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This is the biggest season of Dillon Brooks’ career

Dillon Brooks’ role seems to be as ideal as it’s ever been in his NBA career. With the implications around this season and his future, how he adapts is a driving factor in perhaps the biggest season of his career.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The perception of Dillon Brooks has been polarizing over the past several seasons, and it reached its apex during Game 4 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. His shot selection was maddening, after a putrid 5-19 outing. From there, more questions regarding Dillon Brooks’ long-term role and fit with the Memphis Grizzlies arose — while bold predictions were made regarding those topics as well. However you want to spin it, that playoff game lingers around like a ghost to some, and perhaps use it to ultimately define Brooks as a player.

Though it’d be a bit harsh to label him off that Game 4 performance, it perhaps captures the full Dillon Brooks experience. With any time his shot selection is perplexing, there are moments he could carry the team through an off-scoring night from its star. For any silly fouls, there are games where he’s locking up some of the best players in the world. And despite the chaos that might ensue, his effort and tenacity never wave — it’s always on 10.

Even though there’s infuriation from his naysayers, the numbers suggest the Grizzlies are emphatically better with Dillon Brooks on the floor. Over the past two seasons, the Grizzlies have been 8.0 (2021-22) and 8.9 (2020-21) points per 100 possessions better with Brooks on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. He led the team in this point differential in both season — technically, only Killian Tillie had a higher mark in the 2020-21 season, but he played fewer than 140 non garbage time minutes.

There are two sides to the coin.

The debates around Brooks’ perception will likely stay throughout this season as well. However, there shouldn’t be any disagreements on this statement: the 2022-23 season will be the biggest of Dillon Brooks’ career.

This season is the first one where Dillon Brooks’ role feels as clear as his pair of Louis Vuitton shades, no longer having to serve as the 2nd or 3rd scorer. The narrative around him being best served as a 6th man is out the window. He’s the team’s best perimeter defender — especially when it comes to guarding the opponent’s best player — and he’s grown to become quite versatile on that side of the floor. There aren’t many players with his positional range defensively — guarding stars from Stephen Curry, to Luka Doncic, to Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s pretty unique, and you don’t have those players start the game off the bench. It helps set a tone early, while preventing said star from doing so himself.

However, the pecking order feels more defined where Brooks doesn’t have to do as much as he’s had during his Memphis tenure. Ja Morant will take the most shots. Desmond Bane might be in for even more of an uptick in field goal attempts after his remarkable sophomore campaign. Jaren Jackson Jr. offers a fascinating frontcourt upside predicated around his size, shooting, and post flashes. Brooks shouldn’t be relayed on to score as much as before.

Will we see that trend this season? Perhaps, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Last season, he finished 8th in the league in field goal attempts per 100 possessions (28.4). A lot of his regular season games came without Ja Morant, so a large chunk of shots did open up. His usage rate has been in the 84th percentile or higher over the past 3 seasons, per Cleaning the Glass. It’ll be interesting to see where these marks fall next season, especially since it may contribute to one of Brooks’ goals for this season.

To take more efficient shots.

In other words: shot selection.

For Grizzlies faithful, it’s something you want to hear. Over the past 3 seasons, he hasn’t had an effective field goal percentage above 50% — while never ranking higher than the 22nd percentile in this category as well, per Cleaning the Glass. Finding more efficient shots should help him in this area. How does it look like though?

Brooks takes a lot of contested mid-range jumpers. Last season, he ranked in the 98th percentile in frequency on mid-range jumpers, as 45% of his shots come within that zone — per Cleaning the Glass. He shouldn’t complete erase that facet of his game, as he’s a proven commodity on these shots. In the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, he connected on 43 and 46% on long mid-range jumpers (between 15 feet and the 3-point line), both falling within the 72-76th percentile among wings.

It’s a valuable asset to have 6’7” wings that can create their own shots, especially in the mid-range. The Grizzlies shouldn’t restrict him to 3’s, cuts, and layups. Over time, he’s become more methodical getting to this spots — utilizing his physicality to generate separation for elevation and for cleaner looks in this zone. In searching for efficient shots, especially in the mid-range, he should look to utilize dribble hand-off’s and pick-and-roll’s to get to his spots.

In addition, he could look for more buckets at the rim. Only 29% of his shots came at the rim last season, per Cleaning the Glass. However, he showed more prowess at the rim. He finished in the 88th percentile in the rim shot creation and rim shot making metrics of The B-Ball Index. Again, he methodically uses his physicality to get these shots. In addition, he’s surrounded by so many great playmakers in a system predicated around movement. He’s in a perfect infrastructure to find his offense off the ball through cutting to the basket. He’s not an above-the-rim threat, but he’s still found success in the paint.

