MikeCheck: Brooks, Anderson bring different personalities but same passion to push Grizzlies
MEMPHIS – It was difficult to tell where Dillon Brooks was headed next.
Exit interviews with the coaching staff had wrapped up moments earlier, and the Grizzlies were two days removed from their first-round playoff series loss to the Jazz in five games. Physically, the relentless demands of a grueling but encouraging season were behind Brooks.
Vacation on an island somewhere, it seemed, was just ahead.
And then, the Grizzlies defiant, defensive catalyst whipped out an iPad loaded with game film. His team is out of the playoffs, but Brooks remains mentally locked in to postseason mode.
“That’s 100 percent,” Brooks assured. “I’m watching other guys now, the games, the tapes, just trying to figure out what does it take to get to the second round. I’m going to watch Utah in this next series to see if they do the same things they did to us in the next round. Ultimately, it’s about figuring out what it takes to get to each round from there. What do we have to do to be that kind of team? How can I get my game better? How can we as a team get to that level?”
Those questions and the desire to seek answers will drive Brooks into the offseason on a mission to make sure the Grizzlies eagerly take the next step when training camp opens. A taste of the playoffs for the first time in four years wasn’t enough to quench Brooks’ appetite.
It only made one of the grittiest Grizzlies even hungrier.
So the fourth-year swingman plans to feast on the NBA playoffs the rest of the way. The intent is to consume as much information as he can on the potential opponents the Grizzlies might face next season as they progress toward becoming a consistent playoff contender.
When searching for the source of the soul and swagger of this Grizzlies squad, look no farther than the small forward position. It was from the wing spots where Brooks and Kyle Anderson parlayed their versatile skillsets to push Memphis to a 38-34 finish for its first winning record since 2017. Brooks and Anderson couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed in their respective personality and approach to impacting the game this season.
- 2021 Status: Completed 1st season of 3-year, $35 million contract extension
- Stats: 17.2 ppg., 2.9 rpg., 1.1 spg.
- Outlook: With a defiant swagger and rugged versatility, Brooks solidified himself as one of the better two-way players in the league, and he doesn’t mind saying so. The next step in his development is to become a better facilitator to diversify his game.
- 2021 Status: Due $9.9 million next season in final year of 4-year, $37 million free agency deal
- Stats: 12.4 ppg., 5.7 rpg., 1.2 spg.
- Outlook: Proved that he’s willing and capable of adapting to whatever role or style of play the Grizzlies prefer. Anderson delivered a career season from three-point range (94 makes) and also led the team in steals, was second in rebounds and third in assists.
- 2021 Status: Due $13 million (team option) for next season in final year of contract
- Stats: 6.8 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 1.9 apg.
- Outlook: Recovery from last summer’s hip injury limited Winslow to just 26 games this season, hardly enough of a sample size to determine the extent of his fit moving forward. Winslow wants to remain with Memphis, but the cost and role remain to be seen.
But both made significant improvements as two of the rotation elders on the youngest team to reach the playoffs in a decade. Anderson and Brooks are the two longest-tenured Grizzlies, arriving for the final seasons of the Mike Conley-Marc Gasol era and pivoting into the NxtGen movement anchored by recent lottery picks in 21-year-olds Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.
For Anderson, that meant altering his game to become a much better and aggressive three-point shooter in order to space the floor in coach Taylor Jenkins’ open system. Anderson was always one of the league’s most effective perimeter defenders based on advanced metrics. But his improved three-point shooting and disruptive presence on the other end were essential.
I have always wanted to be a part of the future here (and) just want to challenge myself to get better and help this team. I just have to show my work.
Anderson ranked 19th in the league in steals this season and also led the Grizzlies in that department while also finishing second on the team in rebounding and third in assists. He averaged double figures in scoring for the first time in his career at 12.4 points a game, and Anderson’s 94 made three-pointers were more than his previous six seasons combined.
Jenkins said Anderson’s progression this season across the board should have placed him more firmly in the discussion for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Anderson wants to keep proving he can be an essential fit on the wing entering the final season of the four-year contract he signed for the midlevel exception under the previous coaching and front-office staffs.
“One thing I can say is that I had a lot of fun,” Anderson said. “I have always wanted to be a part of the future here (and) just want to challenge myself to get better and help this team. I just have to show my work.”
But just finding a way to grind it out is what means the most to me. Our resilience, going head-first into adversity and trusting teammates and coaches to deliver the same intensity, means a lot.
Anderson has played as many as four positions at one point or another with the Grizzlies. He started the bulk of the season at power forward until he shifted to his more natural small forward spot when Jackson returned from knee surgery rehab in April. Anderson’s move subsequently pushed Brooks from his starting small forward role to the shooting guard spot.
Neither player skipped a beat in keeping the Grizzlies on cue for their postseason run. Looking back, it was definitely a gratifying – if not completely satisfying – ride.
“Just fighting through injuries, fighting through different personnel on the court – Ja went out a couple games, I went out a couple, (Jonas Valanciunas) went out a couple of games, and then there were the protocols, you name it,” Brooks said of the challenges Memphis overcame. “But just finding a way to grind it out is what means the most to me. Our resilience, going head-first into adversity and trusting teammates and coaches to deliver the same intensity, means a lot.”
Brooks and Anderson provide a sense of stability on the wing, but the Grizzlies still have key decisions to make at those positions. Justise Winslow struggled to find a consistent rhythm after returning midway through the season from a hip injury.
The trio of Brooks, Anderson and Winslow in theory would give the Grizzlies dynamic and experienced depth on the wing moving forward. But there is uncertainty, and a decision looms as to whether the Grizzlies will pick up the $13 million team option on Winslow’s contract for next season. Brooks just completed the first year of his three-year contract extension, and performed defensively like a player on a mission.
I’m not going to stop talking. Coming back, we’re giving that same energy in open gym, training camp, the beginning of the season – it’s clear I’m ready to go, no doubt about it.
Brooks routinely held marquee players well below their averages when he was the primary defender. Among those Brooks locked down and held below .400 percent from the field were Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan and Steph Curry.
He’s eager to see that list grow next season, which is one reason why Brooks already told his teammates to prepare for offseason workouts and fall training camp with playoff intensity.
“When open gym gets here, you better be ready because I’m going to be ready,” Brooks insisted. “I’m not going to stop talking. Coming back, we’re giving that same energy in open gym, training camp, the beginning of the season – it’s clear I’m ready to go, no doubt about it.”
It’s easy to see why Brooks is so ready to go.
His engine and drive really never stopped.
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