MILWAUKEE -- Poise and professionalism. Character and competitiveness. Heart and hard work.

If you were trying to build a perfect NBA rookie, these are the traits you would include. They're also the exact traits members of the Memphis Grizzlies and their coach David Fizdale used to describe Dillon Brooks.

When he was asked what has impressed him most about Brooks this season, "professionalism" was the first word out of Fizdale's mouth as he spoke to the media before Monday night's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

"He's a real pro," Fizdale continued. "He shows up and does his job. He's early. To use the cliche, he's the first guy there and the last guy to leave. He watches all the film and gets into all the numbers. He really takes it hard when he doesn't execute. That's really impressive for a rookie."

In what may go down as one of the most talented draft classes of all time, with Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Jayson Tatum going one-two-three, and other first-round picks, such as De'Aaron Fox, Lauri Markkanen, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., and Kyle Kuzma drawing plenty of headlines, little attention was paid to the Grizzlies' selection with the 45th overall pick.

After the first month or so of the season, however, that is no longer the case. Not only has Dillon Brooks been an integral part of the Grizzlies' rotation from Day 1, he's already moved into the starting lineup, making him one of just three second-round picks (along with Dwayne Bacon and Sindarius Thornwell) from this summer's draft who have earned a start.

Coming in as a second-round pick, Brooks knew nothing was going to be given to him, so he worked extremely hard to put himself in the position he's in now. 

"My last two years [in college] that was drilled in me, you know, you're not gonna be a superstar player like you are at Oregon," Brooks told USA Sports in a quiet Grizzlies locker room after the loss. "You've got to earn your minutes when you get to the NBA. You've got to earn everything you get. I feel like I earned a lot.

"I wasn't a one-and-done player," Brooks continued. "I needed time. I never had the hype, never had the credit that everyone else got. I just worked all the time."

Through the first 13 games of his NBA career, Brooks' hard work has paid off. Against the Bucks, he tied his career-high with 19 points on an efficient 6 of 9 shooting, while also grabbing four rebounds.

For the season, he's averaging 9.3 points on 46 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.2 steals over nearly 30 minutes per game. Not staggering numbers, by any means, but very solid for his first month of professional basketball. Among qualified rookies, he's 13th in scoring, ninth in rebounding, sixth in steals, sixth in field goal percentage, and fifth in minutes.

Individual stats don't tell the entire story, however, as Brooks has also been putting in work on the defensive end. Coming from a college system where he played primarily zone, Brooks noted that the speed of the NBA game, especially on the defensive end has been the biggest adjustment for him. But through hard work and preparation, he's already figuring things out.

As Fizdale said earlier in the season, "we are developing him to be a stopper." Often times, Brooks is guarding elite talent on the wing, whether that's C.J. McCollum against the Trail Blazers, or Eric Bledsoe against the Bucks. So how does Brooks prepare for those challenges?

"Just a lot of film," the rookie relayed. "Watching a lot of film. And watching your own film sometimes. You know, watching games, seeing tendencies. It's just IQ."

A few times on Monday night, Brooks even had to battle against the great Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the rookie held his own. "I'm not the fastest, quickest, but I can use my strength and just fight with him, bang with him," Brooks said about his work against the Greek Freak. "He can't really shoot that much, so I would just bang with him and make him take tough shots."

Twice he did exactly that, forcing the potential MVP into tough fadeaway jumpers that he bricked.

Whether it's knocking down shots, or locking in on the defensive end, Brooks' play so far has even impressed the Grizzlies' leading man, Marc Gasol. "He's shown a lot of poise, a lot of character, competitiveness," Gasol said of his new teammate. "He loves the game, he loves to work. These are things that are all positives in order to earn minutes in a way that we are trying to teach the young guys."

Through the first month of his NBA career, Brooks is in the top 15 of all rookies for minutes played, scoring, field goal percentage, rebounding, and steals. The Grizzlies' net-rating with him on the floor is plus-6.4, but when he's off the floor, their net-rating drops all the way to minus-5.3. And of the team's four lineups that have played over 20 minutes together this season, Brooks is part of three of them, and they all have a positive net-rating. In other words, the Grizzlies are a lot better when Brooks is on the floor.

However, despite all of these facts and data points, perhaps the most impressive aspect about Brooks' start, is that he is completely unfazed in big moments. NBA.com defines "clutch" time scenarios when the game is within five or less points, and there are fewer than five minutes remaining. In those situations, Brooks has scored 12 points, and is shooting 66.7 percent. The only rookie with more points than him in "clutch" situations this season is the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum, who has 17.

As Mike Conley put it after the game, "I think the most impressive thing about Dillon has been his poise. As a rookie he's been very poised through big games and made a lot of big-time plays in fourth quarters. He has a lot of heart, and I like that from him."

Really, that says it all. Just 13 games into his NBA career, Dillon Brooks is already being praised for his heart and his poise when the game is on the line. And not just by anyone, but by Mike goddamn Conley.  

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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