MikeCheck: Healed and hungry, Brooks ‘taking nothing for granted’ in camp quest to reclaim Grizzlies starting role
MEMPHIS – Under most circumstances, there would be inherent training camp benefits for returning as the Grizzlies’ longest-tenured player on the roster.
Then there’s Dillon Brooks’ situation.
“I played a whole year and then sat out practically all of last year,” Brooks said of a promising rookie season that gave way to a painful second-year stint. “This is the final year of my contract. It’s all taught me to cherish it, really understand the game and be professional. You can’t be taking it for granted.”
Brooks simply can’t afford to.
There’s too much work to do to reclaim what’s been lost.
If nothing else, Brooks has the right mindset approaching his third NBA season having played more games in a Grizzlies uniform than anyone else on the roster. Yet, that distinction after only 100 career games says more about the constant change Brooks has faced since he arrived as a second round pick in the 2017 draft. It has absolutely nothing to do with any sort of ironman streak with the organization.
This is the final year of my contract. It’s all taught me to cherish it, really understand the game and be professional. You can’t be taking it for granted.Dillon Brooks
As Taylor Jenkins installs his system at training camp this week, Brooks is adjusting to his third coach in as many seasons with the Grizzlies. He first impressed former coach David Fizdale enough to earn a starting role a month into his rookie season. Brooks then stumbled through an injury-shortened second year under J.B. Bickerstaff. And now, he’s pushing through another fresh start.
Healed and hungry to reestablish himself, Brooks essentially has a third shot to make a first impression. He aims to lock down the Grizzlies’ starting shooting guard role, with Jenkins having already declared Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas as starters at point guard, power forward and center.
That leaves the two interchangeable wing positions up for grabs entering Sunday’s first exhibition game as the Grizzlies prepare for the Oct. 23 season opener at Miami. Early indications from camp are that Brooks has been working with the opening lineup. But there’s also been stiff competition from Marko Guduric and Grayson Allen, who figure to be in the mix for minutes primarily at shooting guard.
And the options don’t necessarily end there.
Matt Mooney and John Konchar – both likely bound for the Memphis Hustle when G League camps open later this month – have shown impressive flashes in camp because of their ability to play multiple wing positions. Six-year veteran Solomon Hill, at 6-7, could also swing between small forward and shooting guard because of his 3-point shooting and ability to defend both spots.
Jenkins hasn’t committed to anything beyond creating a competitive camp environment.
“We’re taking looks; no full evaluation has been done,” Jenkins said of scrimmage sessions through the first few days of practice. “We’re playing with a lot of combinations to see who can fit with those other three (starters). Biggest thing is competing. Everyone realizes the opportunities they have. There hasn’t been a moment at practice that maybe one has leaped above the others. But they’re all pushing each other, and we’ve gotten equal production and competition from everyone so far.”
For Brooks to emerge, he’ll have to rekindle the two-way swagger from his rookie season and combine it with the mental toughness he’s gained from a disappointing sophomore NBA journey. He played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 season, including 74 starts, and averaged 11 points and 3.1 rebounds on 44-percent shooting from the field and 35.6 percent on threes. Most of his 28.7 minutes a game were spent defending the opposing team’s elite wing player.
But that momentum didn’t carry into last season, when Brooks was beaten out of a starting spot and then sustained a toe injury that required season-ending surgery after 18 games. In a sign of maturity, Brooks admits now that he didn’t handle the early demotion or being sidelined by the injury very well. His ego had grown and he carried himself with a false sense of entitlement.
“It really humbled me and made me take the game more professionally,” Brooks said of what he learned about himself. “At first, with the glitz and glamour and all that other stuff, it kind of came too fast to me. Once it got taken away, it was like, ‘I’ve got to be serious. Be professional, but still have fun with it and understand that (basketball) always comes first.’ That’s what I’ve been doing throughout the summer.”
Brooks spent his offseason altering his work ethic, body and mindset. It started by reducing his inner circle of influencers. From there, Brooks reached out to Jenkins soon after the coach was hired in June to get an understanding of expectations. And as Brooks advanced through the final stages of rehab from surgery, he joined the Grizzlies summer league team in Las Vegas to support their championship run.
