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Lost and found with Dillon Brooks

When you both find and lose yourself in the same season? That’s one hell of a rookie campaign.

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Surely Dillon Brooks is lost.

Lined up next to former first round picks, future superstars of the NBA on the floor at the 2018 Rising Stars Challenge? It’s crazy. Dillon is the only 2nd round pick present, a testament to the work and effort put in over the span of a rookie season that hasn’t gone according to plan in a variety of ways. Even for someone as confident as Dillon Brooks, whose game is further along in his mind than it is in his body (as he should), he couldn’t have imagined he would be on this stage.

No Lonzo Ball.

No Markelle Fultz.

In fact, 44 players were selected ahead of Dillon on draft night just eight months ago. Eight of them participated in the Rising Stars challenge. Is it possible that a healthy Fultz or Ball pushes out Brooks? Of course. But sometimes the greatest ability is availability. In fact, the nine players from this draft class who participated in the Rising Stars game are also the top nine rookies in minutes played. On this list, Dillon is 5th.

In Los Angeles, where only the brightest stars stand out, Dillon Brooks found himself alongside the future of the NBA. And in that moment, he belonged.

2018 Mountain Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Game Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Dillon Brooks has struggled to find his touch.

It is after the final game before the All-Star break, another loss for the Memphis Grizzlies. Brooks shoots 6-15 from the field, finishing up a five-game stretch in which he shot 22-58 total, 37.9%. This is well below his 45.2% overall shooting percentage over the course of the entire campaign - good for 4th among all rookies who have attempted at least 400 shots. Another sign of struggle is his 5-18 or 27.7% from beyond the arc over those five games compared to 37.4% from three all season long (which places him 3rd among rookies with at least 150 threes attempted). A slump is not uncommon for a first year player to go through, but Dillon’s issues directly connect to problems for the Memphis Grizzlies.

That’s something than he surely didn’t expect to happen so soon, even with his unshakable confidence.

Combine those issues with the fact that he took more shots than Marc Gasol in two of those five games, and either led the Grizzlies or was 2nd in three point shots attempted in three of those contests? The struggles of this season start to come in to full view. Dillon Brooks wasn’t supposed to be depended on to be so much for this team. He was supposed to be a player that the Grizzlies could develop, a wing that could score and maybe get some run with the big squad but surely would not be a major rotation player.

56 games played (tied for 5th among NBA rookies) and 1,576 minutes (5th among NBA rookies and 2nd on the Grizzlies) later, we find ourselves in a very different reality than that. He isn’t being developed as a prospect. He’s growing far outside of his supposedly ideal role. Instead of a project he is a starter on a pretty bad basketball team, eating minutes on the wing for a Grizzlies roster decimated by injury throughout the year.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Chandler Parsons was supposed to be the starting small forward this season, swinging his ratchet as a third scorer. It wasn’t supposed to be Dillon Brooks.

Wayne Selden Jr. and Ben McLemore were supposed to be taking on more minutes on a Grizzlies team that was supposed to be better than this. They weren’t supposed to play 621 less combined minutes than Dillon Brooks.

So when you see how low the advanced numbers are for Dillon Brooks, please forgive him. He is indeed 7th on the Grizzlies in win shares per 48 minutes among the 8 players who have played at least 900 minutes for Memphis (only Mario Chalmers has a lower one). His 8.5 PER is the worst among those players...yes, even worse than Rio. His net rating of -11 is 7th among those 8 key Grizzlies in terms of minutes (again just ahead of Chalmers), and his 112 defensive rating is worst among that crew that includes Gasol (1st in minutes), Brooks (2nd), Evans, Chalmers, Andrew Harrison, Jarell Martin, James Ennis III, and JaMychal Green.

Rising star? Those numbers make him sound like a draft day dud.

Imagine, though, what this Grizzlies team would look like if, say, Deyonta Davis played 1,000 more minutes than he has, with the vast majority of them coming as a starter instead of as a reserve, with no Mike Conley or Chandler Parsons to help. Would Deyonta’s impact be as strong? Would he have the staggering numbers that he has (2nd in win shares per 48 minutes and offensive rating) if he was performing against the very best in the NBA night after night?

Probably not.

Yet that is what is asked of Dillon Brooks, the 45th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. Paul George two games in a row? Go get em’ kid. Three starts in four nights, playing about 32.3 minutes per game in those contests? Step up to the plate, sport. No player on this roster has been as impacted by the injury issues and outright missteps of the front office as Brooks.

So when grading him, do so on a curve. Memphis would be even more lost without him.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in this disastrous season for the Memphis Grizzlies is just how well Dillon has found a fit with this roster.

Damyean Dotson, who has played in a little over 225 minutes for the Knicks this season, was taken immediately before him. Same with Thomas Bryant (25 minutes played), and those taken after him (Sterling Brown at 464 minutes, Sindarius Thornwell at 637) have not been asked to take on this massive amount of minutes. Thornwell and Brown (especially Thornwell) have comparable shooting numbers to Brooks, but who is to say they would respond to the larger role or adversity of the Grizzlies season as well as Brooks?

For it was Brooks who was the 2017 Pac-12 Player of the Year (Thornwell, in all fairness, was the SEC Player of the Year himself). It was Dillon who was a 2017 consensus second-team All-American and a 2016 third-team All-American for the Sporting News. It was Dillon who was a two-time an All-Pac-12 1st team selection, who was named to the All-Freshman team in 2015. Brooks, in a group of experienced and skilled players, was the one most battle tested.

It is paying off.

Sometimes NBA teams get too cute. They draft strictly for “potential”, skipping over a known commodity in the hopes of hitting a late home run in the second round. It’s how players like Draymond Green and Malcolm Brogdon become available later than they probably should in the draft process. Heading in to the home stretch of this season, it appears that the Memphis Grizzlies have selected this season’s Green or Brogdon. He won’t get that level of attention, and may never be the type of player to be a Rookie of the Year or All-NBA type.

Memphis doesn’t need him to be. They need him to be confident during tough times. They need him to be present when so many others are absent. They need for him to rise to what he knows he is, not what others thought he might be.

For a team in the Grizzlies that has lost so much, it is nice to be thankful for what they have found in Dillon Brooks.

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