Another development to watch in his goal is his 3-point shooting. He regressed in this regard last season, and his offseason hand injury could’ve been a factor into his slip. His catch-and-shoot 3-point shooting went from 38.6 to 33.8%, per The B-Ball Index, and his corner 3 percentage fell from a whopping 54 to 36%. Progressing back to a league-average 3-point shooter will bode well for this offense, and seeing more of those shots go down the net could help him adjust his shot portfolio.

Finding efficient shots will be crucial for Dillon Brooks’ impact on the Grizzlies’ success, and his pathway to do so involves cutting out the off-the-dribble, contested jumpers while not totally going away from what’s made him a top 100 player in the league.

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors - Game Six Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This season will be so pivotal for Dillon Brooks, because of the possibility of an extension or unrestricted free agency next summer.

The most he could receive on an extension is $61M over 4 years, 125% of his current contract (3 years, $33M). It wouldn’t be surprising if the Grizzlies and Brooks do not come to terms on this number. If he’s betting on himself, he should be more welcoming to free agency.

Brooks could realistically earn more money bypassing an extension, and it’d be the first time he enters free agency as well. He’s in line to be one of the best wings on the market, as Khris Middleton and Andrew Wiggins seem more likely to have an extension before next summer. With the cap spike on the way with the new TV deals, and with the market for players of his skillset, he could earn a deal north of $20M annually.

For reference, Derrick White, Marcus Smart, and Tim Hardaway Jr. are in the $70M ballpark over 4-year deals. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Brooks net a similar deal, especially with the cap implications on the way.

The ultimate driving factor of his next contract will be how he performs this season. However, it’s going to be even more important to see how his role scales within this pecking order this season. Can he show he can be the 4th guy on a team contending for a championship? Are there more games he’s firing 10-15 shots rather than 15-20?

How those questions are answered will decide Brooks’ next contract, which should be a sizable raise from his current contract. After all, he is a hot commodity.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Finally, it’s the biggest season of Dillon Brooks’ career, because it’s another year he’s proving his long-term standing on this team.

Maybe his last one.

For all the frustration about his shot selection, and for the questions if he could scale his offensive role down, the Grizzlies are awesome when he shares the floor with the core guys. Last season, the Grizzlies obliterated opponents by 21.4 points per 100 possessions when sharing the floor with Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. in 267 total possessions.

There’s a framework within these 4 players that just gels wonderfully — the offensive dynamo in Morant, one of the best 5 shooters in the world in Bane, a two-way defensive stopper in Brooks, and the modern “protect-and-switch” big man in Jackson. Pairing two elite defenders around Morant, who tends to struggle in this area, could be essential in forming a title contender in Memphis. They have those two guys in Jackson and Brooks. If this sample within this formula builds and yields more success, Brooks could be a long-term fixture in Memphis.

He’s also proven to be a good culture guy as well. Over the past several seasons, teammates and Taylor Jenkins have referred to Brooks as the team’s spiritual, emotional leader. On a team originally without a lot of veterans, he’s grown to be a steady veteran voice and serve as a guide for the team’s young guys.

There’s a fit on and off the court with Brooks. When building a contender, you want to keep those guys. Right?

2022 NBA Playoffs - Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Dillon Brooks is now in a role and pecking order that seems to be ideal for his skillset and for the Memphis Grizzlies’ winning prospects. After 6 seasons of largely the same offensive role as the 2nd or 3rd option as a scorer, will there be an adjustment for him? Will his naysayers be proven correct about his resistance to adapt? Or will they stand corrected?

I lean towards him adapting to a degree. He’s shown growth in his game through his playmaking, seeing a slight rise in assists over the past 3 seasons. The shot selection won’t be perfect, but his progression as playmaker and floor-reader lead me to believe there will be more efficient shots.

This area could ultimately decide his future. It should also go unnoticed that Dillon Brooks plays with a relentless edge — the kids might say he has that dawg in him. As evident through the NBA finalists last season (Draymond Green and Marcus Smart with the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics respectively), championship teams need an edge — perhaps an x-factor in this regard — to go over the top. Brooks has the intangibles and the skillset to be that guy.

After an injury-riddled regular season and a rough exit last year, Dillon Brooks is out to prove he’s an impactful player on winning basketball. With the expectations of the Grizzlies this season, and his unknown future next summer, this season is the biggest one yet for the Grizzlies’ polarizing wing.

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