Corey Brewer is rumored to be making a return to Houston. Is there any truth to this rumor, or is it all conspiracy? Here are the unsubtle clues we have so far, and how Brewer could fit in with the Rockets.
The news of Nene re-signing with Houston was paired with some unexpected news from Rockets insider Alykhan Bijani on Twitter: another familiar face will apparently be returning to the Rockets. Naturally, this put fans into a spin trying to figure out who the player might be. Joe Johnson, Ryan Anderson, Kenneth Faried, Terrence Jones and Luc Mbah A Moute have been some of the names theorized, but Corey Brewer is the name gaining the most traction.
General Manager Daryl Morey added some fuel to the fire by posting a happy selfie with Brewer on Instagram. If Bijani is correct in saying an old face will make a return to the Rockets this season, then it would make sense for it to be the guy Morey is joyfully posing with for a selfie and posting to Instagram, right?
If you’re assessing this just by the social media posts then it appears Brewer will be a Rocket for the upcoming season, but there’s obviously one more thing to consider: does this actually make any sense for the Rockets? Is there any logical reason to believe they would want or need Brewer?
Corey Brewer played 196 games in Houston between December 2014 and February 2017. He was initially acquired in a complicated three-team trade with Minnesota and Philadelphia in which Houston parted with Troy Daniels, and he was eventually traded with a first round draft pick to the Lakers for Lou Williams.
Brewer had moments of heroics and flirted with cult-hero status after his role in the iconic 3-1 playoff series comeback against the Clippers, but he was not a great fit next to James Harden due to his poor shooting and instinctive uptempo pace. Per basketball reference, he shot an appalling 27% from three-point range while receiving assists on 97.1% of his makes and often being found for wide open threes. Poor shooting does not fit with Harden, as we have learned over the past several years, and Houston is shooting a higher volume of threes now than ever before.
Why would Daryl Morey – a GM who lets analytics define his every move – want to bring back a guy who fits next to Harden so poorly from an analytical standpoint? The answer might be Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook and Brewer had a short stint together in Oklahoma at the end of the 2017-18 season; The Thunder signed Brewer late in the season to play in their final 18 regular season. OKC won 11 of 18 games with Brewer (and had five losses by four points or fewer) before losing 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs to the Jazz.
In a small sample size, he played some of the best basketball of his career as he averaged 10.1 points and shot 44.4% from the field and 34.3% from three on 3.7 attempts per game. He also contributed a tremendous 2.1 steals per game as a tough on and off ball defender on the wing.
Brewer’s reckless pace suits Westbrook’s play style as he can run with him in transition and create an advantage by outrunning the defense. Brewer can then flatten to the corner for a catch and shoot three – of which he converted 28/73 (38.4%) during his 24 total games with Westbrook per second spectrum stats – or cut to the basket for a dunk depending on the situation and the advantage.
Brewer played 28.6 minutes per game for OKC in the regular season and shared the court with Westbrook for 26.6 minutes per game. The team posted a solid +4.9 net rating in their shared minutes, which is especially impressive as 12 of their 18 games were against playoffs teams. By comparison, Harden and Brewer had a flat 0 net rating in 2015-16.
Houston needs more size and length on the wing defensively, so he would fit a need on that end of the floor against taller lineups. In his limited game time last year he showed scrappy defensive prowess, highlighted by a game against Houston while he was playing for Philly in which he gave Harden headaches in the backcourt; he finished as a +17 with 11 points, two steals and two blocks in 32 minutes.
Harden and Brewer may not not have complementary play styles, but limited minutes off the bench when Harden rests would mean Brewer can play with extremely high energy on both ends of the floor with Westbrook. It doesn’t mean he would necessarily play every game, but he would be injected in certain circumstances to provide a spark. Think of him as a defensive-minded version of Gerald Green, an x-factor in limited minutes.
Corey Brewer does not appear to be a perfect fit for Houston on the surface, but, as always, trust in the front office and the analytical scholars who make these decisions. Houston wouldn’t add him if they didn’t think he could play a role on the team, and the idea of playing him on the wing with Westbrook certainly has some merit.
Watch this space, because if it’s not Brewer it could be someone else coming back to H-Town.