Dillon Brooks has had to do a lot over the past four years, maybe more than what was expected out of him. From stepping into the league as a mid-second round pick and immediately having shot creation burden for an injury-depleted roster to being a 2nd/3rd option on offense, Brooks’ play has always led to questions over what he could become in a reduced role.
For some people, it’s as a 6th man bucket-getter off the bench. Or, it’s more as a perimeter stopper that starts, scores off catch-and-shoot 3’s, and creates his own offense when called upon.
In the meantime, I think he’s given more answers out of who he is as a player. He can be relied on for 15-18 points a game, and he can play good, hard-nosed defense against the NBA’s elite each and every night.
In this past postseason, even if he never becomes a guy who scores 25 points a game, he proved he’s a big-game player — archetypes you search for when trying to build a contender around your two young pillars. In addition, he showed that he’s a starter-caliber wing that can rise to the occasion and carry a heavier responsibility when called upon.
With Dillon Brooks entering his 5th season with the Grizzlies, he’s coming in with a more clear, defined role. A large part comes with the relentless improvements in his game that he’s made to get to that point. However, the moves the Grizzlies made this offseason establish it as well.
First, before discussing Dillon Brooks’ optimal role on both ends of the ball, let’s dive a bit deeper into why he’s closer to it.
For one, Brooks has made strides in his game to get to this point. Don’t let that go unrecognized. He’s become more methodical of picking out his spots in the mid-range, and he’s also finding good zones on 3’s. In addition, he’s really honed his craft on the defensive side of the ball to become one of the more lethal perimeter defenders in this league.
Secondly, the Jonas Valanciunas trade shakes up the pecking order a bit. With 12 shots a game going out the window, someone is going to take those shots. And with Adams probably getting about 5-6 of those shots, there are another 6-7 out for the taking. The beneficiary is presumably Jaren Jackson Jr., who’s going to get more of a runway to showcase his offensive versatility with more touches and more spacing in closing lineups at the 5. So basing off his 2019-20 volume, that could leave Jackson at 18 shot attempts per game.
Ja Morant doesn’t care about stats, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him rev it up a notch as an encore to his stellar playoffs and to get into the All-Star conversation. Remember, he was on his way to doing so before he turned his ankle. So if he turned up his volume from 15 to 17-18 shots a game, it wouldn’t be shocking.
Where does that leave Dillon Brooks? Comfortably in that third wheel spot, and it should benefit his game. Even in this scenario, he may not even need to sacrifice shots, especially in lineups with Kyle Anderson and Steven Adams — two players that don’t demand many touches to be effective — likely next to them 3 in the starting lineup. However, because of the gravity Ja and Jaren will generate, Brooks’ shot quality should improve considerably.
That’s the optimal case for Dillon Brooks. Now what does that look like on both sides of the ball?
Dillon Brooks has emerged as a perimeter stopper. He’s deserved that role.
This past season, Brooks ranked 1st (number one, head honcho, the top of the top) for matchup difficulty per The B-Ball Index. He took on this responsibility of guarding the league’s elite every night, and he thrived and deserved praise. He didn’t make an All-Defense team, only receiving 3 total votes. However, he also garnered All-Defense praise from stars like Bradley Beal around the league.
Bradley Beal said Dillon Brooks, who did a feisty job guarding Beal tonight, told him he’d been prepping for the matchup since yesterday. Lots of praise from Beal for Brooks postgame.— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) March 3, 2021
“I respect him,” Beal said. “He’s a gritty guy.”
The metrics and the eye-test back up Brooks’ value as a perimeter stopper as well.
Brooks had grades of ‘B’ or better in defensive metrics of D-LEBRON (+0.4), DRPM (+1.3), D-RAPTOR (+0.6), and Luck-Adjusted DRAPM (+0.9). More importantly, of the All-Star players that shot 4 or more times against him this past season, Brooks held them to 43.6% from the field (202 attempts) and 35.5% from 3 (93 attempts), translating to a 51.7% EFG% — derived from NBA matchup data. Honestly, if you eliminated the playoffs these stats look better (42% from the field on 174 attempts and 32.9% from 3 on 76 tries, and an EFG% of 49.1), but that 2-man screen game between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert did the Grizzlies in and Brooks was a casualty in that. Nonetheless, Brooks made life difficult for stars like Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Paul George, and Bradley Beal with his strong, physical defense.
