It was supposed to be a breakout season for Dillon Brooks. Dillon shined for Memphis to wrap up the 2020-2021 NBA season, proving to be a defensive menace and secondary scoring option to Ja Morant as the Memphis Grizzlies clinched this era’s first playoff berth. In those 5 first round games against the Utah Jazz, he averaged 25.8 points on 51.5% shooting and 40% from beyond the arc. Brooks also chipped in 4.2 rebounds per game and 2.2 assists per game in the series. His defense dropped off a little bit, as Donavan Mitchell was able to use the NBA rules to his advantage and get him in foul trouble, as DB fought through Rudy Gobert screens. Ultimately, though, it was a breakout for Dillon that had fans ecstatic heading into the 2021-2022 season.
Instead of a breakout, it was an injury-riddled season for Brooks. DB missed the first 10 games of the season after recovery from a fracture in his left hand. A few weeks later, he missed a couple of games with hamstring soreness. A couple of weeks after that? Missed 7 games in health and safety Protocols. Not even two full games back from being in protocols and Dillon sprains his ankle against the Los Angeles Clippers and misses the next 27 games for the Grizzlies. The injuries limited Brooks to just 32 games after he played in 90%+ of Grizzlies games in 3 of his first 4 seasons.
Memphis’ Iron Man was broken.
The injuries didn’t really stop his on-court production once healthy, as Dillon Brooks averaged a career-high 18.4 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. It was a bad year for his 3-point shot, as he shot just a tick under 31% from beyond the arc. He also averaged a career high 2.8 assists during the regular season. That’s not a fantastic assist number, but considering the discourse on Dillon over the years as a “ball-hog” etc., it was a sign of growth this season.
Due to the injuries, Memphis’ expected starting five of Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams and Brooks played just 108 minutes together this season. The new core group of Ja, Bane, JJJ and DB played just 124 minutes on the season. Getting less than 200 minutes as a group on the season, especially with each guy coming back from their own injuries/illnesses at various times throughout the season, really made it tough to get a good idea of what those lineups could really do — even if the short sample size was good.
It was an overall solid regular season from Dillon, as he scored in double figures in every game except for the game against the Clippers where he got hurt early. He scored 20+ 15 times and 30+ twice, including a career-high 37 against the Blazers. Defensively, it took some time for Dillon to get in game shape and never quite got to the level he was in to wrap up the 2020-2021 season, but he was no negative by any means.
Then came the playoffs. After shining in last season’s playoffs, this season was pretty much a nightmare for Dillon Brooks. In 11 games, DB averaged 14.6 points on 34.9% shooting and 34.7% from beyond the arc. He was decent in the Minnesota series, balancing 3 good games with 3 bad ones. The troubling parts of the bad were they were bad bad. In the 3 games against the Wolves where DB struggled, he scored a combined 28 points and shot less than 30% in each game. His shooting splits? 3-11 (27.3%) in Game 2, 4-14 (28.6%) in Game 3, 3-18 (16.7%) in Game 5. His defense in the series was solid, as he did a good job of putting D’Angelo Russell in hell, but struggled against the physicality of Anthony Edwards. DB’s defense on KAT later in the series was excellent when called upon.
DB’s inconsistencies didn’t crush the Grizzlies against Minnesota as the team was able to move on to face off against the Golden State Warriors in the second round. It was a brutal start to the series for Dillon, who scored just 8 points on 3-13 shooting (2-8 from deep) and picked up 5 fouls in the Game 1 loss. Dillon then proceeded to shoot 0-3 in just 3 minutes in Game 2 before being ejected from the game with the infamous Flagrant 2 foul that left Gary Payton II with a fractured elbow. He was then suspended for Game 3 against Golden State, and then by the end of Game 4 most of Grizz Nation was wishing Dillon had been suspended longer.
