Grizzlies

The Good, The Bad and The Brooks: How Dillon The Villain Fits in Memphis

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“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent (Christopher Nolan?), The Dark Knight

While “The Villain” was a moniker Dillon Brooks took on proudly, by the end of the 2021-22 season that nickname became far from endearing for the longest-tenured Memphis Grizzly.

Brooks has been the energy-bringing defensive menace for the Grizzlies since the end of the Core Four era. Every team needs that guy who has a little bit of crazy in him, and Dillon “The Villain” has been that guy for Memphis.

With craziness comes volatility, and Brooks is no different. There is no secret that any given night could have “Good Dillon” or “Bad Dillon” wearing that Memphis uniform. For the most part, though, the good that Brooks has brought has outweighed the bad.

But by the end of the 2022 playoffs, fans seemed to have hit a breaking point. Brooks came back from injury in time for the playoffs, but it was clear he did not have his full, fine-tuned skillset.

That was normal and not a problem.

The fact that he kept playing like he was at peak of powers was the problem.

While Brooks was not on point, he insisted on playing like he was in prime form. And while it’s hard to ever say a player can single-handedly blow a game, he came about as close as you can in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

All of this had (for some, has) fans ready to jump ship on Dillon. Even loyal residents of Dillon Brooks Island felt it impossible to defend Brooks after his postseason performances (FOR SHAME).

https://twitter.com/MemGrizzHomer/status/1523895625183465472

With the Grizzlies having so many assets and cap space, some fans wondered if Brooks may be dealt in the offseason. But now it’s August, and he is still on the team.

And that’s a good thing.

A Season To Forget

No sane person would venture to say Brooks’ past season was good. It was by all means a season to forget for the sixth year forward.

But he’s not the only one who should put last season behind him— fans should let it go, too.

Brooks played a total of 32 games last regular season. That’s less than 40% of the season.

Of those 32 games, here’s the breakdown of his appearances:

  • Inactive for the first ten games
  • Played in nineteen games, missing four for injury management/rest
  • Missed six to injury (approximately two weeks)
  • Played in two games
  • Missed twenty-seven games to injury (over two months)
  • Played in eleven games leading up to the playoffs, missing three games for rest

Brooks essentially played in three-different mini regular seasons, which is not nearly enough for a player to find a groove. This was evidenced by his poor performance from the free-throw line in the postseason.

Brooks, a career 79.9% free-throw shooter that has improved that percentage every season since his second year, shot them at a 64% clip in the playoffs. That was indicative of a guy who could not find a rhythm and had lost his confidence.

Now let’s be clear: there are parts of Brooks’ game that he has to change.

He’s a career 34.8% three-point shooter that averages 4.5 three point attempts per game. He’s also averaged 15.5 total field-goal attempts per game (16.4 last season) in the three seasons since Ja Morant joined the team. For reference, Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr averaged 20.6, 13.3 and 14.5 attempts per game last season, respectively.

Brooks took more shots than two of the Grizzlies’ three best scorers, and that cannot be the case with his average shooting percentage from deep and general inconsistency. He takes silly shots, stops the ball in a fluid offense, and makes frustrating defensive mistakes. All of these are things within Brooks’ control that he needs to improve.

That being said, this past season was full of extenuating circumstances for Brooks, and a return to normalcy in the upcoming season will help even out those frustrations.

Consistency is Key

In addition to a general return to normalcy for Brooks, he has ample opportunities to improve his game.

Brooks shot 30.9% from three last year. While some of that can be attributed to the volatile season, it was indicative of a downward trend with his three-point shooting as Brooks has shot under 35% in both of his last two seasons.

An improvement on the shot in general would be great, but here’s a fun nugget with Brooks’ three-point shooting: remember that Dillon’s career three-point percentage is 34.8%, and last season it was 30.9%?

Well guess what those percentages turn into on solely corner threes:

  • Career: 42.8%
  • 2021-2022: 36.0%

While Brooks has always been a streaky player, he has actually been pretty consistent with corner threes.

https://twitter.com/MaxOnHoops/status/1280895978485297152

And that will be one key for Brooks succeeding with Memphis: finding ways to be more consistent. Eliminate most of the bad shots, take the good ones, and finally…

Learn to Make the Extra Pass

This will the main key for Brooks to thrive.