Allen played a few games on that summer league team after he was acquired as part of the June trade with Utah that sent Mike Conley to the Jazz. As Brooks was building bonds with Jenkins off the court, Allen was getting summer game repetitions in the same system the Grizzlies are installing now in camp.
For me, I can’t look and say, ‘Oh, we don’t have any shooting guards here.’ You have to compete with everyone at each spot because we can slot a lot of guys in a lot of places.Grayson Allen
If Brooks and Allen share at least one thing in common these days, it’s that they both have plenty to prove entering this season. Allen was drafted last year in the first round by Utah, but saw limited opportunities for minutes while playing behind Donovan Mitchell. But an established All-Star guard doesn’t exactly encumber the path to a potential role at the same position in Memphis.
After averaging 5.6 points in 38 games as a rookie, Allen wants to make a greater impact in Memphis. But approaching the task with the right mindset is key.
“We have a bunch of guys that can slide over to different positions, and how the offense will be, it’s kind of interchangeable,” said Allen, who has been playing both guard spots in camp. “For me, I can’t look and say, ‘Oh, we don’t have any shooting guards here.’ You have to compete with everyone at each spot because we can slot a lot of guys in a lot of places.”
Guduric is also in the midst of a transition, relocating from Europe to begin his NBA journey in Memphis. The Serbian sharpshooter has made two things clear this week about his reputation. First, his game involves more than three-point shooting. Secondly, he already knows what it’s like to play with top NBA talent. Guduric was on the Serbia national team with Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic and Kings rising swingman Bogdan Bogdanovic at the FIBA World Cup in China last month.
“I like to do a little bit of everything, trying to improve every aspect of my game,” said Guduric, who signed a two-year deal with the Grizzlies after being ranked a top-30 prospect in EuroLeague basketball. “We will see how I adjust to the NBA games. Watching TV and talking with a lot of guys from my national team, they told me the speed of the game is the biggest difference. It’s just about having to adjust.”
It’s an adjustment for everyone in the mix at shooting guard for Memphis. But Jenkins likes what he’s seeing, especially from the roster incumbent. Maintaining the inside lane to a starting job won’t be easy.
Player: Dillon Brooks
Year: 3rd NBA Season
Measurables: 6-6, 220
2018-19 Stats: 7.5ppg, 1.7rpg, 0.9apg
Camp Question: Will Brooks prove he can quickly thrive in a new system after returning from season-ending toe surgery to play for a third coach in as many seasons?
Player: Grayson Allen
Year: 2nd NBA Season
Measurables: 6-5, 198
2018-19 Stats: 5.6ppg, 0.6rpg, 0.7apg (Jazz)
Camp Question: With the shooting guard spot seemingly wide open, can Allen show the consistency and poise to step into mix here after sitting behind Donovan Mitchell in Utah?
Player: Marko Guduric
Year: Rookie, free-agent signing
Measurables: 6-6, 201
2018-19 Stats: 9.4ppg, 1.9rpg, 2.2apg (Fenerbahce/EuroLeague)
Camp Question: A top 30-rated prospect as one of the best pure shooters in EuroLeague, can Guduric assert himself on both ends in his transition to the quicker NBA game?
“The biggest thing about Dillon that jumps out is he’s ultra-competitive,” Jenkins said. “I know he’s been like that in Year 1 and Year 2. He’s really set the tone for us defensively. Offensively, he’s playing within himself. What he’s put in over the summer, overcoming the injury, getting cleared, the individual work, it’s paid off. The conversations we’ve had about the standard we want him to set is really coming out.”
We will see how I adjust to the NBA games. Watching TV and talking with a lot of guys from my national team, they told me the speed of the game is the biggest difference. It’s just about having to adjust.Marko Guduric
Now, it’s all about learning from the past, keeping that vibe going and taking nothing for granted.
“Just two years ago, I was the new blood and just getting to know everybody and know the city,” Brooks said. “And now, I’ve got guys under my wing, showing them where to go, where not to go. It’s a great feeling. I always wanted that. I always wanted someone looking up to me and trying to understand where I’m coming from as a leader. I’m ready for that. I’m going to try to lead by example.”
The ultimate goal for Brooks this season is to play all 82 games again.
That task for the longest-tenured Grizz starts with reliability from Day 1.
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