asked to rebound and defend more than find his offense. He attacked both mandates and succeeded, giving Mick Cronin an excellent player to put in and defend the paint and clean the glass.
However, Brooks’ role was always destined to change. Clark and Washington both said goodbye to UC last spring and that meant Brooks’ time had come. The question was, could he add a more productive offensive profile to his already advanced skills on defense?
I am happy to report that the answer is a resounding yes.
After matching a career-high 17 points against the UConn Huskies on Saturday, Brooks has now reached double figures seven times this season, including four times in the last six games. The 6’11” center isn’t just putting up a ton of shots and lucking into larger point totals either. He is sticking to his strengths by fighting for looks on the inside and finishing rim-running plays off the pick and roll. He has also taken advantage of mistakes from opponents when they double-team more proven scorers like Jarron Cumberland and Keith Williams, leaving Brooks open to slam home two points.
With a true shooting rate of 63.5 percent and an equally impressive 61.6 effective field goal percentage, Brooks is playing an exceptionally efficient offensive game around the rim. Since most of his looks are from in close, it also helps that he has improved his free-throw shooting by a full 10 percent from last season. Powered by that effective shooting, his PER has shot up to a career-best 23.0 and that has not let up much at all in conference play (22.4). For a player who has produced most of his value on defense, Brooks is now making a positive impact on both ends of the floor. In fact, he has been worth more offensive win shares (1.2) than defensive (1.0) this season. In addition, after being a below average offensive player as a freshman and sophomore, he is now playing at a much higher level, evidenced by his 126.8 offensive rating. For reference, a mark of 100.0 is exactly average and Brooks had marks of 99.2 and 98.9, respectively, in the last two seasons.
What has been most encouraging about Brooks’ offensive development has been his growing confidence. He could resign himself to cleaning up after misses and making wide open dunks, allowing the rest of the scorers to do most of the heavy lifting. That certainly still happens, and the offense is never going to entirely run through Brooks, but he is also demanding the ball and creating for himself on the block more often, such as he did in this play against UConn.
Brooks backs down his defender and calls for a feed from Williams on the wing. After receiving the pass, Brooks reads how his defender is playing him, backs him down toward the middle of the paint and then uses a pump fake to get two defenders in the air before finishing the hook shot over their outstretched limbs with his left hand. It’s a highlight that might not make top 10 lists, but it is illustrative of Brooks’ improvement as an offensive contributor.
With an expanded toolbox on offense, Brooks has become a vastly better player and one who is even more vitally important to UC’s success. His defensive work is as top notch as it’s always been. A career-high 9.7 percent block rate and 90.2 defensive rating shows that he’s still not to be trifled with down low. He is also producing personal bests on the glass, both on offense (11.8 percent rebound rate) and defense (18.6 percent rebound rate), and has a pair of double-doubles on the campaign. When you add the ability to make a positive difference on offense to that kind of production, you have a really special player. Brooks has made just such an addition to his game and its made all the difference for the Bearcats.