Dillon Brooks received a lot of criticism during his play in the bubble. And to be fair, he had some ugly games. His decision-making with the basketball — whether it was driving through too much traffic, taking an ill-advised shot early in the clock, or simply doing too much — was off at times.
On the other hand, to suggest that he was the primary reason the team lost, that he should be benched or traded, or that he sucks is short-sighted. He may have been the difference between making and missing the bubble.
From December 1 to February 5th, Brooks averaged 17.9 points on 43.7% shooting from the field and 40.8% from 3 (5.8 attempts per game) in 33 games. And in those 33 games, the Grizzlies were 21-12, winning at the clip of a 52-win team. His prowess as a 3-level scorer and physical defender were on display, and his swagger and confident play energized this team.
However, from February 7th to the end of the bubble (excluding play-in), he averaged 16.5 points on 37.9% shooting from the field and 27.9% from 3 (6.4 attempts per game) in 22 games. Maybe it was due to changes in the rotation, or just a shooting slump, but it wasn’t the most pleasant brand of basketball.
There’s a middle ground somewhere. He’s not the terrible player that many make him out to be based on his post-extension and bubble performance. And he’s not the dynamic 3-level wing that scored at a borderline All-Star level for two months. However, he can become a vital role player in the next iteration of contending Memphis Grizzlies teams, whether that’s as a starter or a 6th man.
As the Grizzlies search for the best version of Dillon Brooks, there’s someone else that needs to do searching: Dillon Brooks himself.
Yes, I’ll actually start with the bad. Over the course of the bubble, we were exposed to “bad Dillon,” and that moniker usually goes hand in hand with his questionable shot selection.
A lot of the bonehead Dillon Brooks shots come early in the shot clock. Of his 1,066 shots taken this season, nearly 38% of them are categorized as “early” attempts — between 15 and 22 seconds on the shot clock. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, since his best shooting numbers came within that time range — 38.9% from 3 and 50% on 2’s. However, when the shot is forced, it draws criticism, because he could’ve found a better opportunity with more patience.
If this shot went in, fantastic. He took advantage of a Carmelo Anthony’s lackadaisical coverage to fire a 3. He fell short on the 3, and with the time on the shot clock and the options around him, there were better looks. CJ McCollum was helping on Brooks, leaving a good shooter in Anthony Tolliver open on the pop. In addition, he also had Jaren Jackson Jr. in the corner, who could’ve made something happen. Even if the shot wasn’t there, he could’ve even relocated for a better attempt.
More infamously, he made this shot attempt in the bubble, as he fired a contested near-30-footer with an open Grayson Allen in the corner.
OH MY GOD— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) August 9, 2020
"when you are 5-16 but this one feels good" pic.twitter.com/JXarNp6aHb
This sequence ties back to reading the offense. He has a guy who hit 47.5% of his 3’s in the bubble wide-open in the corner, and he also has two defenders nearby. The result was an early contested 3 that ultimately didn’t fall in.
In another instance, Brooks ran off a flare screen in the 4th quarter against Portland and fired a contested, moving 3 early in the shot clock.
This is an example where Brooks’ critics would point to when trashing his game. In this sequence, Brooks fired off this 3 with plenty of time left in the shot clock, and there wasn’t any urgency needed for this shot. Granted, it could be a shot designed in the offense. They run a lot of motion cuts and flare screens around the 3-point line. It could’ve been a shot within the flow of the offense, but it also could’ve resulted in a drive or extra ball movement for a better shot.
He also developed a habit of taking contested two-pointers, a cardinal sin in the analytic world. The mid-range game shouldn’t be a lost art, but it’s certainly an ill-advised shot if not properly executed. And Dillon Brooks has shown why that’s the case:
When it comes to analyzing the bad shots within Brooks’ selection, it comes down to this general conclusion: just because you make them some of the time, doesn’t mean you should shoot them most of the time.
Contrary to popular belief, Dillon Brooks does take good shots sometimes! When he does, he flashes what he could be in his optimal role going forward.
In an ideal world, Dillon Brooks’ role in the starting 5 is as a catch-and-shoot 3&D player. This season, he flashed that upside, shooting 38% on 287 catch-and-shoot 3’s. Having reliable players that can knock down 3’s off of kick-out’s is imperative for a team built around Ja Morant.
