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The Devil of Dillon Brooks

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Is his future in Memphis?

Memphis Grizzlies Portrait Shoot in Vancouver Uniform Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It is 14 games in to the NBA season, and goodness knows we all love a good overreaction. From game to game you can see the ebbs and flows of Memphis Grizzlies fans and media and their views on certain players and their capabilities. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a disappointment, Ja Morant is a (point) god, Jonas Valanciunas is out of shape and/or washed, Marko Guduric isn’t an NBA player...the list of opinions goes on and on, and it remains a talking point for those that die on those hills until the hill moves and the line shifts in favor - or against - the hot take.

Welcome to the social media age.

One of the all-time favorites of this type of opinion generation is Dillon Brooks. The 2017 2nd round pick is knee deep in to a pivotal season for him in terms of his future. The Grizzlies are thinking long-term for the first time in a decade, and the current answer to multiple questions regarding roster are currently not in Memphis. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. figure to be with the Grizzlies for the long-term, barring a disaster of some sort. The same can probably be said about Brandon Clarke, who is already over-performing and exceeding expectations that were set pretty high to begin with.

From there? It is unclear. Jonas Valanciunas signed a 3-year deal this past summer, but it is an extremely movable contract and a Valanciunas trade would not be shocking. Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson are in similar spots, but both fit the mold of what the Grizzlies appear to be looking for in terms of team building (efficiency, versatility) more than Valanciunas. Jae Crowder is a valuable veteran on another movable contract, and an expiring one at that, so Jae could be here in Memphis long-term, but he could just as easily be traded by the February trade deadline. Ditto Solomon Hill.

The Grizzlies surely hope a couple of the young players they’ve accumulated over the last year are part of the next great team in Memphis. Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton, Marko Guduric, Bruno Caboclo, Josh Jackson...all five of them being bad and not with the Grizzlies two years from now would probably be a failure for this front office.

So where does that leave Dillon Brooks, who as a restricted free agent can be extended a qualifying offer this coming summer? Leave behind the bitterness of Kelly Oubre Jr. and failed trades and look to the bigger picture involving what a Dillon investment would entail. There are lots of moving pieces, and players that also will need to be potentially re-signed (Melton is a restricted free agent as well, Jackson and Caboclo will be unrestricted free agents).

Let’s start with the biggest pro Brooks has going for him.

In favor of Dillon Brooks - He can score.

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

There aren’t many current Grizzlies that you can point to and say “that guy can get his own buckets.” Ja Morant is an obvious answer, but on a night-in, night-out basis the consistency of every other Memphis player in terms of scoring both at the rim and beyond the arc is in question, especially in terms of perimeter players. Per 100 possessions so far this season (in a small sample size), according to basketball-reference.com, the leading scorers for the Grizzlies beyond Morant (30.7 points per 100 possessions) are bigs - Brandon Clarke (26.4), Jaren Jackson Jr. (24.8), and Jonas Valanciunas (24.6).

The first wing on that list? Dillon Brooks, at 23.2. The next closest wing, Grayson Allen, is almost 3 points behind (20.3) and is way behind Dillon in terms of shooting percentages and also is far behind in terms of games played due to his ankle injury. The next closest “wing” that has played at least 10 games so far this year is Kyle Anderson, who is scoring a paltry 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Kyle Anderson isn’t asked to be a scorer, of course, and in terms of net rating Anderson is outplaying Dillon (+5 for Kyle, -9 for Dillon). But the point remains the same - beyond Ja Morant, the Grizzlies have no “proven” (more on this in a moment) offensive weapons. Brooks has shown across a couple seasons the capacity to be a scorer, albeit on bad teams. He shoots a ton of mid-range jumpers compared to others (almost 20% of his attempts are from 10-16 feet, even more than the 17.8% of attempts at the rim), but improved shot selection and improvement on his touch from that range if those shots are open are all real possibilities. But go beyond just this sample size - in 114 career games, Dillon is a 36.2% three point shooter and in his rookie season displayed the ability to score in similar ways to how he is doing it now.

