Offseason evaluation: Pierre Brooks bided his time, could see major minutes bump at Michigan State

Note: This is the first in a series of stories evaluating returning players on Michigan State’s 2022-23 roster.

EAST LANSING – Last year, Pierre Brooks went through one of the most difficult adjustments that any young basketball player has to go through:

As a high school senior in 2020-21, Brooks averaged 33.1 points per game, won a state title and took home Michigan’s Mr. Basketball award for Detroit Douglass.

As a college freshman in 2021-22, he averaged less than one point per game and saw the fewest minutes of any scholarship Michigan State player.

That stark transition would be difficult for any player to make. Yet by all accounts, Brooks adjusted and made the most out of a year spent mostly behind the scenes to set himself up for a potentially significantly larger role as a sophomore.

THE BASICS: Brooks saw action in 25 games, averaging 0.9 points in 3.7 minutes per game. He shot 6-for-20 from the field (30 percent), 2-for-11 (18.2 percent) from 3-point range and 9-for-13 from the free-throw line (69.2 percent.)

QUOTE OF NOTES: “He’s got some things to improve on, he’s got to get in the best shape of his life, but going into Christmas, we had a talk with him and his family, because I didn’t think it was that way. Since that, I think he’s done a phenomenal job and he’s improved.” – Tom Izzo on Brooks, Feb. 17

BEST PERFORMANCE OF 2021-22: Brooks got just four possessions in the Spartans’ November game against Connecticut, but he made the most of them, hitting a jumper and a 3-pointer. He recorded a turnover, too, in those four possessions, but his five points from him were still a season-high. And that was no garbage time: Michigan State played close throughout with the Huskies and needed those five points to come up with one of its biggest wins of the season.

THE GOOD: Brooks’ role overall trended in the right direction, to the point where coaches were trying to find more minutes for him late in the year and had him taking first-half shifts in many games. It may not have been apparent to the outside world, but Brooks returned from Christmas break with renewed energy and showed improvement throughout the second half of the season on the practice court, according to Izzo, even if his minute total did not reflect that.

In modern college basketball, a player remaining engaged despite a limited on-court role, then sticking around for another season at the same school is becoming rarer and rarer. So count the fact that Brooks is in line to play a sophomore season at Michigan State, too, as a win.

THE BAD: Brooks arrived a little late last summer due to his high school schedule and needed to change his body to be ready for college basketball. That made earning a rotation spot an uphill battle from the start.

And while all of his freshman numbers should be viewed with some skepticism, considering the sample size, Brooks’ shooting numbers have room to improve if he’s going to spend significantly more time on the court next year.

THE ODD: There wasn’t too much odd about Brooks’ first year, so we’ll offer this: he is only the fifth player to wear the number 1 in Michigan State history. The others: Marcus Taylor (2000-02), walk-on Brandon Darnton (2006-07), Kalin Lucas (2007-11) and Joshua Langford (2016-21).

REASONED PERSPECTIVE: It’s hard to evaluate what we saw of Brooks in his limited time as a freshman. But that shouldn’t be seen as a sign of limited potential: he came to campus late needing to work on his body and adjust to the college game with a lot of talented and experienced players on the wing ahead of him.

Izzo will bring up the likes of Draymond Green (11.4 minutes per game as a freshman) and Xavier Tillman (8.7 minutes) to show that players can go from a limited role as a freshman to a large one in subsequent seasons, then make it to the NBA. Brooks started with an even smaller role than either of those two, but there’s no reason to think he can’t take major steps in the next few seasons just like they did.

ASSESS AND GUESS IN 2022-23: There are still some moving parts with Michigan State’s playing rotation, but here’s betting that when it settles Brooks is in the first wave of subs coming off the bench.

Jaden Akins is first in line among the reserve wings to move into the starting lineup and seems likely to do so after Gabe Brown’s departure. Whether another starter spot opens up depends on in part whether or not Max Christie returns next season. Yet even if he doesn’t, Michigan State could either land a transfer or slide Malik Hall from his power forward spot to the perimeter.

But either way, going from out of the playing rotation to one of the first wings off the bench would mark a significant increase in minutes in Brooks’ second season.

Brooks’ size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) in particular could be an asset: he’s slated to be the largest of Michigan State’s wings (not counting Hall for now) in a group that looks like it’ll be getting smaller if Brown and potentially Christie leave. If he’s able to be a strong defender on oversized opposing guards, Brooks could make himself an even more valuable member of the rotation.

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