The unlikely free agent that the Atlanta Hawks should pursue

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks‘ need for perimeter defenders could lead them in some interesting directions.

Perhaps no one has had a more humiliating 2023 NBA postseason than Memphis Grizzlies guard/forward Dillon Brooks, who made a series of unabashed claims in the media leading up to his team’s series with LeBron James and the Lakers.

“I don’t care, he’s old,” said Brooks when asked about his matchup with the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, per Bleacher Report. “I don’t respect no one until they give me 40.”

In Brooks’ defense, James did not, as it turned out, give him 40. In fact, the eye test showed that Brooks actually did a pretty solid job defending both James and the Lakers’ other wings.

The problem was that Brooks was absolutely abysmal on the other end of the court, not registering a single game shooting 50% or better from the field. He was consistently left wide open by the Los Angeles defense and failed to make them pay.

With the Grizzlies being dispatched in six games (and with Brooks giving himself a terrible look by avoiding several postgame media availabilities), Brooks became the subject of a series of memes and internet laughter, much of it entirely self-inflicted.

Suffice it to say, Brooks is not likely to be a particularly hot commodity on the market this offseason when he will be an unrestricted free agent.

This makes it somewhat sensible that the Hawks at least consider him this summer when his price tag is likely to be at an all-time low.

Why Brooks makes sense for Atlanta

In the Hawks’ first-round loss to the Boston Celtics, the most glaring issue for Atlanta was the fact that they showed absolutely zero resistance to Boston’s guards and wings whenever they tried to get to the basket.

This turnstile point-of-attack defense allowed Boston’s several three-point marksmen to have shooting practice for much of the series, as the defenders guarding them were forced to rotate over and essentially pick Atlanta’s poison.

We’ve known since he came into the league that Atlanta’s best player Trae Young was never going to be a good defender, which is why it’s quite frustrating that the players that the Hawks have surrounded him with that were supposed to compensate for this issue (looking at you De’Andre Hunter and Dejounte Murray) also failed in that aspect, powerless to stop the layup line exhibition that the Celtics were putting on.

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In short, Atlanta’s number one priority this offseason should be finding at least one or two reliable perimeter defenders that can stay in front of their man consistently and make the offense work for tougher shots.

Despite his many (now publicly mocked) flaws, Brooks fits that description to a tee. Ranking in the 94th percentile in defensive versatility per Basketball Reference, Brooks can guard 1-4 and has great defensive mechanics, a considerable wingspan, and strength at his disposal.

Yes, he brings antics along with him. But the Hawks also need someone that brings some toughness to the table, even if it comes at the expense of the occasional backfire. Perhaps this year’s embarrassment will help Brooks reel in his colorful personality in the future.

Let me make something clear: if Brooks shoots as he did in this year’s playoffs over the long haul, this would invalidate most of what I’ve said above. After all, Atlanta’s second most noticeable flaw in the Boston series was their lack of floor spacing, with John Collins (and obviously Clint Capela) unable to make the Celtics’ defense pay for overloading on Young and leaving them open.

If Brooks is incapable of knocking down wide-open threes, as he was against Los Angeles, any value he brings on the defensive end will quickly be neutralized. However, previous years suggest that Brooks is capable of being a reliable floor spacer, as he has registered seasons of 37, 36, and 35 percent shooting from beyond the arc previously in his career.

If he can regain that shooting touch, he will be well worth the (likely minimal) investment that would be required of the Hawks. Now, does this mean he should start? Probably not. The Hawks’ backcourt is solidified with Young and Murray, and Brooks overall is not a better player than De’Andre Hunter, despite the frustration that he too can incite with his inconsistency.

However, what Atlanta can’t afford to do is stand by and idle this offseason when they have a clear backbreaking flaw and a proven veteran who can at least help fill that gap for what figures to be a relatively low price.

Right now, Brooks’ name incites laughter more than it does serious basketball conversation.

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But there’s a reason he was a starter on one of the best teams in the league this season, and he certainly makes sense for a flawed Hawks team to at least consider this summer.