Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thunder 137, Grizzlies 123: Dillon Brooks and the Way Forward

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 10:48 AM

click to enlarge Dillon Brooks - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dillon Brooks

Editor's Note: I'm out on paternity leave, so I was more worried about getting a newborn to sleep than watching the end of the Grizzlies' 2017-18 season. Fortunately, Andrew Ford was watching so I didn't have to. —KL

The last game of the season proved a fitting end to a regular season during which the Grizzlies were mostly an afterthought to the league.

Russell Westbrook solidifying his position in history as the first player to ever post a triple-double average over a two season period overshadowed what was arguably Dillon Brooks’ best game - certainly his most gunpowder-filled - of his promising rookie campaign.

The Grizzlies did just enough to play their part by providing a little bit of resistance in the second half to add a bit of suspense, but ultimately everyone who has watched this iteration of the Grizzlies knew how this one was going down.

Brooks was the lone bright spot amongst a sea of should-be, summer-league players doing their best to try to impress enough to get a camp invite from some team — any team — this summer. Ending the season with so many guys who won’t make it on an NBA court even during warm-ups next season is daunting but also a breath of fresh air.

Like a cocoon finally opening up and allowing a butterfly to soar, the Grizzlies are finally free from this season’s shackles. They can start over and become something new. Well, they can at least make significant progress in their tinkering to create an all new identity.

That new identity doesn’t start with veteran, team stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, or high-paid players like Chandler Parsons. It's the guy who entered the season as the runt of the litter who just wants to play every damn game — Brooks.

For bad teams, feel-good stories are always nice. Brooks is more than that, though. He’s a bonafide NBA player who has come a long way from game 1 to game 82.

He’s gone from being a really bad defender to more than passable now that he’s adjusted to modern gap schemes as well as the speed of the game. Offensively, he makes moves that almost always work out in his favor even when they shouldn’t. The kid is smooth, and he’s gritty, and he’s exactly the type of young player the city has been looking for.

Want someone to fight for the city long term? Gasol and Conley’s letters of recommendation might expire when their playing days do, which hopefully isn’t soon, but you never know once players hit the point at which both seem to be approaching given age. Don’t look desperately to a presumably, newly committed Robert Pera, or J.B. Bickerstaff, or anyone else for the support the Bluff City deserves. Rather, look to its youngest, talented chosen son who also happens to be the hardest working.

click to enlarge Brooks in one of his first games, against Golden State - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Brooks in one of his first games, against Golden State

Brooks likely won’t serve as the franchise’s savior, but he can be an advocate for the Grizzlies both on and off the court. He represents the best of what the franchise has offered to the city year after year since moving to Memphis from Vancouver in 2001.

That promise hasn’t always delivered winning, but the promise contains traits the city values such as hard work, dedication, reliability, scrappiness, nastiness, and a knack for making something of itself no matter what anyone else thinks.

Calling Brooks the beginning of a more modern version of grit and grind is fitting. He fits within the scope of today’s NBA physically and schematically while maintaining an old-school mentality.

As we are constantly looking back to catch a glimpse of better times that have passed us by, Brooks can serve as the comfort food allowing us to hold onto grit and grind whilst also possibly establishing a new future with a higher ceiling than the first iteration of grit and grind.

Possible is good enough in Memphis right now, as possibility is all fans have to hold onto after a long season.

No matter who the Grizzlies draft this summer, the guy is going to need to be surrounded by leaders or, at the very least, guys who can help light the way forward. Brooks will be the first one holding the torch when the new crew reports for duty.

Elegant but old-fashioned. Crafty but tough. Humble but never willing to accept a beating. Brooks is everything the franchise could want, and he’s a foundational piece of what it needs moving forward.

Last night, Brooks bobbed and weaved under the arena’s bright lights, overachieving for the last time this season. Here’s to the belief - and the promise - that this season’s overachievements will soon turn back into the expected. With Brooks helping lead the charge, I’d bet on it.


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