Let’s face it, one of the — if not the only — bright spots in the dark abyss of the Memphis Grizzlies’ last season was the emergence of Dillon Brooks, the plucky Canadian wing out of Oregon, who played all 82 games, started 74 of them, and averaged 11-3-2 shooting 36% from 3 with nearly 100 season makes. Brooks’ season performance is even more impressive when you consider that he was drafted in the 2nd round (45th pick) of the NBA Draft, the area in which an NBA team’s likelihood of drafting a rotation — if even relatively usable — NBA player is drastically decreased.
As recent media comments and Marc Gasol’s personal invite to Spain suggests, the team has crowned Brooks as the starting 2-guard of the future, and consequently, a question has dawned on the minds of analysts and fans: Brooks was better than we thought, sure, but is that good enough? After all, any seemingly impressive stats Brooks compiled were on a team that won a sordid 22 games, bad enough for the second-worst league win total in the 2017-2018 season. All this to query, is my guy Dilly Buckets a
good decent stats-bad team guy? There’s only one way to find out — join the CHIEF on a journey through Brooks’ career thus far and a few advanced stats along the way.
A Ducking Star in Oregon:
Brooks — born and raised in Ontario, Canada — decided to play his college ball in vibrant-ass neon Nike yellow for Dana Altman and the Oregon Ducks. Playing 109 games over three seasons, Brooks totaled averages of 14-5-3 shooting 47% from the field and 36% from 3 and was easily first-team all-OHHHHHH SHIT I LOVE THIS GUY!!! when I would periodically catch Oregon games watching late night college hoops. He was also the Ducks’ resident “gamer,” hitting numerous daggers on Super Tuesday high-profile match-ups. Here he is, for example, draining an off-the-dribble game winner against #2 UCLA (featuring #LakeShow golden-boy Lonzo Ball).
Brooks’ college tenure is important to note because we only have one NBA season on which to analyze Brooks’ career trajectory. The good news is Brooks’ Oregon career directly tracks his first NBA season, which bolsters the notion that last season wasn’t a fool’s-gold scenario. Brooks also boasted a gaudy 21.1 PER (for reference, DeMar DeRozan‘s last-season PER as well) and 13.1 win shares (if you care about those sorts of things) playing substantial minutes averaging 29 per game. Further, Brooks has always played his best ball when the lights shine the brightest, i.e., in the Big Dance. Watch him display his multi-tool skill set throughout single-elimination games against the country’s best college squads:
Rook on a Tanker:
When Brooks was drafted 45th in the 2017 NBA Draft, I remember turning to whoever I was watching with (likely the BROFESSOR), and remarking thusly: “oh man I LOVED this dude at Oregon. He’s a gamer.” This memory brings me to a relatively quick aside: one of my favorite things to do while watching the draft is comment on how much I loved a guy at [insert college] and how I think they’ll be good in the league. Even better if I can opine on one aspect of the player’s game I know about from the likely 20 minutes I watched of said player during the prior season. My method is terrific for two reasons. First, I seem like I know what I’m talking about and establish myself (perhaps falsely) as a college basketball savant. Now, I’m no slouch regarding college hoops. I watch more of the “greatest game” than most people I know, but I DAMN SURE don’t know all 60 players drafted every year and they’re respective strengths and weaknesses. Second, even if I end up dead wrong about a player prediction, no one can remember my comment well enough to call me out later. Feel free to use this ploy during the 2019 NBA Draft.
In Dillon Brooks’ case, I was fortunate enough to be generally correct (and I honestly did love him at Oregon). In his first career NBA game (and the team’s first game of the season), Brooks caught fire both on the court and in Grizz Nation’s hearts, erupting for 19 points, 5 boards, and 4 steals, and looking like a poor-man’s Kobe out there hitting turn-around fade-away jumpers. Again, playing all 82 games, Brooks averaged 11-3-2 shooting 36% from 3 with nearly 100 season makes. But what can #BlogBoys extrapolate from these numbers to reasonably predict future performance? Especially as his role increases and the team intends to win more games and make deep runs in the playoffs? Let’s examine two basic categories.
A good NBA team’s starting shooting guard should be able to, at minimum, do one thing offensively and do it well: sink open shots. Yes, we know Brooks shot 36% from 3 and 48% from the field — good averages from a rookie to be sure — but what does his advanced shot chart indicate?
- Brooks takes reasonably efficient shots, with 67% of his total shots coming either 0-3 feet within the goal OR from the perimeter. In other words, he focuses his offensive efforts on layups/dunks or threes. Rockets GM Daryl Morey would be proud.
- Brooks is a good to great perimeter threat on the catch-and-shoot, shooting 40.1% on his 27% threes that are taken without a dribble (usually on an assist after a drive-and-kick).
