Analysis: Dillon Brooks extends in Memphis

In conjunction with the trade that brought Justise Winslow, Gorgui Dieng, and Dion Waiters to Memphis, the Grizzlies also agreed to a three-year extension with Dillon Brooks. That extension will pay him a total of $35 million over the three years, with salaries of $11.4 million, $12.2 million, and $11.4 million. Brooks has been eligible for a veteran extension since last July, but the team seemingly wanted to solidify its 2020 plans before finalizing a deal with him.

The extension was agreed and reported on late in the evening on February 5, after it was clear that the Iguodala trade was imminent. There were multiple iterations of that trade discussed, but in every construct, the Grizzlies were going to acquire enough salary to operate as an over-the-cap team this summer; the only thing left to hammer out was between Miami and Oklahoma City, which would have affected where Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill ended up, but would not have greatly affected Memphis’s incoming trio (until Minnesota got involved, but that still didn’t materially change the Grizzlies’ financial outlook).

Once that was clear, there was no opportunity cost for the Grizzlies to signing Brooks to a new deal a few months early. That’s not to say it’s without risk, of course, but the opportunity cost of lost cap space doesn’t play into the value calculation anymore. Brooks would have had a $3.13 million cap hold this summer, which is replaced by his $11.4 million salary, but since the Grizzlies want to be over the cap anyway this summer, that difference hardly matters. It does bring them closer to the luxury tax threshold for next season, but that was going to be the case whether they extended him or brought him back on a new contract in July and now they know exactly what that figure is, rather than having to plan for multiple scenarios with respect to his contract in their pre-free agency meetings.

Unlike some extensions we’ve seen in the last year (see Murray, Jamal), the Grizzlies got what teams should get in extension talks: a financial break off of what the player was likely to get in free agency. Many around the league were assuming that Brooks’ next deal would land his annual salary in the $15 million range, though the lack of space across the league and his restricted status might have dampened that somewhat.

Brooks is smart to take this deal, even if the feeling is that he could have gotten slightly more in the summer. He will have made a grand total of $3.81 million, before taxes and agent fees and everything else, in his career after this year, so taking $35 million in guaranteed money to the bank sets up his family for multiple generations. Memphis saved about $10 million over what he was projected to receive in free agency and he locks in his money about five months ahead of time.

A lot can change over that five months, which is why it made sense for Brooks to take a reasonable deal now. At the time of the extension, Memphis held a three-game lead for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, though their subsequent trade with Miami and Minnesota lowered their odds of maintaining that gap. FiveThirtyEight gives them just a 10 percent chance at the playoffs, as of February 8, though they’ve been very low on the Grizzlies throughout the year.

The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season and it was no guarantee that Brooks’ game was going to translate to that heightened arena. If they do win the race for the eighth seed, they’ll likely match up against a very good Lakers team in the first round, where the shine might have come off Brooks even further. It might be somewhat unfair, but if the last thing general managers see of Brooks is his team getting dusted in the first round, it can leave a sour taste in their mouths and can sometimes be worse than if a player doesn’t participate in the postseason at all.

On the floor, I’m not as big a fan of his game as a lot of others. I worry about his shot selection, particularly since it’s continued to be mid-range happy in Taylor Jenkins’ Mike Budenholzer-inspired offensive attack. Jenkins’ style is supposed to call for a lot of layups and threes, but Brooks is still taking more than 40 percent of his shots from outside three feet and inside the three-point line. He hits those shots at a pretty decent clip, but it’s hard for him to be efficient with that sort of shot profile, which is what leads to his third consecutive year of below-average true shooting in 2019-20. He’ll make tough shots, which is undoubtedly an underrated skill, particularly in the playoffs, but he’s a really poor finisher for his size and isn’t getting to the rim nearly as often this year as he did in previous seasons. He missed all but 18 games last year with a toe injury that eventually required surgery; perhaps that has had a lingering effect on his ability to finish at the basket. As such, the lack of a backup plan for his offensive game worries me going forward – if he’s not an efficient mid-range pull-up artist or doesn’t have the shot going but is still getting that sort of usage and role as a secondary ball handler, he doesn’t have a consistent foundation of playmaking or foul drawing to boost his offensive value.

The positives for Brooks are that his jumper is ticking up with each passing year. More than 4,000 minutes into his career and a 38 percent career three-point shooter, it’s safe to say that he’s a plus floor spacer on the wing. He can put the ball on the floor and get to his spots when teams close out on him, though usually those spots are in the mid-range rather than getting all the way to the basket. He runs quite a bit of pick-and-roll and calls his own number more often than not, but the efficiency is there on those plays as well. He’s a good pull-up shooter for a secondary creator and although you’d like a little more playmaking from him, particularly in an egalitarian system, he fits that secondary role quite well with his spot-up and pull-up shooting.

Defensively, he looks better than the stats indicate. He’s 6’6 and strong enough to hold up physically against some of the bigger forwards in the game. The impact metrics don’t love him – he’s a negative in RAPTOR, DRAPM, and D-PIPM this season. For me, there’s something about his game that the impact metrics aren’t quite capturing, which sometimes happens with wing defenders who aren’t often involved in the primary action on a lot of possessions.

Brooks is a fine player and this contract should pan out to be positive value for the Grizzlies. It would have been nice to see how he fares in a playoff series, but for a little less than $12 million a year on average, he can start or come off the bench in a super sub role. He’s started for the Grizzlies this season, but as they improve over the life of this extension, they may opt to move him to a reserve role. Perhaps the most important aspect of retaining him on a long-term deal is how well-liked he seems to be in the locker room and the fact that he’s made noticeable improvements in his game each season, even with the truncated 2018-19 campaign. Smart teams will bet on guys who have shown flashes of high-level play if those players are long on positive character traits and while it’s difficult to know from the outside, all signs point to Brooks having the sort of personality and work ethic to iron out holes in his game as he progresses through his career.