Though the mid-range game is a dying art, there comes a time when it’s vital for a wing’s arsenal. As we’ve started to see in the NBA, big men fall into “drop coverage” off the pick-and-roll, daring perimeter players to fire in the mid-range. When patient and poised with the ball, Brooks can take advantage of such coverage.
Shots like these are good shots, and even if Brooks is firing 12-15 field goal attempts per game, you can watch the “Dillon Brooks experience” better knowing he’s finding his offense within the flow of the system. And though he’s probably best fit for the 3-and-D role, it’s promising when that type of player can create plays off the dribble for himself.
While Dillon Brooks’ shot selection can be a knock, it’s worth noting that he is one of the few Grizzlies’ perimeter players that can create his own shot. Whenever Ja Morant or Jaren Jackson Jr. are off from the perimeter, they have another guy who can be a threat off the dribble and from 3. Given how this team is currently constructed, that’s huge.
Dillon Brooks’ performance in the bubble shouldn’t serve as a barometer of his basketball skill, but it should indicate his optimal role. And why’s that? Because Brooks isn’t a bad basketball player, he’s just playing over his head.
While I do think he’s a starting-caliber wing, his responsibilities are heavy for an above-average role player. Without many perimeter creators, he serves as the only shot creator from the wing, aside from Jaren Jackson Jr. In addition, while he’s a good, physical defender, he’s tasked with guarding the opponent’s best backcourt player about every night.
In an ideal role, there are two routes for him. He can be a starting 2-guard for the next great Grizzlies team, but it’d likely require Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and probably Brandon Clarke to hit their best outcomes. In that sense, he becomes more of a 3-and-D, catch-and-shoot wing, rather than a secondary shot creator. The other route is the bucket-getting 6th man off the bench. Here, the team can maximize his aggressive shot creation without necessarily taking shots away from Ja or Jaren.
And maybe there are some things he can do on his end to maximize himself in these roles. As a starter, he may need to alter his shot portfolio where he’s getting more looks from 3 and the rim. That generally yields better results, as he shoots 38.2% from 3 when he shoots 7 or more 3’s, and the Grizzlies are 13-12 in those games.
Whichever role it may be in, Dillon Brooks can help this team win games. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe pointed out recently, Brooks may not be as good as he thinks he is, but you need that guy to win ball games. The Grizzlies haven’t really had that irrationally confident, microwave scorer during its playoff runs, and while those players can be nauseating to watch in the analytics-era, they are the kind of pieces that can swing games. As we saw throughout the season, Dillon Brooks is one of those players, for better or for worse.
Dillon Brooks is polarizing, but the criticism he receives is all overreaction.
Everybody begs for more outside shooting on this team, while also wanting to bench Dillon Brooks — one of the team’s better volume shooter. The team found its first shot-creating wing since Rudy Gay, and some of the fanbase wants him gone.
One of the most perplexing things is the slander he receives, even though he actually tries from tip-off to the final horn. Effort is never a question with Dillon Brooks, as he doesn’t let his performance dictate his energy. I’ll take that over some of the players the Grizzlies have had whose attitudes and effort would waver based on the result of each shot. As a fanbase that rallies around this “grit and grind” mentality, why ridicule a guy who plays with that mindset in every minute of each game?
And maybe that’s why I’m still on the “Dillon Brooks Island,” as 92.9’s Connor Dunning and I infamously dub his supporters. It may be because I’ve seen him prove every prediction I’ve made on him correctly — whether it was being a good trade target in the 2017 draft, a rotation player in his rookie season (even pre-Conley injury), or even a potential elite role player. It may be the fact that it isn’t blog boys like me that see it, but also national media members like Zach Lowe or Dan Devine, or players like JJ Redick, that see something in Brooks as well.
It’s tough to imagine Dillon Brooks going anywhere. They just locked him up on a team-friendly extension, he had a solid season this year, and he’s still a young player capable of playing a role on the next great Grizzlies team. As the Grizzlies continue to build a championship contender, they’ll surely be searching for the role that unleashes the best version of Dillon Brooks. And in that process, Dillon Brooks can also find how to unlock the best version of himself as well.