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Dillon Brooks is keeping Grit and Grind alive

Dillon Brooks on the defensive end transcends beyond the box score and is reminiscent of the good ole days.

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New Orleans Pelicans v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Dillon Brooks is a decisive, polarizing player due to his shot selection and fouling. However, no one should be debating about his intensity, especially on the defensive end. There is never any question about his hustle each and every night, as his demeanor and energy stay the same all 48 minutes — regardless of the outcome.

Prior to the season, Brooks set out a mission to be an All-Defensive team player, and this season he’s backed it up — and Ja Morant agrees. He’s made legitimate strides to become less foul-prone and more impactful on the defensive end.

His impact has translated to some big wins, or even close outings versus the league contenders. He’s also gaining respect in the process:

“If someone would be poking at me all game, I’d be so pissed,” Jonas Valanciunas said after Saturday’s win. “So we got one guy on our team who can do that and it’s good to have, and it’s not going to show up in the box score.”

The energy and defensive tenacity Brooks brings every night gives the team a jolt. He takes on the tough assignments and thrives. He’s not afraid to trash talk your favorite superstar either.

What Brooks brings to the table is reminiscent of Grit and Grind.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Dillon Brooks has been tasked with the primary responsibility of defending the opposing team’s best perimeter, as he ranks 5th in the league in B-ball Index’s matchup difficulty tracker.

“I like to score and I like to stop people from scoring. Best of both worlds,” Brooks famously said in a media availability over a month ago. “You can talk trash on both ends of the floor. I just like to compete. I like challenges, and ultimately just - being a defender - learning from those guys as well. Learning what kind of moves they like, so I could relay back to my teammates.”

Despite the difficult assignments night in and night out, he’s not slouching either, as he grades out better than any of the other 4 defenders (Lu Dort, Gary Harris, Royce O’Neale, and Lonzo Ball) in defensive impact. He’s been a standout in these metrics too, possessing high grades in B-Ball Index’s perimeter defensive activity tracking stats.

b-ball index perimeter defensive activity
the b-ball index database

(I know this is contrary to the NBA match metric that shows him as a massive negative, but a recent Hardwood Knocks podcast said that he’s a good on-ball defender that doesn’t translate to this metric. It had also hurt Klay Thompson and Avery Bradley as well, as the stat negatively impacts defenders that don't get defensive rebounds or high blocks/steals. It doesn't paint the whole picture.)

The standout work from Dillon Brooks has put in defensively is a product of his tenacity and physicality, but the biggest key is his preparation. Coach Jenkins is definitely not surprised that the metrics are showing up as they are. He praised the work he puts in his body to make sure he’s physically ready for those matchups, and the great job mentally preparing for them as well.

Just his preparation and planning for opponents, learning tendencies of guys who are going to be guarding, whether it’s individual match-ups or coverages that are going to need to be executed, based off of the actions that another team runs for certain players, he’s going to be matched up with super dialed in on that. He’s proactive in getting the film and getting the analytics and studying that. And I think that’s what has really helped him to go out there and do it.

Through that hard work and preparation, he’s played an instrumental role in locking down some of the league’s best perimeter scorers. Granted, has he gotten cooked? Yeah, LeBron James and Jaylen Brown have worked him, but that’s a drawback of taking on these difficult matchups. He’s had some standout performances against some of the league’s best perimeter talent.

Dillon Brooks defensive matchup data

Player Matchup Min Partial Possessions FGM FGA FG%
Player Matchup Min Partial Possessions FGM FGA FG%
Bradley Beal 11:22 51.9 4 15 26.7
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 11:03 42.4 4 10 40
D'Angelo Russell 5:24 20.6 4 9 44.4
Devin Booker 10:07 37.2 3 8 37.5
Paul George 11:58 46.6 2 8 25
Giannis Antetokounmpo 6:13 25.9 1 4 25
Jamal Murray 6:11 22 0 4 0
Dillon Brooks defensive matchup data stats.nba.com

He’s also made strides as an isolation defender this season. Last year, he gave up 0.89 points per isolation possession, and this year he knocked that number down to 0.73 (ranking in the 76.3 percentile). Brooks does this with his physicality and aggression, as he’s locked into his matchup from the point the possession flips his opponent’s way. Because of his level of intensity, he makes some really sick defensive plays that don’t show up in the box score.

Once he sees the ball go through the net, he immediately locks into and locates Jamal Murray to pick him up full court. It’s not a sexy defensive play, but it’s just highlights how zoned in he is — each and every night — on his defensive assignments.

Here, though he gets drilled by the Mo Wagner screen, he flies over to make the rear view shot contest to completely alter Bradley Beal’s shot. Just a wonderful display of

“He’s in the guys, pressuring, poking at the ball,” Jonas Valanciunas said of Brooks. “He’s a really aggressive defender, and that’s not going to show up on the box score. Nobody likes to go against him. He’s picking up guys full-court and pressuring.”

Through this, Brooks has become a go-to stopper for the Memphis Grizzlies with his edge, physicality, and preparation for the challenges that face him.

“I love guarding the best player on the other side,” Brooks said. “It’s a great challenge.” And Brooks has risen above it to become an impactful defender in this league.


Los Angeles Clippers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The defense and spirit Dillon Brooks has played with this season is reminiscent of a great bygone era. And though he was never really there for the full Grit and Grind experience, as he only played with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, he feels responsible to keep that spirit alive by bringing it every single game and making sure it’s contagious with his teammates.

“Sure. I wasn’t really there. When I came, Tony Allen wasn’t there, Zach wasn’t there. It wasn’t full pieces,” Brooks said. “I got to talk to Tony and talk to Zach, and I feel like I bring that type of energy that’s supposed to be instilled in lots of players. Especially with guys like me, guys like Tony, and guys like Zach that were under-appreciated coming into the league. You got to find your niche, and that’s the main thing — bringing that grit and that grind so you can survive in this league and accomplish a lot.”

Brooks has shown that he’s going to play his ass off from the time the game tips off to the final buzzer. He’s going to bring that energy — whether it’s serving as the hype man in the pregame intro circles, talking smack to the opposing team, or simply willing momentum to his team with his play.

“He brings it everyday, and that’s just contagious,” Kyle Anderson said of Brooks. “That rubs off on everybody else when we step on the court. You kind of laugh at his crazy antics, but that’s important and you got to have that every game. You got to bring that juice, so he definitely does that for us.”

The juice Brooks can bring to the game can’t go unnoticed, as he has a spirit that gets this team going and exhibits the “grit and grind” energy this franchise’s culture was built on.


Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

One of the biggest things I wanted to see out of Dillon Brooks this season is, how he could expand his game beyond scoring. When the shot isn’t on, how will he positively affect the game?

We’ve seen him lean into his playmaking chops a bit this season, but defense has really become his calling card this season. Not only is he taking on the hardest defensive assignments, he’s thriving and has put together some standout performances on that end.

It’s an element of his game that makes him even more valuable to playoff teams. His irrational confidence can be an eyesore at times, but that and his 3-level scoring make him a player that can steal a game in a playoff series. As Zach Lowe has pointed out, you need guys like Brooks that think they’re better than they actually are to win games. Now, he’s a borderline-elite defender that can defend multiple positions and various player archetypes, while being able to create at all 3 levels and carry a game with a hot-shooting night.

Those are players you want in your 7-man playoff rotation.

Dillon Brooks is going to fight, make his opponents uncomfortable, and talk a little trash on the way to ensure the Memphis Grizzlies win.

If that’s not “grit and grind,” then I don’t know what is.

Stats found on stats.nba.com and B-ball Index.

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