Grizzlies Roster Study: Dillon Brooks Deep Dive

Ahhh, good ole Dillon the Villain. The Grizzly that fans love to hate. He can rip your heart out one game, and demand your total allegiance the next — one jump shot at a time. Let’s take a deep dive into the game of Dillon Brooks with the goal of finding out what kind of a player he really is.

A little background

The second-round draft pick from the summer of 2017 has seen a lot of playing time during these last few years of rebuilding in Memphis. During his rookie campaign, he played in all 82 games and started in 74 of them. Also in that season, he posted stat lines of 11 points and 3 rebounds per game while playing a shade under 29 minutes a night. He attempted 3.2 threes per game and hit 1.1, which is a clip of 35%.

As a rookie, Brooks stepped up and helped shoulder some of the scoring load that Mike Conley left behind after he was forced to undergo ankle surgery that ended his season.

Last year, Dillon was sidelined with an injury sustained at home against Philadelphia. He was in the midst of breaking out of his sophomore slump but then was forced to miss the rest of the season, so that year remains a vast unknown. 

Oh yeah, we did have the classic Brooks-Brooks trade debacle. Those were good times.

Fast forward to 2019, the year where Brooks earned many nicknames. Dillon the Villain, Good Dillon, Bad Dillon – these are just a few of his many personalities that we saw take the floor.

The Grizzlies’ starting shooting guard is the most polarizing player on their roster. He can have a remarkably positive impact one night (“good Dillon”) and then hoist up a ton of contested bricks the following night (“bad Dillon”). As Brooks goes, so go the Grizzlies. 

He contributed three or more triples on twenty-six occasions over the course of the 2019-20 season. On the flip side, he also converted from deep at a 33% or worse rate in 41 of his 73 appearances. As any educated Dillon Brooks apologists knows, in the 26 games where DB scored twenty or more points, the Grizzlies emerged as winners in twenty of the contests.

That is the short version of Brooks’ season and his relationship to the Grizzlies. Let’s take a little deeper dive and decipher what he really means to this team and how he ranks against his peers across the league.

How does he impact his teammates?

Out of the six guys that Dillon played the most minutes with, only Kyle Anderson scored more points per 100 with Dillon than without him. The other five (Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas, and Jae Crowder) all scored less with Brooks on the court. 

So many times this season, Brooks served as a ball-stopper in the offense, choosing to take contested drives into triple coverage before jacking up an ill-advised jumper.

However, point guard Ja Morant averaged 2.1 more assists per 100 possessions with Brooks on the court than he did with Brooks on the bench. Outside of Dillon, the only player on the Grizzlies who Morant earned more assists from was center Jonas Valanciunas.

As an overall team, the story is discouraging. With Dillon on the court, the Grizzlies had a net rating of minus -1.36 and with him off the court it was plus -.20.

It’s not a great sign when a team plays better without one of their highest usage players on the court.

Where does Dillon rank among his peers in the league?

I wanted to analyze Dillon by viewing him through the lense of comparable guys from an impact standpoint. I narrowed my search parameters to shooting guards who have played 40 or more games and average 15 or more minutes per game. Let’s call this category, the “High Impact Shooting Guards” category. There are 76 players who meet this criteria.

  • Among qualifying players, Brooks ranks 52nd in PER with 11.3. For reference, the league average for PER is set at 16. In this stat he ranks behind guys like Troy Brown, Tyler Herro, Coby While, and Kevin Huerter.
  • In addition, Dillon was 14th in usage rate with these qualifying parameters at 25.2% – right below CJ McCollum and right above Jrue Holiday, Coby White, and Kendrick Nunn
  • He ranked 52nd with an assist rate of 10.5%.
  • Brooks was 25th in points per game with 16.2, one bucket shy of Lou Williams, Evan Fournier, and Caris LeVert.
  • Dillon tied for 24th in 3PM and tied for 26th in 3PA. He makes two threes per game, which is on par with seven other shooting guards who have 40+ appearances and average 15+ minutes.

The tale of the tape shows that on the offensive side of the ball, Dillon ranks below average in many ways compared to other players in the league with similar workload. 

However, for his usage rate, he put up counting numbers similar to those in his category and usage range.

While he averaged 16.2 points per game, the 5 players who averaged a usage rate directly above or below his, scored 17.08 points per game. This group, consisting of CJ MCCollum, Jordan Clarkson, Jrue Holiday, Kendrick Nunn, and Coby White, averaged 2 or more three point makes per game, on 35.9% three point shooting. Brooks’ numbers are eerily similar with two makes on 35.8% three point shooting. But if we look closer at his shooting numbers, we can see that the area Dillon really struggles from is from inside the arc, where he shot 43.8% compared to the rest of his usage comrades’ 49.8%. The largest cause of this dip is the ridiculous variety of two point shots that he takes in triple coverage. This lack of discipline is the source of his biggest criticism. 

