The majority of the elite role players in today’s NBA are great defenders. Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Khris Middleton, Marcus Smart, Joe Ingles and Robert Covington are just some of the names that come to mind that fit this mold. Even the past of “elite role players” starred on the defensive end as well — Tony Allen, Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest (Metta World Peace, for the young fans out there), Ben Wallace, and Raja Bell.
Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies threw Dillon Brooks into the fire on the defensive side of the ball. He was tasked with guarding many of the league’s elite perimeter players — James Harden, Klay Thompson, Paul George, CJ McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to name a few. This was a difficult assignment for anyone, yet alone a second-round rookie. It leads many to ask what kind of defender Dillon Brooks could become. It could also pose the question of how good he could become on that end of the floor.
If you say he’s going to be another Tony Allen, that might be a bit of a reach. Heck, it may not be wise to categorize him as a potential All-Defense team member. His wingspan (6’6”) and lateral quickness limit him from being such a player.
However, it’s not so crazy to say he could be a solid defender in the league regardless.
Secondary Defensive Stopper
Next season, Dillon Brooks won’t be tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player, as Kyle Anderson will probably serve in that role. However, having Brooks isn’t necessarily a bad second fiddle defensively.
Plenty of teams in the Western Conference have at least two perimeter threats — Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Utah, Denver, Los Angeles, to name a few. Having Anderson and Brooks guard the opposition’s two primary perimeter players is the team’s best defensive strategy on the wings.
In addition, if the Grizzlies move Brooks with the second unit, they have a stopper for the opposing sixth man — a luxury for many teams. Doing this would be a fine move, but it’d be a lot of responsibility for him, as the team would likely rely on him being the team’s primary offensive weapon as well.
If there’s any comparison for Brooks in this role, it’s Danny Green, who serves as a secondary stopper next to Kawhi Leonard. Utilizing Brooks in this role could help the Grizzlies reclaim their spot as one of the league’s elite defensive teams.
How many players go from guarding Donovan Mitchell to Paul George? CJ McCollum to Giannis Antetokounmpo? De’Aaron Fox to Klay Thompson?
Because of Brooks’ defensive experience last season, the Grizzlies groomed a starting-caliber wing that could guard multiple positions without being a liability. In the process, he did an admirable job, displaying gritty toughness and solid defensive instincts.
This decision also gives Memphis an intriguing element to their defense that could propel them closer to the modern NBA. It allows the Grizzlies to deploy a switch-everything defense, something that the GNG Memphis teams could never do.
It’s certainly a luxury the league’s elite defensive teams enjoy. Last year’s Houston team surrounded Harden and Chris Paul with switch-happy wings (Luc Mbah a Moute, Trevor Ariza and PJ Tucker) and a switchable center, Clint Capela. Between Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Jae Crowder, the Jazz have an army of elite defenders that could guard multiple positions. Boston surrounds Al Horford, one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in basketball, with the quartet of Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown.
Capitalizing on this luxury is a necessity for the Grizzlies, if they want to return to the playoffs. Between Brooks, Andrew Harrison, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple, the Grizzlies have an army of versatile defenders ready to switch on any and every screen thrown their way.
Grooming Dillon Brooks for these two purposes was an excellent decision for the Grizzlies. Brooks came into the league as a talented, versatile offensive prospect, but he wasn’t too highly-regarded defensively. However, he showed potential early, mainly with his job on CJ McCollum early last season. Though they threw him in the fire, he at least showed promise on the defensive end of the floor.
Brooks won't be another Grindfather, but he’ll be an excellent team defender for a Memphis team trying to revive and reinvent “Grit ‘n’ Grind.”