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Know the Prospect: Dillon Brooks

A skilled Canadian with tiny arms.

Oregon v North Carolina Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

(Edit: This was written before the draft combine. Since the combine, Brooks’ new measurements are as follows: [Height with shoes - 6’6”] [Wingspan - 6’6”] [Standing reach - 8’4.5”])

As I w̶e̶i̶g̶h̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶r̶i̶s̶k̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶p̶u̶t̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶l̶i̶f̶e̶ ̶s̶a̶v̶i̶n̶g̶s̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ lament my financial losses in the Kentucky Derby, I ask myself “Should I change my name and move?” and other existential questions like “What’s worse, paying thousands in gambling debt or looking over your shoulder for the next few years?” or “What the hell is wrong with you?”

On days that do not follow monumental gambling events, the questions usually have a tone more like “Do you think Josh Hart will be a better pro than Dillon Brooks?”, “Do the Knicks know how important their second round picks are this year?” or the recurring “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Canadian hoopers are trending upward. Good GMs would play the role of the “sharp bettors” or “wise guys” in this analogy, and the public is just now taking notice of some of the NBA-ready talent coming from the USA’s Northern neighbors. The good thing is, Canadian basketball, no longer an obscure pool of talent, is still producing high-quality players and doesn’t look to slow down in the near future. Dillon Brooks is one of the country’s latest products to enter the NBA draft. Brooks’ rise to popularity was less prolific or rapid than previous Canadians like Andrew Wiggins or Jamal Murray, who were both in the NBA by the time they were 19 and both lottery picks.

Wiggins is a borderline star in the league and Murray looks headed in that direction. On the other hand, you have players like Anthony Bennett and Nik Stauskas (who will only be referred to as “Sauce Castillo” from this point on, because obviously). Bennett is the poster child for “bust” pick of the last decade. One could argue that Sauce is in a similar category, although he is at least still on an NBA roster.

So, where on this dynamic spectrum will Brooks land as an NBA pro?

For starters, as a Junior projected to go in the middle of the second round, Brooks doesn’t carry too much bust potential. Similar to Wiggins and Murray, Brooks aggressively looks to score the ball almost all the time. The glaring difference, however, is a fiery passion and competitiveness that is unrivaled by almost anyone in college basketball. Brooks certainly isn’t the subdued foreign stereotype that many associate with Canadians.

Dillon Brooks is a 21-year-old, 6’7” Small Forward who just completed his Junior year under Dana Altman at Oregon. Brooks was named PAC-12 player of the year in a conference that included players like Ivan Rabb, Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball, and projected top pick Markelle Fultz. Perhaps he was awarded the honor solely for this flop, which should either get him banned for life from basketball, or immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame, I haven't made up my mind. On the plus side, drafting a player with that kind of flop expertise would free up the need to retain Sasha Vujacic, so at worst, the Knicks could fill that hole with Brooks.

When analyzing Dillon Brooks, you may as well start with the really ugly stuff. The Oregon Ducks play an extremely unconventional mix of defenses, sometimes starting with a zoned-up press, but 95% of the time playing a make-shift match-up zone that acts as a hybrid between man-to-man and a conventional zone defense in the half court. This could be used to help take pressure off of Brooks in any isolation defensive situations, because they rarely happen in this defense. This Oregon team switches on screens obsessively and avoids contact with any would-be pick as if the screen-setters were diseased. Surprisingly, this results in far fewer miscommunications than one would think, but when they do happen, Brooks is generally involved.

Aside from that, Brooks has the smallest wingspan of any SF in the draft by a considerable margin. Standing at 6'7", Brooks has only a 6'4.5" wingspan. Compare that with guys like Jayson Tatum and Devin Robinson (6'11" wingspan), and you're missing out on over a half a foot of reach for blocked shots and deflections. Couple that with Brooks' unimpressive foot speed and athletic ability, and his ceiling for defending is only so high.

Coach Altman often uses Brooks as one of the last lines of defense in their zone press because of his lack of speed, but that's hardly the only favor he does Brooks on the defensive end. You can't analyze Brooks and his defense without absolutely marveling at just how good Jordan Bell is. If not for guys like Bell, Chris Boucher, and Kavell Bigby-Williams, Brooks' shortcomings on defense would stand out much, much more. Plainly put, Jordan Bell spent all season saving Dillon Brooks' butt on defense and was the epitome of a defensive "safety net".

Brooks would get caught watching the ball at times. More than that, Brooks really lost focus when his team built a large lead. His fundamentals would leave him in those instances, and with little athleticism to fall back on, he would get himself into trouble on that end of the floor.

