The Memphis Grizzlies have built an identity over the past two seasons as one of the most skillful yet annoying teams to deal with in the association. Part of that is the brash attitude with which Dillon Brooks carried himself. Brooks' loud confidence rubbed off on the entire team, and the Grizzlies became vilified as a result.
It didn't help matters that Brooks was one of the most inefficient volume shooters in the entire NBA. His shot selection infuriated even his most staunch supporters, as he finished with the second-worst true shooting percentage in the league among qualified players. And in the aftermath of the Grizzlies' first-round flameout against the Los Angeles Lakers, the 27-year old forward essentially became the scapegoat, as the team reportedly did not want to bring him back “under any circumstances” (which was later refuted).
In the end, the decision to let Dillon Brooks leave in free agency to the Houston Rockets isn't the worst decision in the world, especially after the Grizzlies acquired Marcus Smart, the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, to essentially act as his de facto replacement. Smart, without question, is a better player than Brooks, as his playmaking chops and better shooting from deep should also help the Grizzlies immensely while Ja Morant is out due to suspension.
In the end, however, the Grizzlies may end up missing Brooks' contributions — and for a team that aims to compete for a championship, it's the alarming inactivity regarding a certain roster need that stands out as something that could end up being a huge mistake.
With that said, here is the Grizzlies' biggest mistake thus far during the 2023 NBA free agency period.
Grizzlies' biggest mistake during 2023 NBA free agency: Failing to consolidate talent on the wing
In the aftermath of Dillon Brooks' departure, the Grizzlies, at full strength, will be boasting a strong starting lineup of Ja Morant, Marcus Smart, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Steven Adams. Smart should take on the on the Brooks role, guarding the opposing team's best perimeter player to shield Morant and Bane from the more difficult matchups.
There's no mistaking Smart's defensive capability. Smart is a pesky defender who's unafraid to get into the grill of those he defends, which even includes bigger players such as LeBron James.
But in the end, Marcus Smart, as great of a defender as he is, stands at only 6'3. In the NBA, defensive chops and instincts can only go as far as one's physical tools take them. So against bigger teams, the Grizzlies may miss Brooks' elite defense that has him ranked among the best in the NBA for perimeter defense. Per NBA University, Brooks rates highly in matchup difficulty, and he stifles offensive players in isolation. The now-Rockets wing was also elite when it came to holding down those he defends to a worse field-goal percentage than expected.
At 6'7, Brooks has the prototypical size to guard one through three — and yet he's also guarded fours often. The Grizzlies became an elite defensive team with Brooks forming a rigid defensive spine with Jaren Jackson Jr., and offensive inefficiency aside, the team will surely miss his contributions.
Nevertheless, it's not Brooks' departure that should sting the most. Brooks signed a four-year, $86 million contract with the Rockets, and it may not be in the Grizzlies' best interest to ink him to that big of a long-term deal. Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jackson will comprise the majority of the Grizzlies' cap space for the next few years, and if a team would have a choice, the smart one definitely is to keep those three over Brooks.
But the Grizzlies may not have any suitable replacements on the roster to at least act as a facsimile for Brooks. David Roddy is huge and can be a nuisance when guarding the post, but he's not too quick when defending perimeter players. Meanwhile, Jake LaRavia is more of an offensively-inclined player, while John Konchar, as much of a presence he can be on the glass, isn't the most sturdy on-ball defender on the perimeter. Ziaire Williams was borderline unplayable on offense last season, so any defensive contributions he may pitch in could end up being just a wash.
It's great that the Grizzlies believe that any of those players steps up as a quality option for them on the wing. But it may have been for the team's best had they packaged a few of those players for one strong wing piece. Perhaps the Grizzlies could swing a trade for Deni Avdija using the players listed above. Avdija rates highly as a defender as well when looking at advanced metrics. With the Washington Wizards embracing a rebuild, perhaps the 22-year old combo forward can be had for the right price.
As presently constructed, the Grizzlies should remain one of the best teams in the Western Conference — especially if Ja Morant returns from suspension with a vengeance. But with Brooks' departure and their logjam at the wing positions, a trade to consolidate talent would have been ideal as they continue to establish themselves as one of the league's best.