Scapegoating is lazy. Largely because it’s easy - when you see one player forcing things, not living up to the “standard” their coaches and teammates speak on daily, it is almost as if that person is wearing a sign saying “hello, I am the problem”. After all, Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest of competing theories, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, should be the preferred one. So maybe it really is Dillon Brooks that is at fault for the ills that have befallen the Memphis Grizzlies through two seeding games in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble.
It’s hard to argue FOR Dillon at this point. Over two games and 71 minutes played here’s what he has produced-
- 13-36 shooting overall (33%), 3-16 from three (18.8%)
- 3.5 rebounds per game, as well as 3.5 assists. The assist number is actually better than the roughly 2 per game he averaged before the bubble.
- 4.5 fouls per game, including horribly timed offensive fouls losing possession with less than two minutes remaining in a game you need to win.
- One game - the Sunday evening loss to San Antonio - where he was the leading shot taker. Even more attempts than Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Given these fundamental truths, we can assume the following -
- Dillon Brooks is struggling mightily with his shot
- He is not being as active in other areas of the game - particularly rebounding - as he should be given those issues so he can contribute elsewhere.
- Dillon is still fouling far too much and that limits his effectiveness
- Brooks may be taking shot attempts away from better players in Morant and Jackson Jr.
Those are fair assumptions. But keep in mind, it’s lackadaisical to simply throw stones at the most poorly built glass house. A quarter of Grizzlies seeding games are complete, and Dillon is the most obviously struggling player for Memphis compared to his role on the team. Yet if Dillon Brooks is the reason the Grizzlies win or lose basketball games, Memphis was doomed before they ever left for Orlando.
Let’s counter the four above assumptions with four areas the squad as a whole is failing Brooks - and the goal of a playoff birth in general.
Dillon’s shot is off...but who is letting him shoot?
There’s a never-ceasing potential flaw with a free-flowing offensive scheme. If there isn’t a source of structure at some point, that flow can develop blockages. Think of it like a water hose with a kink or two in it - water won’t get to the sprinkler head, and on a summer afternoon that leads to dry grass and hot/unhappy kids.
Or a shooting guard with infinite confidence who currently can’t shoot taking it upon himself to get out of shooting slumps.
Head Coach Taylor Jenkins calls plays, of course. Recently Ja Morant talked about how when Dillon Brooks gets going in a game he will talk with Jenkins about calling sets specifically for Dillon to take advantage of his hot hand. But if you’re able to call plays for him when things are good, it stands to reason that you can limit his shots when he isn’t. The coaching staff needs to take responsibility - if they’re calling sets for him to take contested midrange jumpers (unlikely), then they’re to blame. If Brooks is going rogue, they need to hold him to task and start taking away his minutes.
Accountability starts at the top. Sometimes a player needs to be saved from themselves. To this point, Jenkins and company has not done that when Dillon goes off the over-confident deep end. Which is especially frustrating because it is Jenkins who speaks of the unselfish Grizzlies “standard” the most. Safe to say the most inefficient shot in basketball with a hand in your face does not meet that standard.
He’s not aggregating rebounds...but others aren’t either
The Grizzlies were one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA heading in to the NBA’s restart since February, grabbing over 51 boards per game. One of the main reasons for that - Gorgui Dieng’s arrival - has been removed from the rotation for reasons likely involving Anthony Tolliver’s fit within Jenkins’ schemes more than anything. That’s fine - Tolliver is more fleet of foot and can flow between positions more than Dieng. But in order for Memphis to be successful they have to limit opposing second shot attempts and clean the defensive glass while also getting as many extra shots as they can with regard to offensive rebounds.
In two bubble games? Memphis has been out-rebounded (42-38 against Portland and 49-39 against the Spurs) and against San Antonio in particular was crushed by second chance points (11 to Memphis’ 3) after 12 offensive rebounds for Gregg Popovich’s team.
Is Dillon to blame for that? Per 36 minutes he grabs about 4 boards a game, so he’s about half a board per game off his pace. Here are players struggling far more than that on the glass-
- Jonas Valanciunas - 7.5 rebounds per game in bubble, 11.1 per game before the bubble
- Kyle Anderson - 2 rebounds per game in bubble, 4.3 per game before the bubble
- Jaren Jackson Jr. - 3 rebounds per game in bubble, 4.7 per game before the bubble
There are foul trouble reasons for this. Jonas had issues against Portland and only played 14 minutes. Anderson was battling the officials in the Spurs game. Jaren has never been a rebounding force, but with Memphis essentially declaring Jackson Jr. the backup center in rotations alongside Brandon Clarke and Anthony Tolliver (Clarke is within a rebound of his pace and Tolliver has only grabbed 2 rebounds in 22 minutes of play in the bubble) they need him to be more of a factor on the boards. And they need Valanciunas and Anderson to stay on the floor, or if they decide that the likes of Grayson Allen should see more time then he needs to attack the glass more.
What once was a major strength for Memphis is a weakness now, which is a problem. And it’s one that has very little to do with Dillon Brooks.
Dillon is fouling and launching...but who is and isn’t?