The biggest flaw in Brooks’ game is that he is a ball-stopper. Even the bad shots he takes are a result of not passing when he should. If he took those wild shots late in the clock at the end of a busted possession, no one would be upset.

He actually might be one of the best bad shot takers in the entire NBA. He takes these shots with 18 seconds on the clock.

https://twitter.com/ClutchPointsApp/status/1396648341648334851

Brooks simply cannot be second on the team in field-goal attempts per game. Morant, Bane, Jackson and possibly even Ziaire Williams should take more shots than him.

He must improve as a passer.

The good news is Brooks did already show some improvement as a passer last season. He averaged a career-high 2.8 assists last season, almost a full assist per game higher than his career average of 2.0. While not a stout number, it is indicative of what Brooks showed on the court, which was an increased effort to pass to better shots.

This following clip is especially telling:

https://twitter.com/paka_flocka/status/1516842899962486784?s=10&t=y7UQeO5i5lmUqxtSLrePgg

In seasons past, Brooks would have just put his head down and barreled to the rim for an ill-advised layup attempt. But here, he realized he was off, saw an opportunity for a better shot, and dumped it off to Brandon Clarke for the easy bucket.

He just has to continue to develop this notion and shift his mindset moving forward.

If Brooks can shed his ball-stopper reputation and learn to play within the flow of the offense, fans will forget all about their 2022 frustrations with him. Continuing to improve his passing ability and vision will be central to that.

Putting It All Together

So what will Dillon’s 2022-23 season end up being? Will he redeem his “Villain” title, and again become a nightmare only for opposing offenses? Or will his game stagnate and become a net negative for Memphis?

While Brooks’ primary contributions as a defensive tone-setter require him to play slightly unhinged, this will be the season he starts to adjust his role. After an offseason that found Brooks thrown into numerous trade rumors and in which many questioned his ability to play within the flow of the team, he will come into the season prepared to redeem his reputation.

More than ever, Brooks knows he has to adopt a play style that allows the players around him to thrive. While he still will bring energy and additional shot creation for the Grizzlies, he will play more within the flow of the offense to allow Morant, Bane and others to flourish.

Ideally, Brooks will take on a hybrid sixth man type of role to begin the year.

With Jackson out to start the season, it makes sense to start Bane, Williams and Brooks as the starting wings next to Morant and Adams.

While Brooks will be undersized, he has already shown numerous times that his tenacity and physicality allow him to defend bigger players. Pairing his physicality with Williams’ length will allow them to switch seamlessly defensively, while placing them together will allow Memphis to spread the floor offensively as they would with Jackson.

Put it all together, and Memphis is all of a sudden filling a void defensively while maximizing the skills of both Morant and Bane offensively. The only concern would be rebounding, but the Grizzlies will likely emphasize team rebounding after the board-beating they took from Golden State, so that should turn into a team effort.

Then, Brooks could play with the second unit after the first substitutions, which would allow him to take on a microwave-scorer type of role with the starters out. This will allow Brooks to play his aggressive style on offense while not taking away opportunities from Memphis’ best offensive players.

Hopefully, it can lead to Brooks accepting a true sixth-man role down the road, as well.

Regardless, look for Brooks to improve not only his skills, but also his mindset heading into this season. It is a prove-it year for him, both in terms of reputation and finances as this is a contract year for the upcoming free agent. He will come prepared to show his willingness to play team basketball and live up to his elite role-player potential.

While 2021-2022 was not Dillon Brooks’ finest moment, don’t count him out just yet.

The Villain just may live long enough to see himself become the hero in Memphis.

Craving More Grizzlies?

Check out last week’s Deep Dive Piece on Desmond Bane by Ian Sparks (@icsparks22), Bane’s Work In The Dark Leading to Bright Future. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss these Deep Dive players and much, much more!

About Nathan Qualls

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