Those numbers more just back up any sort of eye-test defensively you see from Brooks. He’s a strong point-of-attack defender that uses his physicality to bother opponents. In addition, his intense film work translated on the court, as he locked into his matchups and looked to take them out of their comfort zone.
In a Western Conference full of awesome perimeter offensive players, a primary perimeter stopper is necessary to compete at the highest level. Dillon Brooks has played himself into that role, and the Grizzlies will continue to ask him to defend at the highest level.
Dillon Brooks has played himself into being a good 3rd scoring option for next season’s Memphis Grizzlies team. He’s earned that distinction. However, he won't need the creation burden he’s had in the past.
And if that’s the case, he’s going to showcase his offensive efficiency. There’s evidence that it could improve too. He may not possess his postseason shooting splits of 51.5-40.0-80.8, but his post All-Star percentages of 43.6-36.5-80.6 are possible and solid for his role.
When it comes to optimal offensive roles with Dillon Brooks, there’s one area that sticks in my mind: 3-point shooting from the corners. Of any player that shot 50 or more corner-3’s this past season, only Seth Curry had a higher percentage on those shots than Brooks, who capitalized on 56.9% of his 65 3’s from that zone.
In addition, Brooks has always been a solid catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter, never shooting below 38% on such shots.
- Rookie (‘17-18): 40.1% on 197 attempts
- 3rd year (‘19-20): 38% on 287 attempts
- 4th year (‘20-21): 38.6% on 259 attempts
There wasn’t sufficient data from his sophomore year due to injury, though he did shoot 41.9% (13-31) on catch-and-shoot 3’s in those 18 games.
These are two data points that indicate that he can play well off Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., as they should deploy as many wings that can space the floor as possible.
Am I saying they should shift Dillon Brooks into a 3-and-D role that primarily scores off catch-and-shoot? Not entirely.
Brooks is the only wing with size that can create his own shot at 3 levels. You may get frustrated at his shot selection at times. However, it’s just the reality — Dillon Brooks has a knack for creating his shot. He’s also shown strides in this area as well. Last season, Brooks shot 46% on long mid-range shots (between 14 feet and 3-point), which fell in the 78th percentile per Cleaning the Glass. He’s taking the same amount of shots from that range, as they’ve accounted for 17% and 16% the past two seasons. The difference last year was he improved at finding his shots in that zone.
Dillon Brooks may get the same amount of shots in this optimal role. However, given Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant’s projected shot volume and defensive attention, Dillon Brooks’ shot diet should look healthier, and those 14 shots will look a smidge different and more efficient.
Dillon Brooks has played his way into this role. He’s someone who can Sharpie into the starting lineup on opening night alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. With Jonas Valanciunas out of the mix, Brooks slides in as the bonafide 3rd guy. And after a season starring as the team’s perimeter stopper, he’s going to enter that season in that defined role as well.
Now, his workload should look a bit different, in part due to the heightened expectations of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Now we wait and see how he adjusts. Does he shot selection become less irrationally confident and more controlled? Does his shot efficiency rise? Can he keep up the scoring pace as someone who’s not leading the team in shot attempts?
It’s going to be fascinating to monitor this upcoming season.
With where the Memphis Grizzlies and Dillon Brooks are at this stage of “Grizz Next Gen,” he’s entering a season with an optimal role: play off Ja and Jaren as a 3-point shooter, create when necessary, and force the opponent’s best perimeter player into an off night.
Knowing how Dillon Brooks has attacked and performed each season, he’ll rise to the challenge and thrive on his own beat.
Stats found on nba.com/stats, The B-Ball Index, and Cleaning the Glass