Today we’ll be taking a look at the first starter to appear in our 2023-2024 player previews, Dillon Brooks. Brooks makes somewhat of a homecoming to the Houston Rockets — as in he was drafted by the team, but immediately traded — after six seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies.
A known irritant to opposing teams, coaches, and Shannon Sharpe, Brooks seemingly wore out his welcome in the eyes of Memphis brass, opening the doors for the Rockets to acquire him this Summer. In regards to the Grizzlies’ attempts to retain Brooks’ services, the phrase “under any circumstances” was uttered.
Upon further review, that’s a tad unfair.
By all accounts, Brooks was great in the locker room, and his former teammates only spoke highly of him. Poaching him from a divisional rival in hopes of building up camaraderie amongst this young core ultimately made sense on the Rockets’ end.
However, I’d be remiss to not go further on why Memphis wasn’t losing sleep over Brooks’ departure. Brooks has built a vexing reputation around the league as he’s increasingly got under other player’s skin. The more attention he got, the more that the shenanigans ensued.
It also doesn’t help that Brooks tends to suffer from overconfidence when it comes to his shot selection. With Jaren Jackson Jr.and Desmond Bane becoming more focal points for Memphis’ offense, Brooks reluctancy to scale back his shooting made his exit inevitable.
It’s up to Brooks to prove his naysayers wrong as he starts with a new slate here in H-Town.
Bickering with opposing stars and playing the role of the villain is something fanbases can get behind. Making borderline to not so borderline dirty plays is a different story. There’s a line to be drawn and the Houston Rockets are banking on Brooks to know what that line is.
I don’t want to harp on the past too long though, so let’s pivot to what adding Brooks means for the present. It became apparent early on that getting Brooks was a necessity for advancing Phase Two of this new age for the Rockets.
There’s no denying that Brooks excels as an on-ball defender. As a Second Team All-Defense performer last year, there’s not many players in today’s game that you can confidently say you would take over him on that side of the ball.
Despite a modest wingspan, Brooks is able to stifle ball handlers at the point of attack and disrupt the rhythm of the other teams offense. Even though his stock was figuratively in the dumps at the end of last season, Rafael Stone and Ime Udoka recognized that he was the quickest solution to remedying a weak defense. Next thing you know, four years and $86 million.
A teammate of Bruce Bowen on the 2000s San Antonio Spurs squads, it wouldn’t be surprising to find out Udoka envisions a similar role for Brooks. Having the luxury of deploying Brooks on the opposition's best player can pay huge dividends for Jalen Green as he can learn from a defensive ace, and also reserve more energy for offense.
Understanding that Brooks knows his role on defense, the true test for him is to embrace a more limited role on offense. As Andre Iguodala recently put it, a “crazy mentality” got Brooks to the NBA. It may benefit his defense, but it can also become a detriment to the team when Brooks tries to play hero ball.
I have no arguments if Brooks performs like he did versus Team USA — 39 points in the Bronze medal game — effectively knocking them from the medal podium However, if he’s still in the mindset of taking the second or third most attempts per game on the team while shooting in the low 40s, then something has went wrong.
So far, so good.
I’ll admit that rooting for someone that I actively rooted against in the past will feel peculiar, but then again, Shane Battier prepared me for this.