Dillon Brooks is a Different Kind of Bear


If the Memphis basketball team is known as the Grizzlies, it makes sense why Dillon Brooks never really quite fit. Follow with me, if you will, an analogy of imagination.

Dillon Brooks, in a sleuth of Grizzlies, was always a polar bear. Why a polar bear you may be wondering. It’s quite simple really, Dillon Brooks will go down as the most polarizing Grizzly to ever put on the uniform. There is no in-between when it comes to Brooks—  you either loved or hated him.

He never really fit in with the long-term plans of either front-office regime he was employed by.

For years, the Memphis Grizzlies have been a franchise that has seemingly been one piece away from being serious title contenders. That one piece was always an above-average small forward.

During the Grit n’ Grind era of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, it was a revolving door at the position. Rudy Gay, Jeff Green, Chandler Parsons, Shane Battier and Mike Miller were all plugged in to that spot in hopes of filling that void.

Brooks was the lone surviving piece of that era of Memphis basketball, an era that is treasured by those in Memphis. The front office certainly hoped he would take what he learned from the “Core Four” and pass that along to the “Grizz Next Gen.” However, his polarizing nature got in the way.

The drafting of Ja Morant and subsequent departure of Conley ushered in the new era of Grizzlies basketball. Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. were rightfully dubbed the new franchise cornerstones. But in the NBA it often takes a core of three to be viable. It was either Jonas Valanciunas or Dillon Brooks that would be naturally in line to be that third piece. Valanciunas was obviously never going to be a long-term piece, so Brooks had his chance.

He had his chance until the arrival of Desmond Bane. One of the best shooters in the game was also the best fit to be the third musketeer, not Brooks.

What made Tony Allen fit for Memphis was his self-awareness. Offensively, he knew plays were never going to be drawn for him— his job was to cut off the ball in a timely manner and play within himself. Sure, his smoked layups in transition were maddening, but his elite perimeter defense more than made up the difference.

Dillon severely lacked that self-awareness.

A Cold Front

Without question, Brooks should have been — at best — the fourth offensive option for Memphis this season. He finished third in shot attempts per contest but finished dead last in shooting percentage amongst players that played any kind of meaningful minutes. The second-most experienced player on the roster shot under 40% for the season, yet continued to jack up shots.

This is not a one season deal sadly enough.

  • 2021-22: 2nd in FGA, 10th in FG%
  • 2020-21: 1st in FGA, 10th in FG% (Jaren only played 11 games due to injury)
  • 2019-20: 1st in FGA, 10th in FG% (Ja’s rookie season)
  • 2018-19: Injury-riddled season
  • 2017-18: 4th in FGA, 9th in FG% (rookie season)

This not completely on Dillon— the coaching staff is to blame as well. In his rookie season, he started 74 games and was thrust into a role. However, none of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, JB Bickerstaff nor Tyreke Evans were going to accept Dillon playing beyond his role. It’s what gave the fan base a level of excitement for what Dillon might be.

In comes Morant for the 2019-20 season. The makeup of this team was such that Valanciunas needed to be the team’s second option while Dillon and Jaren Jackson Jr. carried the load of a 3-4 option, as Jaren was still developing his offensive game. Brooks led the team at 14.6 shots per contest on 40.7% shooting.

Insert Desmond Bane in 2020-21. While a rookie, it became evident to most that Bane’s volume should have never been less than half of Brooks’. Dillon led this Memphis team at 15.4 attempts on 41.9% shooting.

The 2021-22 season would be the first true season in which Memphis had its own version of a big three in place: Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane. Somehow, Dillon still finished with the second-most shot attempts at 16.4 per game. That was two more shots than Bane and three more than Jackson Jr.

Polar bears typically find themselves in cold habitats and Dillon Brooks consistently found himself cold on the offensive side of the ball. That was not just a 2022-2023 NBA Playoffs thing— it was a career characteristic.

A Necessary Evil

The most-popular argument used to justify the presence of Dillon Brooks on the Memphis Grizzlies roster is the necessary evil argument. In reality, it was just an excuse. Brooks as an elite defender was a local-media narrative. That was never the actual truth. What he was, was a willing and relentless defender. He had no problem taking on Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, LeBron James when it was time.

Here is how Basketball-Reference defines Defensive Box plus/minus:

“A box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team.”

Dillon is a career negative defender.

Then there is this stat, VORP. Value over Replacement-Player. A replacement level player is scored at a -2.0 and Dillon’s VORP for his career is a -4.6.

So what does all this mean?

Here is the VORP of some other players for comparison:

In fact, in 2022-23, only three players had a lower VORP than Brooks. Jabari Smith Jr., Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley. Rookies.

A Sore Thumb

A polar bear hanging out with a bunch of grizzly bears in the wild would stick out like a sore thumb. Dillon’s lack of self-awareness perhaps made him stick out the most.

The shot selection was often extremely awful, not understanding where he is more successful or completely killing the flow of the game. He would be an offensive ball stopper at times with his self-proclaimed green light. Other times, he would take early possession threes out of rhythm. It just made no sense.

Then there is this comment about his role in the offense:

“I don’t think I lost any thing on the offensive end,” Brooks said. “I was just there to three-and-D, shoot and play defense. I got way more to my game than that.”

Followed by, “I wish I could have gotten some play calls so I can find my rhythm and find some stuff like that,” Brooks said, “but it wasn’t in the cards for our team.”

No team, attempting to win a title, is running plays for this guy. Not his role.

Forget that level of blissful ignorance. Just a day later, it comes out that he wants $25 million per year. He want’s Jaren Jackson Jr. money. Money, that for the Grizzlies, will be given to Desmond Bane.

The irrationality of Dillon Brooks just became too much.

A Scapegoat


A player can only become a problem if the player is allowed to be come a problem. Check this quote from Taylor Jenkins:

“For the program we’re building here, DB’s the guy who epitomizes it and doesn’t back down from it. We need him. He’s a competitor in everything he does. It’s on the basketball floor, it’s in the training room, it’s in our shooting games, it’s pregame workouts, it’s the card table, it’s how he dresses for the game. It’s all that, it’s all a competitive undertone. That’s the biggest thing be brings, and the biggest thing we need.”

Head coach Taylor Jenkins welcomed the insanity that is Dillon Brooks. He said they needed it.

In reality, what the team needed was a coach that had the gumption to hold a player accountable. The courage to sit a player to get his attention. David Fizdale was lauded as a “player’s coach” but did not last long because he didn’t coach coach. Jenkins is a player’s coach that has the potential to be an excellent in-game coach as well.

In this instance, he failed his team as the leader, allowing all of this to manifest.

Dillon Brooks is a different bear. Memphis and Brooks are no longer a mutually-beneficial relationship. It is without question, time to move on. But to put this all squarely on the shoulders of Brooks is malpractice.

The organization has every right to move on and go in a different direction. They should and they are. But the front office has to also look at how they are building a roster around their three cornerstones. The coaching staff has to mature and learn from their mistakes in a playoff series.

Is Dillon a scapegoat or a product of bad timing?

Either way, his tenure in Memphis is over. The Grizzlies have to grow into their championship form and that was NEVER going to include Dillon Brooks as a starter.

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