Dillon Brooks has been a “luxury” for the Houston Rockets, according to new head coach Ime Udoka.
Brooks has enjoyed an impressive start to the 2023-24 season with his new team. The native of Mississauga is averaging 16.3 points per game on a blistering 59.3 per cent from the field, 56.5 per cent from three-point range and 93.8 per cent from the free-throw line through six games.
This comes after a down year in Memphis during a contract season in 2022-23, with the Grizzlies opting not to re-sign him.
“He’s so versatile. I mean, being aggressive, he’s one of our physical drivers that gets in, obviously attacks the basket but can also make some reads,” Udoka said on Nov. 1 after Houston’s 128-119 win over Charlotte.
“And then defensively, just being able to be on bigger guys and go to [the] ball and disrupt some things there. It’s always a luxury to have a guy like that.”
Brooks was one of two big free agent signings this past summer for Houston, which finished 22-60 in 2022-23 to be 14th in the Western Conference. The Rockets are currently 3-3 and are on a three-game winning streak.
The 27-year-old signed a four-year, US$86-million contract in July, shortly after Houston added former Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet on a three-year, $128.5-million deal. The team hired Udoka as head coach in April.
With VanVleet and Jalen Green, the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, drawing more of the attention, Udoka has drawn up sets for Brooks to attack mismatches against smaller defenders.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Brooks had 20 points in the win over Charlotte, and was the catalyst in a 107-89 win over Sacramento last Saturday with 26 points and nine rebounds.
“It was huge. Carry over from the third, we weren’t scoring as well, obviously, and then we just looked for a spark somewhere,” Udoka said after the Sacramento game.
“Jabari [Smith Jr.] had the first half, then Dillon just made the hustle plays and effort plays and obviously hit a few threes late but he kind of stemmed the tide there until we got it rolling again.”
Brooks became primarily known as an agitator with the Grizzlies and felt targeted for his image, in addition to receiving hate from fans.
But that has changed to a degree since his performance with the Canadian senior team.
Brooks was Canada’s third-leading scorer at this year’s FIBA World Cup, averaging 15.1 points in eight games on 59.4 per cent from the field and 58.8 per cent from three.
That included a national record-setting 39-point performance in Canada’s win over the U.S. in the bronze-medal game. He went from being booed early in the tournament to hearing MVP chants in his final outing.
Bright lights Barrett
New York Knicks small forward RJ Barrett appears to have taken a leap early in his fourth year.
The Mississauga native is averaging career highs in points (22.0), field-goal percentage (47.5), three-point percentage (44.0) and free-throw percentage (85.2). While it’s only been five games – he missed two due to a knee injury – he’s made his presence felt.
The 23-year-old returned Monday night with a 26-point showing in a 111-97 win over Los Angeles in James Harden’s Clippers debut at Madison Square Garden.
“The knee is still a little sore, but I’m just happy we got the win,” Barrett said. “You always want to be out there. It sucked that I couldn’t play, but I’m happy I wasn’t out too long.”
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said it was “terrific” to have Barrett back.
“He’s grown,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a gifted scorer. He’s making plays. He’s getting downhill. Just having another wing with his size is critical.”
Shaedon Sharpe has continued to flourish as a starter for the Portland Trail Blazers.
The sophomore guard from London, Ont., scored 26 of his 29 points in the second half of a 110-101 comeback win over Detroit on Nov. 1.
“They beat up on us in the first half, and I challenged my guys at halftime,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “We turned it around and Shaedon was incredible. He had to carry us and he did it.”
Sharpe followed that up with a 22-point showing against Memphis last Friday in the opener of the in-season tournament. He had a pair of clutch free throws and a block that sent the game to overtime as Portland won 115-113.
And he did it all while fighting a cold.
“We just never give up,” said Sharpe, treated to “MVP” chants from the crowd when he went to the line. “We stayed on course. Everybody competes hard. We just stay focused.”
Sharpe is averaging 20.1 points per contest through seven games, with starter Anfernee Simons out with a thumb injury.