The Aaron Brooks who played Wednesday night against the Warriors? That was him. That was the veteran point guard the Kings signed last summer following his one-year adventure in China.
Busting downcourt for layups. Sprinting into the lane and finding cutters. Converting deep three-pointers and capitalizing in transition.
"With his speed, he should be flying all over the place," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "He dictates how we play. Moving forward, he's got to keep playing like that."
Brooks, 27, was supposed to be the bridge between now and whenever Geoff Petrie finally acquires the facilitating guard his club hasn't had since Doug Christie was traded to Orlando in January 2005. Even by my lousy math, it's been almost eight years since Kings shooters and post players enjoyed the benefits of a floor leader who understands the nuances of delivering passes to players in their preferred positions on the floor, and who has the court awareness and stature to command his audience.
Until that person arrives, the Kings need a few encores from Brooks.
In his best game of the season, Brooks used his speed to push the pace, penetrated and found teammates, sprinted past Stephen Curry for driving layups, and converted 9 of 12 field-goal attempts, including a crucial three-pointer late in the game.
"Aaron is one of the five fastest guards in the league," said Chuck Hayes, Brooks' teammate during their seasons with the Rockets. "I have seen him do things that are just incredible."
Except for a brief sighting in the opening weeks, that was something from the past. That was in Houston. That was before Brooks suffered a series of injuries that prompted a trade to Phoenix that stuck him behind future Hall of Famer Steve Nash and convinced him to spend the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with the Guangdong Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.
Petrie always has coveted Brooks, and positive reports about Brooks' effectiveness overseas led to a two-year, $6.5 million offer, with the former Oregon standout retaining the option on the second season.
Signing Brooks came with complications. The Kings gained experience but further crowded a backcourt dominated by undersized scoring guards. Diminutive Isaiah Thomas appears increasingly intent on creating his own shot. Jimmer Fredette is emerging as an effective deep shooter who can score off runners and floaters, but his ballhandling occasionally gets him in trouble and his defense needs work. Marcus Thornton is an explosive, streaky scorer, period.
But back to Brooks, who has been surprisingly erratic throughout these disappointing early weeks of the season. His ballhandling has been shaky. He often seems reluctant to trigger fast breaks, instead dribbling downcourt cautiously, forcing the Kings into a halfcourt offense and exacerbating their worst (one-on-one) tendencies.
Smart suggests Brooks is suffering from a protracted case of jet lag and only half-jokingly is urging the five-year veteran to remove his hiking boots, put on the track shoes, and race back from the "Great Wall."
"When you go overseas, your feel for the NBA game is different," said Smart. "When I played in France, I trained like I was coming back here. Aaron went over there and just played. He averaged 25 points. Life was good. But the mentality to push the pace is not there. I told him, 'You're a rookie again. You need to get here early before practice, stay late after practice.' "
Brooks doesn't disagree.
Asked about his reluctance to turn on the afterburners, Brooks shook his head.
"It's weird," he said. "I guess I feel that if I speed up, I'll make mistakes, and I don't want to make mistakes. This is new to me. I really haven't played in the NBA for three years, so getting my body right and coordinating everything that's probably why I have been so cautious and haven't run so much."
Regardless of the reasons, the sluggish pace and overabundance of isolation plays are crippling the Kings, resulting in grumbling about minutes, in loss after loss, in a lackluster product.
"It starts with Aaron," Smart said. "I keep telling him that. Maybe the Warriors game will get him going."