Dillon Brooks is one of the worst defenders on Memphis when it comes to fouling. That is no surprise - according to basketball-reference.com he has accrued over 250 fouls this season, most on the roster. But as mentioned above, he is not alone in this being a problem. Anderson, Jackson Jr., Valanciunas, and even De’Anthony Melton have suffered from similar problems in the last two contests. Jaren recently talked about adjusting to how officials are calling games - that’s a good start. But the team must move their feet more and reach less as a unit. Since Dillon oftentimes draws the most difficult defensive assignment, it’s more understandable he may have issues than say, Jonas, who leaves his feet and his man far too often. Availability is oftentimes the greatest ability - if you can’t stay on the floor, you can’t help the cause. Brooks is guilty of this, but so are others - including two particular players in Valanciunas and Jackson Jr. that should play larger roles in winning than Dillon does.
He also is, as discussed above, one of the most notorious chuckers of ill-advised shots for the Grizzlies. His shot chart from the Blazers and Spurs games illustrate that nicely -
Brooks isn’t innocent. He insists upon going against where he could be more successful - on catch and shoot opportunities where he can come off of a screen and set his feet and get in a fluid shooting motion. Instead, he dribbles and pulls up in the mid-range, where while that area can be quite effective if the buckets are made (see the San Antonio Spurs’ game plan against the Grizzlies) usually it involved those attempts being open. Opponents know Brooks can make those shots, and take them away. Dillon takes them anyway, instead of passing out to an open three point shooter or slasher at the rim.
But he has shown evidence of growth in a small sample size as a passer despite his shooting attempt numbers. And again, Dillon isn’t alone on the floor offensively. Ja Morant is the point guard and has the ball in his hands on almost every possession that he is in the game. Jaren Jackson Jr. has displayed more willingness to be an attacker of the basket off the dribble so far in the restart and launched 15 shots from beyond the arc in his own right against Portland. so he’s shown a willingness to be a volume shooter at times.
So his five three point attempts against the Spurs (granted he did finish well at the rim and took advantage of how San Antonio was defending him) are concerning when Brooks shoots more from range than Jaren. Same goes with Brooks taking more shots than Ja did in the San Antonio game. Even beyond those two obvious players, Brooks has taken more shots in one game against the Spurs than Brandon Clarke has in two. With the efficiency of Clarke’s game, getting him more looks at the rim and even in the mid-range should be a priority.
As previously mentioned, coaches shoulder the load for that. But Morant doesn’t have to differ to Brooks. Jaren has enough of a handle and facilitation skill set to be able to only kick to Dillon when necessary or when Dillon’s defender helps off of him too much to limit Jaren’s dribble penetration. It’s fun to say #GrzNxtGen on social media and speak of the future being so bright because of these two young cornerstones. It’s also nice that it’s true - Morant and Jackson Jr. are superstars.
But it is time they started acting like it more often. Like the far more passive Marc Gasol before them, sometimes the “right play” is the one where they create and take their own shot. If the team’s chemistry is as strong as so many say it is, it can survive such an adjustment for the former Oregon Duck.
Dillon Brooks likely isn’t a starting wing on a true contender. The Memphis Grizzlies are competing for the right to be sacrificed to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, not an NBA title. Unfortunately, until Dillon can be better utilized for what he is on a Grizzlies team on the rise as a sixth man-type, or he is part of a trade to a team that envisions him in a role for their next great team while Memphis gets his replacement, Brooks is the best scoring option on the wing the Grizzlies have currently got.
The team - and perhaps Dillon most of all outside of the also outside of role Melton in terms of help creating offense - misses the facilitation skills of Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. They’re in their first full year of a rebuild with a rookie head coach. Even if all were healthy they have roster holes that likely won’t be filled in a year, much less in a bubble restart’s worth of games. They need a higher level wing scorer than Dillon Brooks to truly achieve greater success beyond a first round early exit at the hands of the top seed in the Western Conference.
That’s not to say a Grayson Allen here or a Josh Jackson there can’t potentially help some in that department. But Brooks has displayed the ability to get hot and help carry the team to victory on numerous occasions. Replacing Dillon, the longest-tenured Grizzlies roster member, as a starter for one of those types would likely not have the desired effect. You’d lose a weapon more than motivate a sleeping monster. His confidence is his gift and his curse - and that balance is hard to find for a Grizzlies team without extensive veteran leadership and playoff experience.
Tweak rotations. Adjust scheme. But understand that while the simplest thing to do is blame and try to replace Dillon Brooks, his flaws are a reminder of just how far this Grizzlies team has to go before they’re truly back to being a force in the NBA. Memphis needs him. They need his inexperienced teammates and coaches to step up and grow around him, to support him and help him be what they need him to be. They need those with veteran presence and youthful confidence/swagger to stop lying in wait and take more control of the opportunities Dillon is willing to embrace.
They’d be worse off without him at the moment, despite his overzealous shooting and double-edged competitive nature. If the Grizzlies hope to gain valuable playoff experience they need to reach Dillon Brooks, not blame him. That begins with balancing the realities of their imperfect present with the complexities of a bright but faraway future.
The Grizzlies are struggling. But theIr issues cut deeper than Dillon Brooks’ razor.