- Brooks looks for and capitalizes on quality looks. Over a third of his 3-attempts are open (defender 4-6 feet away) to wide open (defender 6+ feet away) and he aces those at a 37% average.
Couple his smart and efficient shooting with Brooks’ ability to score in droves in any given game and you’ve got yourself a solid wing player. His season-high 36 points in the finale against the Oklahoma City Thunder and his 29 point game against the Bulls when he dropped 20 in the fourth quarter alone are both indicators of a guy that can fill a scoring void when the rest of the team isn’t playing so hot. Brooks remains artful in the way he attacks the basket and has demonstrated an arsenal of hesi-dribble actions he uses to get to the the rim.
With these points in mind, smart Tunica money (and the statistics above) say that Brooks will play better when he doesn’t have to be “the guy” for the Grizz. Due to the entire team being injured/tanking their asses off last season, Brooks was, in his rookie season, somehow the 3rd best offensive option on the roster (after Marc and Tyreke). If/when he can be the beneficiary of healthy Mike Conley-Marc Gasol/JJJ pick and roll kick-outs to in-rhythm shots, I believe his percentages and PER will only increase.
Wins Championships Gets You to the WCF
Last season, Brooks played the majority of this minutes at the “3” spot, which slotted him to defend most of the best and most proficient scorers in the league: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard (before the injury), Klay Thompson, Paul George, and DeMar DeRozan, etc. As a result, Brooks ended the season a tick below the average defensive metric, but the eye-test good defender is all there. What Brooks lacks in basic athleticism, he makes up for in tenacity and effort. All it takes is league-wide (and referee) recognition that you’re a “defense guy” and all of those little jersey-tugs and hip-checks fighting through screens start to go your way a la Tony Allen.
Further, with the off-season addition of Kyle Anderson, Brooks should see his position shift permanently to the shooting guard spot, where his 6-6 frame will be more appropriately sized in defensive match-ups. His height also allows him to easily switch defending the PnR, an intriguing possibility when 6-9 Kyle Anderson and 6-11 Jaren Jackson, Jr. (themselves quite switchable) round out the 3-4 on the floor with former DPOY Marc Gasol anchoring the paint. Teams will be hard-pressed to force favorable defensive assignments using the pick-and-roll, as there may just be no such thing when facing this particular Grizzlies lineup.
Brooks has also displayed some level of proficiency at baiting players and/or playing the requisite mind games often present in the long NBA season. Take, for example, a late season game against the New York Knicks in which Brooks baited Courtney Lee into a technical during a DANG JUMP BALL — a particularly impressive feat when you consider that dead ball situations are theoretically when everyone is at their most zen.
Courtney Lee technical foul and aftermath. Knicks lose 105-99 at Memphis. pic.twitter.com/f3k18pEVIe
— Kevin Knox ROY, Don't @ ME (@KnicksFanTv) January 18, 2018
I talked w/ Derrick Stafford about Lee tech: "As we were lining up to do a jump ball, Lee bumped (Brooks). I stepped out of the circle and warned both guys to knock it off. After that, Lee used what I consider unappropriate language toward (Brooks), so I called a technical foul."
— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) January 18, 2018
This is just as the technical foul was called on Courtney Lee. Dillon Brooks looks like the little brother who got his older brother in trouble. pic.twitter.com/WzdD5yB95O
— Frank Isola (@TheFrankIsola) January 18, 2018
Like Worm-tongue in Lord of the Rings to the King of Rohan, Brooks’ conniving whispers in Lee’s ear caused Lee to lose his cool (and ultimately cost the Knicks the game). Brooks’ snide face and calm-as-a-Hindu-cow demeanor post-carnage indicates that he knew exactly what he was doing and obtained his desired result. Look for an article entitled “Dillon Brooks is a Slytherin” coming soon. TBH, this team could use a few more serpents (good snakes, not KD snakes), so I won’t discredit this facet of his personality.
In Conclusion, Your Honor:
In the NBA and given the importance of cap space on the books, Brooks’ salary situation stacks up as such:
To have your starting 2-guard on salary for about 1.5MM a season is outrageously cheap, especially when you consider similar statistical players, a Courtney Lee for instance, make about 11MM. Stir in the fact that Brooks is only 22 years old, hopefully leaving him with at least eight more years of prime basketball, and there’s not much to dislike. In the grind of the NBA season, a player that can soak up minutes in a net-positive on the floor for 82 games has become as rarely sighted as Bigfoot. All things considered, Dilly Buckets should be a valuable member of the Grizzlies’ roster going forward, and I truly don’t believe last season was a red herring. Don’t forget, he’s also good with the kiddos too:
[banner image: USA Today]