The only person that believed that Dillon Brooks could be so important to a playoff team is Dillon Brooks.
Even the owners of the largest pieces of Dillon Brooks Island have to admit that to be true.
21 points scored...good for his best game in a playoff series, right? That was his total in his WORST game. He averaged 25.8 points per game across five games against the Jazz.
Maybe you’re still skeptical - sure, Dillon can score, but he is extremely inefficient at times. He probably played the Grizzlies out of those games...right?
Well, actually, he shot a remarkable 51.5% from the field overall (40% from three, 81% from the charity stripe) on an average of 19.4 shots per game across the five game series. He was exposed consistently against Donovan Mitchell (then again, who ISN’T exposed by Mitchell) once he entered the fray in Game Two and the Jazz swept the Grizzlies from that point forward. But Brooks was, legitimately, the second best player for the Memphis Grizzlies in that series. And without him, it is nowhere near as competitive.
So ended a season where Dillon Brooks almost completely flipped the script of the narrative many Grizzlies fans had made the main plot of his NBA story. Brooks has never been mistaken for a James Harden-level scorer...unless Dillon was looking in the mirror and seeing Harden-esque skill in himself. But his elite self-confidence - at times to a fault - led some (maybe a majority) of Memphis supporters harboring disdain toward what Brooks did to the Grizzlies. This was especially true on offense - his shooting was often a subtraction from offensive rhythm, not an addition to the process of team scoring. And with Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas (at the time) on the roster, even with Jaren Jackson Jr. out in the Bubble and for much of the season following, that frustration grew and grew and grew.
Then, after a tremendous second half of last season punctuated by a play-in and playoff exclamation mark, the leading storyline of the start of the 2021-2022 campaign is what the Grizzlies will do without Dillon as he recovers from his hand injury. He was Ja Morant’s co-star - no Jonas Valanciunas. Not Jaren Jackson Jr. It was Brooks laying claim to being the second best player on an NBA Playoff team. And for the first time - even with Mitchell giving him issues defensively - his offensive contributions were worthy of such acclimation.
That production won’t be there starting Wednesday night. But without Dillon, there’s more to be nervous about than just buckets.
Brooks has become the spirit animal of this young Memphis roster. He alongside Ja Morant brings a mentality of audacious confidence and willingness to fly in the face of the established NBA powers. Dillon willingly takes on the toughest defensive assignments on a nightly basis, more often than not holding his own or stifling the opposition’s best offensive weapon. That presence carries significant weight on a team as young as the Grizzlies - he is their steady hand in terms of a player who, whether it is a Saturday night in Los Angeles or a Wednesday night in Washington D.C., is going to give you everything he has on every rep. For better or worse.
Even if it is just for a short amount of time, that will indeed be missed.
But reread that previous sentence. Dillon Brooks will be MISSED - and at times, missed terribly - as the season gets under way. The opportunity to see if his growth in terms of offensive efficiency - the area of his game that needed the most improvement entering last season - can be maintained is delayed. The chance for him to continue to develop as a defender without fouling (one of the leaders in the entire NBA in that category over the last few seasons) and as a creator off the dribble for not just himself but others (a career best 11.7% assist percentage per basketball-reference.com needs to continue to grow with Jonas Valanciunas now with the Pelicans for the offense to not get stuck in the mud as often) must wait.
But most importantly, the moment where he is fully appreciated for what he is to this franchise has been deferred.
That’s ok. It’s Dillon Brooks’ destiny to have to wait for his appreciation. Regardless of when he returns to action, he should see plenty of praise for what he brings to the Memphis Grizzlies.
And being welcomed back, almost unanimously, after being missed by a fan base that didn’t always see his worth.
What a plot twist that is for Dillon “The Villain” Brooks.