Shot chart courtesy of PBPstats

Brooks’ shot chart from this season shows that he takes shots from all over the floor. This is in direct opposition of Taylor Jenkins strategy for the team, which is to take shots either at the rim or uncontested from three. His 53% shooting percentage at the rim is insufficient. 

His poor shot selection helped him notch 102.6 points per 100 shot attempts, which is in the 24th percentile among all wings, according to Cleaning The Glass. 

Dillon could help himself out tremendously by learning to pass a little more, and hopefully earning himself better driving lanes instead of putting his head down like a bull on each move to the goal. This season he only ranked in the 15th percentile in assist to usage rate among all wings. Since he is not a threat to dish off the drive, all an opposing defense needs to do is collapse multiple men on him and force him to heave up a contested jumper – essentially forcing a turnover.

Is Dillon a good shooter?

We’ve touched on Brooks’ shot selection a bit, and how that is the main factor in whether he has a successful night or a stinker of a game.

Dillon is best utilized as a catch and shoot guy. This season, he attempted the majority of his shots before putting the ball on the floor. A third of his shots on the season were after zero dribbles, and on those shots he had an eFG% of 55%. His next highest shot volume came after 3-6 dribbles (23% of total shots) and on these, his eFG% dropped all the way to 40%. 

From beyond the three point line, he shot 38% on catch and shoot attempts, which is middling for guards in the NBA. When he decides to go off the dribble, he opens himself up to a multitude of challenging scenarios that expose his limitations. For example, when he pulls up off the dribble, his three point percentage drops drastically to 31% — as opposed to the 38% he shoots on catch and shoot threes.

Another way to gauge his shooting success is through the lens of time. The longer that Brooks holds onto the ball, the less chance that he will make the shot. On shots that come less than two seconds after first touch, he earned an eFG% of 56%. This is in stark contrast to his numbers in the 2-6 seconds and 6+ seconds after the first touch categories — which tally up to 43 and 36 percent respectively.

In the bubble, these tendencies were visible on an exponential scale. Overall, he shot a grim 28% from beyond the arc. Of the 53 three point attempts that Brooks attempted in Orlando, 40 were catch and shoot. Out of these 40, he hit 15, or 37.5%, right at his season average. One thing to note is that he did not hit a single pull up three. He also did not hit any threes where he shot after holding onto the ball for two or more seconds.

If Dillon isn’t scoring, is he at least playing good defense?

No one can say that Dillon doesn’t come to play each night. He may come to play with an over-inflated opinion of himself, but he shows up and always makes it his personal mission to give hell to whoever he is guarding.

On this side of the ball, Brooks ranks 15th among the guys in his “High Impact Shooting Guard” category with a defensive rating of 113. He also was 17th in blocks per game and 27th in steals per game. To be fair, Dillon was given the hardest defensive assignment on many occasions. For example: in the NBA bubble, he was selected to move over to guard Damian Lillard in favor of hiding Ja Morant on the slightly less explosive — but still a Grizz killer — CJ McCollum.

On many nights, Brooks rose to the occasion during the season and played tough defense on some of the league’s most potent scorers, including James Harden

Dillon Brooks was one of the toughest defenders on one of the league’s best scorers

For the year, Dillon ranked 7th in the NBA in Defensive Real Plus-Minus among all shooting guards according to ESPN. Among all guards, he was 29th in total Defensive Wins, per NBA.com. He isn’t the type of guy to stuff the stat sheet on defense and only earned average marks in steal and block rates. Rebounding is not his strong suit either as he ranked near the bottom of the Grizzlies roster in DREB% with 7.6%

Though he can stifle opposing iso-players well and force them to take tough shots, he is very prone to fouling. Often he gets sucked in by pump fakes, which is why he led the Grizzlies in both fouls committed and shooting fouls committed. His aggressiveness is visible on both ends of the floor, and when not harnessed properly, it can be a huge liability. 

Wrapping it up

So, what’s the verdict?

Dillon Brooks has a very distinct set of valuable skills. He is most effective in catch and shoot scenarios and plays tough defense. Sounds like the 3-and-D wing that any team would want on their roster, right? Not quite. When Brooks decides to try and take defenders off the dribble, he becomes a ball stopper on offense and loses most of his effectiveness. His usage rate is far too high for someone of his capabilities. 

If the Memphis front office can find a way to bring in a bonafide third star to play alongside Ja and Jaren, that should definitely be the move. No questions asked. They should not hesitate to include Dillon Brooks in a trade to upgrade the roster. However, if the new head coach Taylor Jenkins can step up to the challenge of harnessing Dillon’s energy and aggressiveness, Brooks could become a viable 4th or 5th option for a playoff team. 

As things stand today, there are plenty of guys that play in the NBA who would be an upgrade over Dillon Brooks. They just happen to mostly be on other teams’ rosters. Memphis should certainly try and add one of those guys to their fold ASAP. However, moves like that are easier said than done. 

Until that day happens, Dillon will have to do.

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