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UNC Basketball Most Improved: Garrison Brooks

Able to play the four, Brooks showed just how much room his game had to grow.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tournament-North Carolina vs Virginia Tech Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If this were an awards show, Garrison Brooks would have worn out the path to the stage by now.

One of the reasons for optimism going into the 2019-20 season for Carolina was the potential for Garrison Brooks to elevate his game with Armando Bacot now able to hold down the middle. For the past two seasons, thanks to various injuries and personnel issues, Brooks had been stuck playing the five, which was not his natural slot. Thanks to players like Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson, Brooks also wasn’t expected to carry much of a scoring load down low.

This season was completely different.

A quick peek at Brooks’ statistics shows you just how dramatic the change was. Last season, Brooks played about 24 minutes a game, averaged only about eight points, and ticked his rebounds up from his freshman season by one. This season, with the wholesale changes and inexperience on the floor, the burden fell on Brooks to take a much more active role. He responded to the tune of 35 minutes a game, 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and even showed range by hitting a few three-pointers, his first of his career.

The numbers don’t explain the whole story of his improvement, though. In his first two seasons, Brooks shared the court with such personalities as Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, and Luke Maye. They had experienced difficult stretches, had won, and shouldered the burden to lift the team up when it was needed. That role this year was supposed to go to Brandon Robinson, the problem is that the senior was hurt too often to be able to be the leader on the floor that was needed. Somewhere along the way, Brooks realized he had to step up if the team had any chance of success.

One place where this shows up is at the free throw line. Brooks only attempted 83 free throws last season. This year, despite playing in fewer games, Brooks attempted 166. Even with the higher minutes load, having the free throws attempts double demonstrates the aggressiveness that Brooks added to his game, as well as extending his range that forced players smaller than him to resort to fouling in order to stop him. That he was able to keep shooting at a 62% clip accounts for a lot of points Carolina needed in order to stay in games. His mid-range jumper became deadly, and there’s a real argument to be made that the team was too slow to adjust to feeding him the ball when the season started to crater.

The other area that Brooks doesn’t get enough credit for is his lack of fouling. in 2019, Brooks ended the season with 104 total fouls, and yet this season he only accumulated 76, despite the much heavier work load. All of this despite being consistently graded out as one of the better defenders on the team, which shows that his game grew on both ends of the court.

Increased workload while shooting at the same percentage, increased pressure on the opponent which forces them to foul more, and improving your defense while not becoming so foul prone that you hurt your team by sitting on the bench. Brooks’ game improved in so many facets to the point where he should be a big focus of the offense in 2020-21.

His improvement over last year was so obvious that despite being on a last place team, the ACC writers bestowed the award of Most Improved on him. The vote was close, but that he was able to win it despite the disappointment of this season just highlights how much his game has evolved.

The hits taken this year should make him that much better next season, and it’ll be a perspective that’ll sorely be needed with yet another massive turnover expected.