Going into the 2020-21 NBA season, how many people would have expected that at season's end, Team Canada would have the ability to end up with two of the best perimeter defenders in the world heading into their pursuit of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics?
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort showcased that potential in the 2020 NBA Playoffs and kept that same energy on the defensive end all season.
But the surprise factor comes in Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks, whose playoff emergence was on full display for the entire basketball universe to see. Pestering opponent's premier scorers night-in and night-out.
His "coming out party" of sorts came against two-time MVP Stephen Curry in the final game of the regular season, and again in the Play-In Tournament to help the Grizzlies qualify for the playoffs.
According to NBA stats, Brooks defended Curry on a combined 59.5 partial possessions, holding him to just 24 points on 9-for-22 (40.9%) shooting from the field and 4-for-11 (36.4%) from three with four assists and four turnovers. For the standards of the greatest shooter of all time, that's pretty damn impressive for Brooks.
Brooks' effort and energy went a long way in slowing down Curry, working relentlessly around screens to try and alter the sharpshooter's rhythm.
And Curry wasn't the only All-Star guard to get handcuffed by Brooks.
DeMar DeRozan was seeing probably seeing the Canadian in his nightmares after the Play-In Game, where Brooks held him to just 11 points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field in 33.6 partial possessions.
These performances of high-intensity defence weren't anything new for Brooks, though. It was just the first time he really got to put his defensive ability on display for a national audience.
This is the same player that made life tough for Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic and Paul George this season, too.
Those aren't exactly small sample sizes either.
With Team Canada this upcoming summer, head coach Nick Nurse is likely salivating over the idea of being able to roll out a lineup with four versatile defensive wings in Brooks, Dort, RJ Barrett and Andrew Wiggins.
And it wasn't just Brooks' defence that elevated to the surface under the bright playoff lights. He found a rhythm as a shooter, too.
He was the Grizzlies' second-leading playoff scorer, averaging 25.8 points per game on an impressive 51.5 percent shooting from the field and 40.0 percent from 3-point range - an improvement across the board from his regular-season stats.
More offence ran through the 25-year-old, as he was able to do more than just stand on the perimeter for catch-and-shoot 3s. And while there's nothing wrong with a 3-and-D player, Brooks flashed the potential to be a go-to scoring option for Team Canada this summer if need be.
That possession is a thing of beauty for Brooks' development offensively.
He comes off of a screen, takes the hand-off, doesn't force the three even though his defender is trailing, puts the ball on the floor and shows some patience to let Rudy Gobert sag down, then knocks down the midrange jumper, which he converted at a solid 45.9 percent this season.
With the potential of working with a trusty point guard like Cory Joseph, he won't have to initiate too much offence for Team Canada, but boasting the confidence in his ability to create his own shot gives Nurse more tools to work with. I'd like to think he could use Brooks in a similar way he maximized Norman Powell's offensive potential with the Toronto Raptors - using him primarily on off-ball screens or as a spot-up shooter, but also allowing him to run some pick-and-rolls to keep the defence honest.
It was a playoff debut to remember for the Mississauga, Ontario native, as Brooks has solidified himself as one of the peskiest and hardest working defenders in the league while also giving glimpses of an improved scorer.
That will only bode well for Canada's chances of qualifying for the Olympics this summer, should Brooks decide to represent his country in Victoria, B.C. at the end of the month.
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