There was a time not so long ago when Dillon Brooks was thought to be the face of the next generation of Memphis Grizzlies. As a rookie, he was the lone bright spot during the Grizzlies’ hellish 2017-18 season, averaging 11.0 points on 44% shooting and 36% shooting from three. He showcased an ability to score from all three levels and displayed impressive “3 and D” potential.
Even our own Parker Fleming would go on to write a six-part series on Brooks and compare him to Khris Middleton, who epitomizes a star “3 and D” player!
Brooks was supposed to be the beginning, a first step to building the next era for the Memphis Grizzlies. He was never going to be a franchise centerpiece. But he could have been a fine complement to the next great Grizzlies core, the Chewbacca to the next Han and Luke.
Of course, becoming an elite role player is still a possibility for Brooks. After last season, however, that possibility no longer seems nearly as likely.
To be sure, Brooks took a step back and hit a sophomore slump in the 18 games he played before a ruptured toe ligament ended his season. His numbers fell across the board as he strangely appeared less comfortable playing at NBA speed than he did during his rookie year.
Now this can’t be entirely attributed to mere regression. Former head coach J.B Bickerstaff inexplicably seemed to have absolutely no clue how to use Brooks even though he served as the interim head coach throughout most of his rookie season (this honestly shouldn’t be a surprise since I’m pretty positive that Bickerstaff would lose his clipboard at halftime of some games). His minutes fell from from 28 minutes per game as a rookie to just under 18 last year. He also played through injury the first few weeks of the season which likely hampered his play.
But the time for excuses are over. And it’s time to figure out exactly what Dillon Brooks is.
The third year of a player’s career is when you truly begin to see what they are, and Brooks should be no exception. He won’t have the chance to have the ball in his hands as much as he did when he played with future members of the Guangdong Tigers his rookie year. Yet he also won’t be subjected to the harrowing, inexplicable rotations of a faltering coach (I hope) like he was last year. He is also fully healthy.
When he excelled as a rookie, many envisioned Dillon Brooks as one of the leading figures of the next young Grizzlies’ core. And in less than two years, that core is now almost fully formed with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke hopefully leading the charge to a better tomorrow for the Grizzlies.
And it goes without saying that Brooks has a chance to be a pivotal figure for this group right from the very beginning. The starting shooting guard spot is completely up for grabs, and when the competition is *checks notes* Grayson Allen and De’Anthony Melton, you’d have to think that he has a solid chance of winning the job.
From an x’s and o’s standpoint, Brooks would seem to be an ideal fit in the starting lineup. To get the most out of Ja Morant, the Grizzlies need shooting on the wings, which is something that Brooks provides. He is also a solid defender at his position that can take on the more difficult assignments to preserve Morant.
Brooks’ skill is not in question. His ability to score, shoot, and defend was definitely impressive his rookie season, even if we was playing with players that were better fits on the Washington Generals than the Memphis Grizzlies.
Instead, the question for him is consistency. If Dillon Brooks can consistently be the player that he was during his rookie year—and perhaps even take a step or two forward—he can grow into the Grizzlies’ starting shooting guard of the future. And dare I say it Parker, an elite role player.
However, if he struggles to find his footing like he did this past season, he will find himself clawing for minutes alongside Grayson Allen and De’Anthony Melton, pushing his fate closer to that of MarShon Brooks rather than Khris Middleton.
Dillon Brooks will have every opportunity to excel with the Memphis Grizzlies this coming year, especially in Taylor Jenkins’ pace-and-space offense that will be orchestrated by an elite passer in Ja Morant.
But it’s time for him to prove once and for all that he is a long-term piece for the Grizzlies to build around.