Dillon Brooks: A Rookie in the Shadows— November 18th 2017
With early responsibility thrown his way, is Dillon Brooks the future of the Memphis Grizzlies?
By Isaac Biehl
The NBA Rookie is one of the most peculiar species in all of the basketball universe. You never know what you are going to get when drafting one, which is what makes them so exciting. This year has been quite an interesting one for rookies, with the spotlight shining hard on Lonzo Ball, a swirling tornado in Kyle Kuzma, a near-perfect Ben Simmons and a few others who have been making names for themselves as well.
One of them is Memphis forward Dillon Brooks, who is working to shatter early predictions and expectations, or rather, a lack-thereof.
Alright, here’s the deal: I am pretty good at keeping track of the dudes currently playing in the NBA. I have to be. It’s part of my job description. And, as I said, I’m pretty damn good at it. No player escapes my watchful gaze undetected. No player except for Dillon Brooks.
As of this writing, Brooks is averaging 9.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He is shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 74.1 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers definitely are not jaw-dropping on any scale. They are not bad, either. Sometimes, it is important to look deeper into those numbers.
For example, despite only starting six games, Brooks currently has the fourth-most points on the Grizzlies. The three players in front of him include Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and possible Sixth Man of the Year Tyreke Evans. Brooks also has the third-most rebounds on the team and the fourth-most blocks. Even more startling, he ranks first in steals.
Instead of looking at a player individually, it is important to look at him in the grander of scheme of basketball being a team sport. As of November 17, he ranks eighth in Real Plus-Minus for all rookies. Brooks has worked his way into the starting lineup by sheer will. While it has not always been pretty on the court, there is no denying the beauty of a player’s hustle.
The thing is, Brooks has always been this way. He comes up big when it matters most. Like in the video for his debut above, these types of games stem back to when he was an Oregon Duck helping to lead the way on an exhilarating Final Four run. He has not hit any huge “buzzer beaters” yet like in college, when he ripped out the hearts of all UCLA fans. However, Brooks has played excellent in crunch time. Just on November 7 against Portland, Brooks poked the ball loose and was then given the ball on a breakaway and landed a hard and-one layup to really clinch the game. In clutch minutes (five minutes left, with the game having a five points or less margin), Brooks is shooting 66.7 percent. He gets better as the game goes on.
Coach David Fizdale is clearly a big fan of Brooks’ game, inserting him into the starting lineup much faster than people would have expected. Fizdale has also allowed Brooks to guard some pretty big players during games, which shows he has a lot of trust in the second-round pick. Of course, he might lose sometimes during these matchups, but this is an important step for Brooks to grow as a player. While Lonzo Ball was benched during fourth quarter struggles, Brooks is being given more of that opportunity to grow on the court. His old Oregon teammate Jordan Bell is valuing from the stacked lineup and depth the Warriors possess too, which seems like the right situation for Bell. Brooks, however, is getting thrown in head first — the way he likes it. Not only do his coach and teammates love him, but it seems like the fans cannot get enough of Dillon Brooks either:
a young fan asked Dillon Brooks for his autograph at an away game and told him he wants to be as good as him one day. Dillon told him to practice every day and drink Muscle Milk. that fan grew up to be Larry Bird.
For an organization that has never won a championship, it seems like the Memphis Grizzlies have been “on the cusp” for many years now. They have only made one conference finals, and in a Western Conference that appears to get more stacked every season, they need something to help push them over the hump. Conley and Gasol are seasoned veterans, and if Brooks continues to improve and take some of that load off of them as they age, he might be the guy for the future of Memphis basketball. Brooks has that Kobe Bryant mindset on offense — kill or be killed. He would not have a problem shouldering the load if it were needed, and he also would have no trouble making his teammates better. Especially if he develops into a more efficient shooter in the pros, the league could be witnessing the birth of one of the next great scorers.
Conley knows a lot about being overlooked in his basketball career, so Brooks has the right guy to help with that same issue. Unfortunately, Conley will be sidelined for an unknown amount of time, which means the Grizzlies will begin to struggle more than usual. I mean, it is never good when a team loses one of the top point guards in the league.
For Brooks, this means more responsibility on his shoulders, more shots his way and more time with the ball in his hands. Brooks will embrace this challenge as he has every other one in his career. It also might be the moment we see his rookie stock surge. He has already proven to be a reliable piece, but this stretch without Conley will push Brooks’ game to a new place. He has always thrived more when the odds were against him, anyway.