On the ball, Brooks manages, at times. When defending bigger 4's he will put up a good fight and boxes out with some passion, but his lack of wingspan and his heavy minutes at the 4 in college have kept his rebounding numbers pretty modest. Fast guards can get by him, but he puts up a fight there too. In general, he's hit-and-miss on the ball, but his struggles really come with help defense, bad positioning, and staying engaged when not guarding the ball.

Looks pretty bad, right? If you're unfamiliar with Brooks until now, then you may ask yourself "What's so special about this kid? How is he even a prospect?" Well, offensively, he's special. Admittedly, Brooks became the face of Oregon basketball because offense is more attractive to the casual fan than anything else. Brooks led the team in scoring with about 16 points per game, created the majority of Oregon's offense, and hit multiple buzzer-beaters throughout the season. It's also worth noting that Brooks missed the beginning of this season recovering from a foot surgery. Oregon was an extremely well-coached and well-rounded squad that was able to lose one of their key players in Chris Boucher before the NCAA tournament even began. Still, Oregon made it to the final four. On the offensive side of the ball for Oregon, Brooks was absolutely their heart and soul.

How essential was Brooks to Oregon's offense? Brooks' usage rate was 2nd highest of any player entering the draft this year (31.5%), just behind Juwan Evans of Oklahoma State (32.7%). That's an incredible number, especially for a player who isn't a guard; higher than Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, etc. Splitting minutes between small forward and power forward, Brooks was used as a slasher, spot-up shooter, and often as the creator.

Like most great scorers, Brooks was able to get shots for himself as well as his teammates. With limited athletic ability, Brooks showed comfort in the post and could certainly be classified as a tough shot taker (and maker).

Maybe it's because of his insanely high usage rate, maybe it's conditioning, or maybe it's the early season foot injury, but Brooks seems to take some plays off from a hustle standpoint. I worry about his motor a little bit, but again, this could just be a result of his high usage.

Brooks' decision-making is stellar, but his résumé isn't unblemished. This is normal, and I don't worry about his decision-making at large, but he has his moments like most college players. 8 times out of 10, Brooks will make the correct pass, take the correct shot, or attack the correct weakness of the defense, exploiting mismatches or finding open shooters, but no one is perfect, especially in college.

Would Phil Jackson take to a player like Dillon Brooks? Which of his strengths align with the triangle offense? Which of his traits make him a square peg?

Right off the bat, Jackson has stated that he prefers guys who can defend, which is like saying "I prefer food that tastes good." I'm sure that if Jackson, a former coach, said "We prefer guys who can't defend" the league might drug test him, and we all know how that test comes back. At any rate, that should immediately sour Jackson & company on Brooks a bit.

Another strength of Brooks' is his improved three point shooting. Brooks shot over 40% from behind the arc this season, but that probably goes in one ear and out the other (in the form of purple haze) to Jackson.

Mid-range capabilities and post play? Those are big assets to Jackson. Brooks so thrives in the post that he's used often as a flasher to the high post or the foul line area to get quick mid-range looks, or more often, to collapse the defense at the threat of his shooting and create for his teammates.

Brooks still has a lot to learn. If he wants to thrive in the NBA, it won't likely be in the manner that he thrived in college. I can't foresee Brooks becoming an NBA stretch 4, he' just not long enough, not athletic or strong enough, and is a true liability on defense. Brooks will have to be a 3 in the NBA, and will have to use his court awareness and his creating ability to his advantage. His role is likely to be a secondary ball-handler on the floor or a creator off the bench. I can't imagine a scenario or a position where he will thrive on defense, but I can see Brooks perhaps as a valuable role player due to his offensive versatility.

Because of his offensive gifts, people may want to compare him to former players like Paul Pierce. Brooks should relish that comparison while it lasts, because it will be short-lived. Other than being unathletic, Brooks isn't on the same planet as Pierce. A more accurate, recent, Knickerbockian comparison would be Landry Fields.

Brooks was a ton of fun to watch at Oregon and at times looks like an offensive savant, just in terms of pure craftiness. Brooks' draft projection has been hovering around the mid 40's (Knicks have the 45th pick), and Draft Express currently assumes the Knicks will select Brooks at that spot. Personally, I think there is a chance that better options will be available at that point in the draft. Brooks needs to work on his ball handling, defensive awareness, and motor. He excelled often on offense in college, but this could be due in part to his match-ups with opposing 4's and coach Dana Altman's ability to set up a perfect system for his players to succeed. Whether it was a motion offense, dribble hand-offs, shooters fading to the deep corners, or Brooks penetrating with 4 shooters on the outside, Brooks was in a perfect system for him, and I'm not sure the triangle offense would be as kind to him. Regardless, a good player figures it out, and with two second round selections, it would be hard to mourn taking a player who can do this kind of stuff with either of those picks.