The Grizzlies led for 47 minutes in their first game without Ja Morant before ultimately falling by 3 to the Warriors in Game 4. Brooks (understandably) was the scapegoat of the game after shooting 5-19 from the field and 2-9 from beyond the arc. The game included a series of bad shot selection from Dillon, which overshadowed his solid game doing “the little things” he normally doesn’t — like rebound (5 boards) and pass (tie season high 8 assists). After blowing Golden State out in Game 5, Dillon went out in true Dillon fashion in Game 6 trying to carry the team to victory. DB scored 30 points on 11-28 shooting in Game 6, as Memphis ultimately came up short in the final 6 minutes of the game as their season came to an end.
Shot selection will continue to be the major topic of discussion in regards to Dillon Brooks. Former Site Manager Joe Mullinax (okay, that’s weird to type) explained the Dillon Brooks experience nicely the other week. I echo a lot of the sentiment in Joe’s piece and will refrain from repeating what he has said.
While shot selection is a concern with Brooks, it’s important to note the team relies on his aggression. Multiple instances the team has mentioned how Brooks is their spirit animal and aggressor on both sides of the ball. During the regular season, I actually thought Brooks had done a decent job of deferring to others with Ja on the court, while taking over offensively in more bench-heavy lineups. In the playoffs, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Brooks was the heavy shot-taker. Bane is really the only other aggressive player on the perimeter, and he was clearly hampered by that back injury. With Jackson’s aggressiveness coming in spurts, somebody on Memphis has to shoot the ball. That doesn’t mean some of the shots Dillon took were good, but it is what is to be expected at this point.
The larger concern for me this postseason with Dillon was the fact that he settled for so many 3-point attempts. DB usually will force some layups or the mid-range, but he isn’t a crazy high volume 3-point shooter. This postseason, however, he averaged 6.5 attempts from deep per game. Dillon settled far too often instead of getting to his spots on the floor. Defensively, Dillon was solid but had a few mental lapses that we’re not accustomed to seeing from him in such important games.
Dillon Brooks has arguably the most interesting future of anyone on the team. Memphis has 7 extension-eligible players, and Brooks’ priority will be interesting to watch. Grizzlies General Manager (and Executive of the Year!) Zach Kleiman stated during the exit interviews that money wouldn’t be an issue to keep this core together.
Zach Kleiman says he won’t have any issue paying anyone he wants to pay, and he thanks Robert Pera for his vision, support, and committment— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) May 15, 2022
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Dillon is guaranteed to sign an extension this offseason, however. He is eligible for a 4-year $61.3 million extension but it’s unrealistic he gets that much. Memphis could counter with a much smaller deal taking advantage of the market after a disappointing postseason, while Brooks may want to wait until next offseason and use next season as a means to get the best deal possible following the 2022-2023 season. Brooks also figures to be a key piece in any potential trade negotiations for the Grizzlies if they aim for a big trade this offseason. Extended or not would likely be the preference on the team Dillon would be heading to.
I wouldn’t be shocked with any outcome in regards to DB. I can easily see him and Memphis not coming to terms on an extension, while also seeing him being the second guy signed to an extension (with Ja’s max/supermax likely to be first). Out of the 3 options, I’d be most surprised by a trade, but mostly due to the fact that no big name is knowingly available at the moment. As always in the NBA, that can change as quickly as Woj and Shams can send a tweet out.
Dillon Brooks is who he is at this point. He’s a great defender who brings an edge that not many other guys can bring. The team loves him and embraces what he brings to the table, both the good and the bad. I think The Ringer’s Dan Devine said best last May:
It is the official position of this account that I will take all the Dillon Brooks you got, and I will live with the bad parts, because while they might go away if he was 5% less aggressive, that 5% is what makes him him, and I have a blind love for players like that.— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) May 30, 2021
Brooks can be a frustrating enigma for Memphis fans. His irrational confidence certainly causes some poor performances, but it also brings an energy and aggression to the team that is hard to describe. Regardless of what happens this offseason, it will certainly be an interesting year for Brooks as Memphis is shifting to contender status, putting themselves in position to “go all the way”.
Whether Dillon Brooks will be around for that is to be determined.