Maybe on the next great Grizzlies team he isn’t a starter, but it’s hard to imagine a Memphis team that wouldn’t benefit from Brooks’ offense, especially as a reserve. He is currently their best volume perimeter shooter and provides valuable spacing to the driving Morant and the low-post force of Valanciunas. That will only continue to remain true, as long as he can stay healthy. He could be a better facilitator (10th on the Grizzlies in assists per 100 possessions at 3.3, 8th among players that have played at least 10 games), but that’s a level of his game that can be added over time. He is limited athletically which puts a theoretical ceiling on what he can be as a defender and overall player, and is “old” compared to others in his position. But at 23 years old - the same age as rookie Brandon Clarke - and figures to develop as a more complete player, if not a more athletically explosive one, as time goes on.

So if he can score, at least comparatively speaking, what’s the hold up?

Against Dillon Brooks - Opportunity Cost

Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Remember all those names that were listed earlier in this article? Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Bruno Caboclo...all are players that if the Grizzlies decide they are worth investment once the season concludes will need to be invested in. Beyond that, the future starters on the wing are almost certainly not currently in Memphis. Between the NBA Draft, which the Grizzlies could very well have another high pick in come June, and free agency over the next summer or two (which Memphis could have roughly $50 million going in to, depending on re-signings of players and releasing Bird rights), there are lots of possibilities for how the Grizzlies front office could decide to use such space.

Do they go after a Brandon Ingram, Malik Beasley, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris type in restricted free agency and tie up anywhere between $20-$35 million in a wing or two, maybe even including Dillon? Do they keep that space open for trades this summer similar to what happened with Golden State and get paid in draft pick compensation for taking on “bad contracts”? Do they draft Anthony Edwards, or Josh Green, or some other young wing if they do indeed wind up picking in this year’s draft? Do they swing for the fences and bring in Anthony Davis?

OK, that last one probably isn’t happening. But there is a lot to be considered when it comes to the value of Dillon...and there’s also some logic to extending Brooks his qualifying offer and seeing what he could get on the market. The value of Dillon fluctuates seemingly from game to game...Grizzlies fans may even undervalue him at this point, depending on the night. It’s totally possible that Brooks could receive a contract comparable to the one that Tyus Jones got (three years, roughly $26.4 million descending according to Spotrac), and that may be underselling him still. An argument can be made that Brooks is a top-20 upcoming free agent, given his miles logged and scoring potential, and almost certainly a top-10 wing.

Could that look like a 3-year, $40 million deal from a team with cash? It’s not impossible, and given the way Memphis has signed players of late that would almost certainly mean the end of Dillon’s time in Memphis.

The Verdict

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

I talk a lot about re-establishing what it means to be a Memphis Grizzly in this space. Scheme matters, but every style of basketball known to man has won across all levels, from the pros to little league and everywhere in between. The implementation of those schemes, and the people running them, matter a heck of a lot more.

Dillon Brooks was there with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley longer than anyone else on this current roster. He is the most “Grizzled” Grizzly at this stage, and has been through the wars of this most recent stretch of down time in Memphis NBA basketball. He is a connection - the last best connection - to a group of guys who truly loved this city and franchise. Could Josh Jackson or DeAnthony Melton be better than Dillon a few months from now? Of course...but they’re currently in the G-League as Dillon Brooks starts for the Grizzlies. Jackson and Melton would be great to keep around for the right price, even given the limited amount we have currently seen. But if we’re talking who we want around Ja and Jaren long-term beyond hypothetical potential that has yet to manifest, give me Dillon, flaws and all...the “devil” I know.

A lot can change between now and April, and a lot almost certainly will change. Trades will happen that will impact the salary cap ledger moving forward even more. Growth, injuries, and development will lead to increased opportunities for those other young wings with the Grizzlies. Dillon will struggle at times, and there will be calls to move on from him and let others take his spot as hills move online and hot takes abound.

But I am a Dillon Brooks guy. I believe in the lessons he has learned early in his NBA career and what he can do as a scorer. I have seen him compete in the bad times, and believe when the good times roll once again he will be up for the challenges that will come. Maybe he won’t be a starter in Memphis three years from now...but hopefully he is still in Memphis. Extend a qualifying offer, but negotiate a three-year, $30-$32 million contract (descending, similar to previous deals to keep future flexibility) and keep a core rotation player where he belongs.

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