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Memphis needs the “right” Dillon Brooks

Dillon Brooks is pivotal to the Grizzlies’ postseason journey

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Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Three Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The 2022 postseason has been a rollercoaster for Dillon Brooks, and Game 2 was the steepest point.

After missing his first 3 shots within less than 3 minutes, he let out his frustrations and delivered a hard flagrant-2 foul on Gary Payton II — resulting in an ejection for Brooks, and an elbow fracture for Payton. It was an unfortunate play. I don’t see it as dirty, but it was reckless. When two world-class athletes are at that sort of momentum that high up in the air, dangerous stuff could happen when there’s contact. It could’ve been avoided, and Brooks has to be smarter than that, especially in the postseason.

Are the Memphis Grizzlies dirty? No. Is Dillon Brooks dirty? No. Was Dillon Brooks reckless? Yes. Okay, let’s move on from that front.

It’s been a whirlwind of a playoffs for Brooks on both sides of the ball, having great stretches of play while being plagued with inconsistent shooting and foul trouble. One of these lowers his two-way impact, and the other limits the time in which he can put his stamp of the game.

All of this is important, because the Memphis Grizzlies need Dillon Brooks to succeed in order to advance this postseason. While that’s true, they also need the optimal version of him and for an ample amount of time.

The Grizzlies need Dillon Brooks to do more by doing less — or to break it down into Grizz speak: channel “good Dillon” of the previous 15 months and pre-bubble 2020, and pivot away from “Bubble Dillon.”

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

Starting with his shooting, Brooks has had an inefficient postseason — scoring 88.4 points per 100 shot attempts, which falls in the 0th percentile among wings, per Cleaning the Glass. He has played with such a streakiness that would make JR Smith blush, and his green light is so bright you need a pair of Louis Vuitton shades. That has led to some big scoring nights, but it’s been rocky more often than not, and it’s generated wild shooting splits.

  • Round 1, Game 1: 7-14 shooting, 3-4 from 3
  • Round 1, Game 2: 3-11, 0-5 from 3
  • Game 3: 4-14, 1-6 from 3
  • Game 4: 10-20, 3-4 from 3
  • Game 5: 3-18, 1-10 from 3
  • Game 6: 9-19, 5-6 from 3
  • Round 2, Game 1: 3-13, 2-8 from 3
  • Round 2, Game 2: 3 shots in less than 3 minutes, missed all 3

He’s been a rock-solid offensive weapon in this next-gen era. You could argue that his scoring helped the Grizzlies surge towards the 8th seed in Ja Morant’s rookie year, and his offense was paramount last season with Jaren Jackson out 85% of the time. The dynamic has changed. With Morant’s All-NBA leap, Desmond Bane’s scoring improvements, and Jackson’s return to the fold — where is Brooks’ role in the offense?

Taylor Jenkins doesn’t need to limit Dillon Brooks’ offense to strictly 3-and-D basketball. He provides too much offensively to be kept in a box. He has the size and physicality to muscle his way to the mid-range, or to get all the way to the tin for drives or free throw opportunities.

Brooks doesn’t need to be limited, but he needs to be in a flow.

I really do like what he said after Game 6, because it’s true.

That’s the thing with good to “really good” offensive players — they figure stuff out, and they won’t suck forever. It’s a slump. However, what can he do to break out of it? He’s been taking what the defense has given him from 3, as defenders have dared him to shoot — knowing that he will shoot, and that they’re playing the percentages to his 30-35% 3-point shooting.

One thing Brooks can do to return to a flow is to find his groove inside the arc. He could attack in open lanes to try opportunities in the paint. He also should explore the mid-range, primarily around the elbows. With Steven Adams potentially reentering the fold, he could benefit with some screen assists off handoffs to give Brooks looks from the elbows.

The Grizzlies need more offense in that zone, as over 70% of their shots have come either at the rim or from downtown, per Cleaning the Glass. In addition, only 4.4% of their shots have come from the “long” mid-range (15 feet - the 3-point line). The Grizzlies don’t need to play 90’s basketball by any means, but they’d benefit from a bit more shot diversity. It’d lower their predictability as the Golden State Warriors take away the paint, it’d also give them another outlet to attack, and it’d give Brooks an avenue for him to rediscover his zone.

