Versatility reigns supreme in today’s NBA.
Perimeter players are expected to play both wing positions, while being an asset from downtown and on the defensive end. If a big man can’t space the floor and switch onto multiple positions, he’ll be picking splinters out of his rear from the bench he’s stuck to for the rest of his career.
Many players over the past several years have made a career just off being versatile, multi-positional contributors.
Draymond Green’s ability to play and guard positions 1-5 has made him one of the most unique talents of this decade. Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala have become key cogs to contending teams off their versatility. Joe Ingles compensates his lack of explosiveness with surprisingly stellar defense and superb shooting. Khris Middleton’s versatility makes him the perfect sidekick next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. To a lesser extent, James Ennis has found a place in the NBA, because he can shoot 3’s at a decent clip and guard multiple positions.
It’s time to unleash Dillon Brooks in similar fashion.
I stressed at the beginning of the offseason that the Memphis Grizzlies needed versatility, and they’ve addressed it quite well thus far. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the most versatile big man in his draft class, possessing the potential to be a 40-percent 3-pointer shooter and the league leader in blocks. Free agent acquisition Kyle Anderson can play and guard positions 1-4. Even Garrett Temple can be a contributor at positions 1-3.
Of all the wing players though, Dillon Brooks is still the most intriguing, versatile weapon.
The analytics crowd will be saying “no way,” primarily because of Brooks’ weak advanced statistics and Kyle Anderson’s brilliant numbers.
However, the eye test fools no one.
For starters, he can play positions 2-4 without sacrificing too much speed or size. Unlike most 3-and-D wings Brooks puts pressure on defenders, as he’s aggressive and crafty attacking the basket. At the same time, he also has the potential to be a solid secondary playmaker and a 40-percent 3-point shooter. While he doesn’t have a crazy wingspan, his tenacity alone makes him a decent defender.
There are a variety of ways the Grizzlies can utilize Dillon Brooks next season and beyond. Because of Anderson’s arrival, Brooks will more than likely start at the 2. Whenever the team goes small, Brooks can slide over to the 3 — and maybe ... just maybe ... even the 4.
Last season, Dillon Brooks spent the bulk of his minutes at the 3 spot. However, with the addition of Kyle Anderson, he’ll probably slide to the 2, unless he’s his backup — which shouldn’t be a thing.
With the Grizzlies’ abundance of 4’s (Jackson — even though he’s a perfect modern 5 — and JaMychal Green) and combo forwards (Anderson, Chandler Parsons and Omri Casspi), Dillon Brooks will serve as either a 2 or a 3. He’s not a liability at either position, which is a total luxury.
Depending on the matchup, he could have a size advantage at the 2-spot without sacrificing much speed. At the 3, he could still be a defensive plus, as he won’t give up too much size.
In addition, while his stereotypical role is “3-and-D wing,” Brooks could bring so much to the table on the perimeter. In the starting lineup, he’ll probably serve as a spot-up shooter, a slasher and an occasional playmaker, as Conley, Anderson and Gasol are better playmakers than him. If he’s running with the second unit, he could even be their go-to scorer, a role he was forced into during the second half of the season.
Not many teams have a “3-and-D wing” that could slot into this many roles. If Brooks can step up and excel in these areas, he’ll quickly rise among the ranks of “3-and-D wings.”
The Small-Ball 4
Ah, the “small-ball 4” ... it’s become one of biggest fads in NBA front offices and for hipster NBA.
We’ve seen the trends help this team win championships. Draymond Green’s shift to the 4 — and eventually the 5 — launched him and the Warriors into a new stratosphere. Boris Diaw’s role as a “playmaking 4” was an underrated component of the Spurs’ last championship run. Shane Battier and LeBron James served in this capacity during the “Heatles” era.
Though he may not receive time here, Dillon Brooks would be a solid small-ball 4. He’s not necessarily a small or slow wing, which is a major key for this role. With his versatility and his skill-set, it’d just be an intriguing option for the Grizzlies.
You can slot him next to Jackson or Gasol, and either one would make an interesting pair with Brooks. Next to Jackson, the Grizzlies are in near prime position to run a “pace-and-space” offense — the same one that’s captivating the NBA. With Gasol, Brooks can slash past bigger 4’s, space the floor and play in the high post in a half-court offense.
In addition, the Grizzlies can use Brooks in an area where Draymond Green thrives: short rolls:
With Brooks at the 4, the Grizzlies can run these exact same sets. Brooks’ aggression attacking the basket, budding playmaking, and crafty mid-range game make him an enticing “short roll” option. Conley is an excellent pick-and-roll ball-handler that can find Brooks in the right spot in these situations — or just splash a 3 or attack the basket, if open. With Jackson or Gasol, you have two bigs that can either finish inside or space the floor for the corner 3.
In addition, putting Wayne Selden and Garrett Temple on the wings give Brooks solid outside shooters to kick out to. This scenario probably won’t happen, but the Grizzlies might be foolish to not test it at least.
The Memphis Grizzlies lacked versatility for a few years, and now with Dillon Brooks, they have a multi-dimensional threat that can serve in different capacities and open up new style possibilities.
Next week, I’ll break down his scoring and shooting and how it aligns with other “elite role players.”