Dillon Brooks wasn’t ranked highly coming into the 2017 NBA draft. They knocked him for his lack of size, length, and athleticism. Sports Illustrated and ESPN ranked him at 57, CBS Sports at 53, Bleacher Report at 45, and The Ringer didn’t even have him in their top 60.
Analysts tend to value upside and physical tools on these big boards, but Brooks showed in college that there aren’t that many players better than him. In his final season at Oregon, he averaged 16.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.1 steals, while shooting 48.8% from the field and 40.1% from deep. He even won PAC-12 Player of the Year over Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Lauri Markkanen — all 3 selected in the top 10 in that draft.
However, draft evaluators and front offices made the same mistake: prioritizing upside and physical tools over skill and experience.
Over the past 3 seasons, Dillon Brooks has solidified himself as the second-round steal of the 2017 draft. He’s averaged 12.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and has shot 36.4% from 3. Though his rookie season garners “empty stats” attention, he’s proven his worth a reliable starting shooting guard for a current Western Conference playoff team, as he’s scored 15.4 points a game on 36.9% shooting from deep. The Grizzlies were also 18-4 when Brooks scored 20 or more points.
Among his draft class, Brooks is 8th in career scoring average and in 3-point percentage, while also falling in the top-20 in assists per game. This season, he was 7th among his draft class in scoring, and he was in the top-10 in 3-point percentage.
While he has his critics, and though he isn’t the flashiest player in this class, Dillon Brooks has solidified himself as a top-15 player in the deep 2017 draft.
1-4 shouldn’t be up for debate. Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, De’Aaron Fox, and Bam Adebayo are in their own echelon. Tatum and Mitchell are probably even in a class of their own as legitimate go-to scorers on great teams.
Lonzo Ball is at 5, because of his elite playmaking prowess, defensive versatility, and he’s becoming a good volume 3-point shooter.
For 6-9, I’d have to go Jonathan Isaac, John Collins, OG Anunoby, and Lauri Markkanen. Isaac’s promise as a two-way wrecking ball, while already being one of the best defensive players in basketball, is tantalizing. Collins has been one of the most productive players in his class, and he could even soar past Ball and Isaac here. Anunoby has been a starter on an elite Eastern Conference team since arriving in the league, with the exception of the one season they had Kawhi Leonard.
At 10, I have Jarrett Allen, who’s going to be awesome when the Nets trade him in a package for a star. Number one pick Markelle Fultz is at 11, and though he hasn’t had a great career he is still averaging 12 and 5 this season with the absence of a jumpshot. As he starts to gain confidence in his outside game, he could become a fringe All-Star.
12 is where it gets tricky, and there are actually a tier of players that have good cases to be here.
When taking in consideration current output, and long-term projections, I have Kyle Kuzma, Derrick White, Josh Jackson, Dennis Smith Jr., Luke Kennard, Josh Hart, Zach Collins, and Dillon Brooks in a tier of potential options. These players have cases to be lottery talents in this re-draft, but nothing lower than 20. It wouldn’t even be surprising if Brooks had the strongest case of the pack.
Of the bunch, Brooks is probably behind Kuzma as a pure scorer. He’s a physical 3-level scorer that shoots 3’s at an efficient clip and can create his own shot off the dribble. He also usually takes on the task of guarding the opposing team’s best wing. Though he finds himself in foul trouble often, and he lacks the physical tools of the elite defenders, he uses his size and toughness to be a neutral defender. If he continues to serve as the 5th guy on a good playoff team, and someone reliable for 15 points a night, he could be a lock for this 12th spot in a deep class.
Kuzma is the most popular answer here, and if he proved to be that 3rd wheel next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, he’d be much higher. However, the way he’s impacted the game this season has rubbed me the wrong way, as he’s shown he doesn’t do much aside from scoring the basketball.
Josh Hart was one of my favorite prospects in the 2017 draft. He and Brooks were the only two players I did pre-draft profiles on over at my old blog. He’s a positionless beast. He gobbles up rebounds, as he averages 6.5 per game. He spends 17% of his time at the 4, and the Pelicans are +5.5 when he’s at that spot. If he wasn’t the 5th perimeter player on his team, and if he received more opportunity as a starter, his re-draft rank would be higher.
Josh Jackson has become a nice story in Memphis, but his inefficiencies and uncertain role going forward probably don’t have him solidified here right now. He is a guy though that could go a lot higher in a re-draft a few years down the road.
I don’t know what happened to Dennis Smith Jr., but his fall out of the rotation is bizarre. If you based this off his past production in Dallas, he’d probably inch closer to the top 5. However, there’s just too much uncertainty in his future outlook to have him locked into the lottery here. Is he a backup combo guard, or could he reprove himself as a starter-level point guard?
Zach Collins and Luke Kennard came into this season as breakout candidates. The former only played 3 games before a shoulder injury, and the latter put up career-best numbers but was on the floor for just 28 games. Collins needs to showcase he has more standout skills to climb the pecking order here. He projects as a stretch-5, but he needs to validate it with better shooting at a higher clip. Kennard displayed promise as a secondary playmaker and creator off the dribble, and he has some strides to make defensively. Regardless, his offensive versatility and potential is tantalizing, and he could cash in on it soon.
Derrick White had a pseudo-breakout 2019 calendar year, as he solidified himself as a sleeper 3rd-wheel next to LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. He also made the 15-man Team USA team last year. However, his role didn’t expand this year, starting only 13 of 61 games — compared to starting 55 of 67 in his sophomore season. He’s a great defender, and he has the makings of a long-term starter. His role reduction though is puzzling, which draws me to question his outlook.
It’s hard to distinguish and rank this group for a re-draft. They each have different selling points, angles, and trajectories. If I had to make an attempt, I’d go:
Hart, Kuzma, Brooks, Kennard, Jackson, White, Smith, and Collins.
Regardless of your opinion on Dillon Brooks, he’s produced at the level expected from a first-round prospect, or perhaps even a late-lottery selection. This season especially, he proved himself as a rotation-level contributor, and even a starter, on a playoff-quality team. Though critics don’t buy into Brooks for his score-first mentality and occasional questionable shot selection, he still possesses the scoring chops, toughness, and versatility to survive in this league.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, Brooks represents a change of fortune, as he was the first draft pick since Mike Conley to receive a second contract with the team — wow, that’s a sad statistic. As the Grizzlies enter this NXT-Gen era, Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, and Brandon Clarke have emerged as potential cornerstones, and Dillon Brooks looks the part of the complementary scorer that gives this team some extra swagger and firepower. What more can you ask for out of the 45th pick?
Again, as it happens every year, teams evaluated high-upside prospects over upperclassmen who have proven to be good basketball. We’ve seen it over the years with Malcolm Brogdon, Brandon Clarke, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, and Devontae Graham.
For the 2017 draft class, that prospect is Dillon Brooks.
Stats found on basketball-reference.com