When the 2021-22 NBA season kicked off, the Memphis Grizzlies were without one of their key starters.
Dillon Brooks (Mississauga, ON) missed the first 10 games of the season, recovering from a fractured left hand suffered during offseason workouts.
The Canadian wing was playing the best basketball of his career on the back-end of last season, making crucial contributions on both sides of the ball to help his team win back-to-back Play-In Tournament games, snapping a three-year playoff drought. The hand injury was a slight setback, but the 25-year-old picked up right where he left off upon his return.
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Brooks is averaging career-highs with 18.4 points and 3.6 rebounds, also adding 2.1 assists per game. He's also getting to the free throw line (and converting them) at the best rate of his career, attempting 4.1 per game at 90.9 percent.
Settling for fewer outside jumpers has played a role in the above-mentioned numbers, with Brooks tallying a career-high in drives per game (9.5), according to NBA stats. He's handling the ball more than usual, getting all the way to the rim and either finishing or drawing contact to get to the line.
As a result, we've seen plays like this one from just the other night.
Dillon Brooks splits the defense and throws it down 😤- NBA (@NBA) November 29, 2021
He's leading the way for the @memgrizz with 21 PTS on NBA League Pass: https://t.co/5ekswLCtFD pic.twitter.com/m2wwuuS8e9
Brooks has scored 20 or more points in four of his eight games since his return, and his scoring will be even more important over the next stretch of the schedule as star guard Ja Morant is expected to be sidelined for "a few weeks" with a left knee sprain.
MORE: The latest on Ja Morant's knee sprain
Morant was enjoying a breakout season where he looked like a certified All-Star, posting a team-high 24.1 points per game. Brooks has surged up the roster as the team's second-leading scorer and Memphis will need him to maintain that output in Morant's absence, but that's not where it needs him most.
The Grizzlies currently own a defensive rating of 113.7 and allow 114.4 points per game - the worst and second-worst, respectively, in the NBA. Teams are shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from 3 against Memphis, ranking third-to-last and dead-last in the league, respectively.
During Brooks' breakout at the end of last season, his biggest emergence was as a defensive stopper. I detailed how his improvements on that side of the ball would be massive for Team Canada (before Canada failed to qualify for the Olympics), but now, that applies to this year's version of the Grizzlies.
Brooks is already making an impact on defence, as evidence of the team's 102.9 defensive rating when he's on the floor compared to 115.5 when he's off the floor. That's the difference between being a top-half defence in the NBA and remaining where they are at the very bottom of the league.
However, there's a case to be made that Brooks still doesn't look like the defensive stopper he was against the Stephen Currys and Damian Lillards of the world last season. Brooks has still missed three games since his return as he tries to get his wind back. He's looked a step slow on the defensive end at times, but his effort and energy still makes up for that, as the numbers support.
Even still, he's had impressive plays like this one below where he's fighting around screens to make life difficult for opposing stars.
Excuse the choppiness of the video, but this pick-and-roll, 1v1 defense from Dillon Brooks was on par with the standout defense we're used to seeing from him pic.twitter.com/X5uKiotJvQ- Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) November 29, 2021
Playing in fewer than 10 games, Brooks is still trying to get his feet wet in the 2021-22 season. If last year was any indication of what his ceiling could be as a defender, the Grizzlies won't have too much to worry about their poor efforts on that side of the ball early on.
His scoring will be crucial while Morant's sidelined, but it's his defence that will help Memphis reach its full potential this season.
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