Q&A: Dillon Brooks on his defensive focus, future in Memphis

Dillon Brooks says he’s hoping to stay playing in Memphis for the next ’10-15 years.’

Young guards Ja Morant and Desmond Bane most often shoulder the scoring load.

Every now and then, though, the last vestige of “Grit and Grind” pushes the squad over the top.

Dillon Brooks, 26, is the longest-tenured member of the Memphis Grizzlies (8-4), and the only player not named Morant or Bane to lead the club in scoring in a game so far this season. Additionally, Memphis has won four of its last five games as it heads into Friday’s home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 45th pick of the 2017 NBA DraftBrooks started in 74 games as a rookie on a roster that featured franchise icons Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and has played for three coaches in Memphis (David Fizdale, JB Bickerstaff and Taylor Jenkins).

The Canadian spent the first three years of his career losing and out of the playoffs. Now, he’s winning, and the Grizzlies sit firmly in contention.

Along the way, Brooks learned that his ability to adapt might just be “why I belong in this league,” he told NBA.com. Brooks touched on readjusting his role in a contract year as a secondary scorer and playmaker alongside Morant and Bane, his approach on defense and his love for the franchise that gave him an opportunity in this Q&A.

Editor’s note: The following 1-on-1 conversations have been edited and condensed.

NBA.com: When you entered the NBA in 2017, Memphis was sort of at the end of the “Grit and Grind” era. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were still on the roster. But in that first year, the Grizzlies lost a lot of games. What’s the transition been like from the Grit and Grind Grizzlies to this new generation?

Dillon Brooks: I would say a full [180]. We were slower. We ran a lot of plays for two guys. Then, slowly once we started making the changes, it was more free, faster, and honestly, more fun.

Do any of your current teammates ask you about those times?

Oh yeah, and I always tell them about those times. It was my first time in the NBA, and I really didn’t know how or what it was all about. Then, once we started winning after making those changes and stuff, it made the NBA experience way better and way more fun. So, I try to tell the guys when we lose that we don’t want to go down this route of losing consistently because it messes with your mental for sure.

In his rookie season of 2017-18, Dillon Brooks averaged 11 ppg on a veteran-laden squad.

Being the longest-tenured player on the roster, you’ve had to readjust your game and your role several times. What’s it like to do that over the years? Really, you’re sort of going through a role adjustment now, right?

Yeah, it’s why I belong in this league. [I’m always] figuring out how to adapt, figuring out how to fit your style of play into teams that are changing, teams that are trying to innovate to be better, to win championships. So, it’s just another facet of my game where I could either play the 4, 3, or 2, guard the best player or score. However I can get it, I try to implement it.

These last few years, Memphis has brought in guys who are similar to you in Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, guys who love to just go hard at opponents every night. Are you rubbing off on these guys, or are the Grizzlies just bringing in more Dillon Brooks-types?

I think 12 (Morant) was kind of like that from the beginning. He just needed to see what the NBA was all about, and he quickly figured it out. Then, Des, you sort of had to push it onto him, try to give him a little leeway to be like, ‘Yo, you can be a dog. You can be the aggressor in the league, regardless of if you’re going against your idols or whatnot.’ I’m trying to instill it in everybody, just having that dog mentality every single night that even though we’ve had some success, we’re still the underdogs. We’re still fighting and grinding for where we want to be.

I love Memphis. I’d love to be here. I love what we’ve got going on here in the organization, the people that we’ve got.”

— Dillon Brooks, on his desire to stay with the Grizzlies

How would you describe your approach on the defensive end because you seem like you’re right there on the edge in terms of aggression and physicality? Playing that way every night must take a certain type of approach mentally.

It’s definitely an approach. The night before the game, I’m just watching who I’m guarding practically all night, watching the plays they like. Then, when the game starts, I just start getting into a mode where it’s just like, ‘I hate this guy.’ How am I gonna not let him score, not let him get into his rhythm so my team has the best chance to win? Then on top of that, it’s just knowing plays and knowing different things about the team so that during the play, during the possession, during the game, I can vocalize everything to my teammates so that they’re ready. So, even if a guy gets me on a good move or whatnot and gets into the lane, my guys know to be in the right spots.

The Memphis Grizzlies follow coach Taylor Jenkins’ lead in making defense a priority this season.

Over the last couple of years, you’ve taken criticism about shot selection and decision-making, and it seems like once again, you’re sort of having to readjust your role to dial back the aggression on offense in a contract year. What’s your level of confidence in being able to adjust your game to give the team what it needs from you, while still being able, on some level, to stay true to who you are as a player?

My team needs me to play defense, score the basketball and be a leader out there on the floor. Regardless of what people say, I don’t really care. To be honest, they can say whatever they want. I’m gonna still play my game. They loved me when I was in Utah scoring baskets and all that. But now when a little adversity hits, they want to follow the other way. I just stay with my guys, stay with my family, stay with the guys who believe in me and just create that positive energy and put it towards the game.

We’re still fighting and grinding for where we want to be.”

— Dillon Brooks, on the Grizzlies

Are you still trying to figure out that new role? Is it still sort of a work in progress?

I know I’m guarding the best scorer on the other side. So, I know that stays consistent. Then, all that matters is if I’m hitting shots. Then, I can get more into the offense. I don’t let that discourage me if I miss shots. On the defensive end, I know I’ve got to man the defense and just keep having positive vibes.

A few years ago, we talked about that wild trade that never happened, and since then, you’ve come such a long way as a player. What’s the journey been like from those days to now?

Man, it’s been great. I’m seeing myself grow as a person, grow as a basketball player. I’m just understanding the game a lot more. It’s coming slower. I want to be here 10-15 years, playing.

“Here” as in Memphis?

Yeah, in Memphis. I love Memphis. I’d love to be here. I love what we’ve got going on here in the organization, the people that we’ve got. I’ve built so much good juju, good everything here. I’m comfortable. When I come to work, it doesn’t even feel like work. I feel like I’m going to AAU with my guys, just hooping. I’m just growing with them. And with the rookies we’ve got, I’m trying to be a vet, trying to be just a motivator for these guys. I just love being here, love playing. I always look back and I always get a dose of being young when I talk to [David Roddy] or Jake [LaRavia] about my times being a rookie or a second-year guy just going through adversity, how to fight it and how to be positive.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him herefind his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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