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Grizzlies, Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks

The Memphis Grizzlies have found their X-factor for Ja Morant in Dillon Brooks

Ja Morant is the Memphis Grizzlies’ motor. Now the team has found its X-factor enhancing the play of its point guard and the team as a whole: Dillon Brooks.

Brooks has been a vital part of the equation for the Grizzlies over the last two years, but he has hit his stride over the last two weeks. The four-year guard has been a force offensively. Over the Grizzlies’ last five games (regular season, play-in tournament, and first-round series matchup), Brooks has logged 22, 30, 18, 31, and two 23-point games.

In the regular season, he averaged a career-high 17.2 points per game. A career 35.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc, he has at least forced teams to respect his shooting ability. Brooks is a tenacious player on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, he’s a physical scorer who gets in the paint and sticks midrange jump shots. That aspect of his game has been on full display in recent memory. Meanwhile, he holds his own defensively, playing competitive on-ball defense.

Running parallel to Brooks’ play has been that of Morant, who has also astonished the scoring department most notably by helping the Grizzlies win a pair of games in the NBA play-in tournament. The Murray State product has consistently been a problem with the ball in his hands.

Memphis got the playoff monkey off their back by winning a pair of elimination games last week, including one on the road against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors to make the playoffs officially. This came a year after they blew the eighth seed in the Western Conference in the NBA Bubble, which was low-lighted by losing a play-in series to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Last season’s shortcomings are now a memory of the past, as the Grizzlies are competing in the NBA Playoffs and have a stud backcourt leading the way.

Brooks’ play takes some pressure off Morant to lead the scoring charge, and vice versa. The former’s physical play draws fouls and gives Murray someone to feed off offensively. Teams have to gameplan for both of them. Furthermore, their collective play helps the entire rotation, which has only improved with reps.

Jonas Valanciunas is a hassle in the paint. Kyle Anderson is a fundamentally sound, all-around player. A healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. provides athletic, two-way play. Grayson Allen has become an outside sniper at the NBA level. Rookie Desmond Bane has been a spark plug off the bench.

This bunch can score, shoot, defend, and has youth on its side. If you want to win in the West, you need a stout one-two scoring punch. Climbing up the latter in the West is daunting even with a young franchise player like Morant. It would help if you had other considerable scoring outlets and a healthy combination of compelling youth and reliable veterans.

Head coach Taylor Jenkins has the aforementioned qualities going for his team in the present.

Outside of Morant’s high-flying dunks, there’s little excitement or part of the Grizzlies’ operation that distinguishes their team. They’ve been middle-of-the-pack in production and performance in varying aspects of the game this season. They need a player or position group to add a new dimension to their game or merely play better to win.

It sounds a lot like the grit-and-grind Grizzlies of the early-to-mid 2010s, right?

Sure, Ja Morant and Mike Conley are different point guards, and Jaren Jackson doesn’t have Zach Randolph’s post-game. There also isn’t a Tony Allen on Jenkins’ team. That’s not the point. The comparison comes from how they succeed in the halfcourt and score and defend as a collective whole. They play with confidence and a chip on their shoulder.

At times, the answer to taking the next step isn’t merely in an offseason trade: it’s in development. Brooks has been a sturdy player who has gradually improved over his four-year NBA career, but the last month has produced the best version of the wing — and it’s giving the Grizzlies a fighting chance against the field.

Sure, Donovan Mitchell’s absence played a role in the Grizzlies winning Game 1 of their first-round series matchup against the Utah Jazz. At the same time, the Grizzlies got out to a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against the one seed in the West and cut a 22-point deficit to two in Game 2, scaring a Jazz team that had Mitchell present. The Grizzlies came to play and will be a handful for the Jazz over the next two weeks.

It’s a pair of teams with a fair share of continuity, and the Grizzlies showed what they could do if the Jazz let their guard down even a little bit: they’ll win.

Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks make for a young, vibrant, and gritty backcourt with upside. Brooks is giving Morant a scoring sidekick and helping the Grizzlies take a much-needed step forward.