When he gets to those drives, Brooks needs to continue making the extra pass. While he’s not this marvelous secondary/tertiary playmaker, he’s been taking strides in that aspect. When his shot isn’t on, or if he’s just probing inside the arc, or if the ball is just bouncing around the arc, he has to find his man to make a good shot a great one.

When he’s leaning on using his game inside the arc, the defense will adjust, which could lead to him getting outside shots. Whenever that comes in the flow of the offense, let it fly.

The Grizzlies need Dillon Brooks to be a reliable, consistent offensive weapon. The Warriors are inevitably making adjustments for how they defend Ja Morant. They’re already sticking Draymond Green on Jaren Jackson Jr., who shot 3-14 in Game 2. Desmond Bane is also moving gingerly with back soreness. They need his offense, but Brooks also has to remain poised in finding it.

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies - Game One Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Dillon Brooks is needed even more defensively. Guarding Steph Curry is an absolute chore. His deadly shooting and his constant off-ball movement make him one of the toughest covers in the league. Brooks is no stranger to these sort of assignments, and he’s fared well in the Curry matchup.

In Game 1, Curry was 0-7 with Brooks as the primary defender. It was a small sample size and matchup data doesn’t capture the full scope of the defensive performance. Even then, Curry was 9-22 in last season’s regular season and play-in game with Brooks as his primary defender. That’s a substantial amount of evidence that he works in this role.

Brooks has strong principles in guarding Curry. He doesn’t take switches; he will fight through screens to stay on Curry. He maintains a good deny position, looking to take away the dribble handoff. He also holds his ground on the perimeter where he doesn’t try to fall for the dance moves that often torch many helpless defenders, baiting Curry into taking a tougher fadeaway 3 — still a shot he makes, but obviously not the most ideal one.

Brooks’ size and physicality advantage bode well in this matchup, and the Grizzlies need him on the floor as much as possible for it. Like Jackson, foul trouble follows Brooks, as he led the league in personal fouls in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. He needs to be mindful of the cheap fouls — the closeouts that are too hard, the frustration fouls, the avoidable stuff.

That’s not saying he needs to reduce his physicality. His aggression and edge are staples to his prowess as a defensive stopper. He just has to harness it, as the Grizzlies need him in this role as much as possible.

Overall this postseason, even taking away the fouls, Brooks has done a stellar job on that end of the floor. He made D’Angelo Russell such a non-factor in that series that he was benched in crunch time of Game 6. When Jackson fouled out in Game 5, he limited Karl-Anthony Towns quite well down the stretch. Though he toyed with the Grizzlies perimeter defense in Games 1 and 6, he and Desmond Bane were great in forcing Anthony Edwards into tougher shots.

Brooks’ defensive expertise has been big this postseason, and they need him to avoid foul trouble to maintain their edge against the Warriors’ firepower.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Grizzlies v Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Dillon Brooks has been instrumental for this Grizzlies squad, and that’s why it’s important for him to channel his energy into finding the optimal version of himself needed for this team.

He’s a multi-faceted offensive player capable of creating off the dribble. His outside shooting closed out the Timberwolves on the road in Game 6. He hits big shots, including that dagger 3 over Towns in the remarkable Game 3 comeback. He’s a weapon that can fill gaps when the primary players are off or heavily targeted, or a luxury when things are clicking.

Defensively, he’s an All-Defensive caliber stopper, and he’s the best option to take on the Warriors’ most deadly offensive weapon.

When you break it down to the intangibles, he’s often referred to as the spirit leader of this team. He’s a young veteran on a team without a lot of experience. He plays with an edge that’s contagious, and he’s not going to back down from a challenge or a hostile crowd — in fact, he’ll probably relish it.

It boils down to this: the Memphis Grizzlies may not have needed Dillon Brooks to win Game 2, but they need Dillon Brooks to win this playoff series (and potentially more).

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