Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Quickly Can Dillon Brooks Get Healthy?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 19th, 2016

It seems unfair to say that Oregon’s chances at competing for a National Title depend solely on the long-term health of Dillon Brooks, especially considering the sheer amount of talent and depth Dana Altman has stockpiled in Eugene. But then again, Brooks is no ordinary role player either. The Toronto, Ontario, native emerged as one of the best two-way players in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 16.7 points per game (47.0% FG) to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He started in all 38 of the Ducks’ games and was the linchpin to Altman’s successful attempt at a nearly position-less rotation. He played as the team’s nominal power forward, but his NBA size and athleticism allowed him to easily guard multiple positions and a match-up nightmare on the other end of the floor. Although he laid a seven-point egg in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma, his performances in the Round of 32 against St. Joseph’s and in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke positioned him as a leading candidate for Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year this season.

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

When Brooks withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, it instantly made the Ducks a trendy 2017 title contender. That outlook, however, changed considerably when Altman casually mentioned in a summer conference call that Brooks had been held out of workouts because of a “problem with his foot.” Brooks had foot surgery two weeks later, and it became increasingly clear by August that he was going to miss part of the regular season. That shouldn’t be a major issue, though, as the Ducks are one of the few teams in the country with sufficient talent and depth to replace a player of Brooks’ caliber. If Altman wants to play small, he can feel confident in the trio of Casey Benson, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey. If he prefers a larger lineup, versatile big men Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, and JuCo transfer Kavell Williams-Bigby lead one of the country’s best stables of post players. If the team’s recent exhibition games in Spain were any indication, Altman plans to mix and match until he finds a rotation he is comfortable with, a luxury most coaches in the conference surely envy. But that depth won’t change the fact that Oregon will still be missing its best player on both ends of the floor.

The junior doesn’t excel in any one area which means both his traditional and advanced statistics won’t blow anyone away. He is an effective finisher at the rim, a creative passer for a player of his size, and can knock down the open jumper when it is available. His iffy shooting, however, kneecaps his overall offensive efficiency and it is fair to question whether a player gifted with his size and athleticism could perform better on the glass. Defensively, Brooks uses his length to disrupt opponents’ passing lanes and rim attacks but he doesn’t pile up great numbers in either category.

Dana Altman Will Anxiously Await the Return of His Star (USA Today Images)

Dana Altman Will Have to Anxiously Await the Return of His Star (USA Today Images)

The reason he is the most important player on the team is because of his defensive versatility. Brooks is one of the few players in the country who can legitimately claim an ability to defend all five positions. Last year he handled opposing power forwards with aplomb and he hardly broke a sweat while guarding shiftier perimeter players. Without him in the lineup, the Ducks will be a more traditional defensive team. On the offensive end, the two statistics that perfectly capture Brooks’ impact are that he was responsible for almost 25 percent of the team’s field goal attempts when the Ducks weren’t in transition, and 25 percent of the team’s field goal attempts when there were five seconds or fewer remaining on the shot clock (hat tip to the always awesome for the numbers) last season. Even one of the country’s most efficient offenses needs a bailout option from time to time, and giving the ball to Brooks with space to create his own shot was a pretty effective strategy last season.

The timetable for Brooks’ return is still unclear. Altman doesn’t seem terribly concerned that he will miss a large chunk of the season, however, and the junior recently shed his protective walking boot and cordially chatted with reporters about his expectations for the upcoming season. But neither Altman nor Brooks will discuss much about the injury, and when pressed for a timetable, Brooks only says that his recovery is on track. That ambiguity certainly won’t placate Oregon fans. They know that, with a healthy Brooks, Oregon has almost as much talent as national favorites Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. Without him, Oregon has the look of a team that will fall just short of winning the Pac-12 and make a quick visit to the Sweet Sixteen. A trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is nothing to be ashamed of, but the Ducks created heightened expectations by winning the conference and making the Elite Eight last season. This team has National Championship aspirations and it needs Brooks at full strength to crash the party of Blue-bloods.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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