MEMPHIS - Midway through a disappointing and injury-riddled season, the Grizzlies shifted their focus to development for the immediate future.
As a result, the final months of a 22-60 finish were dedicated to fast-tracking the growth and evaluation of rookies, second-year and third-year players on the roster, with contract decisions looming on many of them within the next couple of seasons.
While newcomers Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb appear to be steals from the second round of last year's draft, the jury remains out on prospects such as Deyonta Davis and Wayne Selden. In either case, the Grizzlies missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years and head toward the May 15 Draft Lottery assured of no worse than a top-five pick in the June 21 NBA Draft.
The Grizzlies also have the second pick (No. 32 overall) in the second round and the full midlevel exception in free agency to upgrade the roster, address needs and chart a path back to the playoffs.
After starting Grind City Media's 'Offseason Outlook' last week with my personal analysis of the coaching situation and roster veterans, we continue this week with a focus on young players the Grizzlies view as assets.
Player: Dillon Brooks, 22
Measurables: 6-6, 220 - 1st NBA Season
2017-18 Stats: 11.0ppg, 3.1rpg, 1.6apg in 28.7mpg, shot 44.0% overall from the field.
Status: Due $1.3 million for 2018-19 salary in second season of a three-year deal.
Only NBA rookie this season to play all 82 regular-season games, and posted second-highest rookie single-game point total in franchise history with 36 points in the season finale at Oklahoma City.
Dillon Brooks is the definition of upside. His emergence - aside from the guarantee of a top-five lottery pick - is the most rewarding takeaway from an otherwise dreadful season. To go from being the 45th overall pick in last June's draft to becoming the only rookie to play in all 82 games, including 74 starts, speaks to the durability, determination and defiance the Canadian swingman displayed all season. Brooks took on every challenge, from reshaping his body into top condition to embracing the toughest defensive assignments every night. His confidence is as high as his upside. When the team needed him to become a go-to scorer late in a lost season, Brooks delivered a 20-point quarter in Chicago, then saved his best for last in that 36-point outburst in the season finale against the Thunder.
Brash confidence is Brooks' strong suit. He also became a volume shooter and scorer well after Mike Conley was lost for the season in November, and after Tyreke Evans was sidelined the final months. The biggest question is how does Brooks fit back into the Grizzlies' preferred structure and pecking order when everyone is healthy next season? To be a more complete and potentially elite wing, Brooks must improve as a facilitator when defenders close out. His 135 assists were only fifth-most on the team. His percentages must also rise from what he shot from the field overall (44%) and on threes (35.6%), considering his level of aggression. Defensively, the 79 steals were solid but the team-high 233 fouls committed were too many and frequently the result of limited respect afforded a rookie defender.
The Grizzlies have found their small forward or shooting guard of the present and future, and it didn't require a first-round pick or high salary. Brooks has moved ahead of Selden, Andrew Harrison, Ben McLemore and Chandler Parsons in the pipeline on the wing. He's far from a finished product, and probably should be on the Summer League roster again (although not required to play in games), strictly for a leadership role in workouts. Enduring the fire and frustration from the season, Brooks earned Marc Gasol's on-court trust and Conley's respect for the way he applied tips from vets. Brooks is right. He would've been a late lottery pick if the 2017 draft was redone today. He needs to maintain that chip on his shoulder, with the team's expectations and the NBA's attention set to increase.
"I want to prove myself and that every time I come out onto the court, I belong. I'm always motivated. I feel like if you do the (2017) NBA Draft again, I'm definitely first round, and maybe lottery. It's just a testament to working every single day, playing hard and seeing ways I can get better. I can't wait until training camp next season. You only get so many opportunities, and you can't let it go to waste. I just wanted to use this season to make a good first impression."