Basketball is a weird game. It’s a team game: twelve players rotate through five spots on the floor. Within those five spots, only one gets to shoot each possession. Teams try to build “big threes” or “deep benches” but the truth is, time and time again, that the NBA game comes down to having a pair of great players and great compliments. A dynamic duo, if you will, can completely dominate a game. The Memphis Grizzlies have found their dynamic duo, even if it’s in a couple of weirdos reminiscent of an aptly named rap duo.
OutKast, one of the greatest rap duos of all time, was formed by Big Boi and Andre 3000 in the 1990s. Outcasts are outside the box, not unlike Big Boi and Andre were in the 1990s. Hip Hop and Rap music was focused on New York City and Los Angeles, but OutKast represented Atlanta. 90’s Hip Hop and Rap music was centered in gangster rap, but OutKast was psychedelic. Hip Hop and Rap music of the 1990s was slow and methodical, but OutKast was fast and jazzy.
Further, where other Hip Hop and Rap groups of the 90’s were crews of guys who shared the same vibe, Big Boi and Andre 3000 could not be more different. Big Boi was the player, Andre was the poet. They were both super Atlanta and super different. The Memphis Grizzlies dynamic duo are super different in their play and still very much different from one another.
Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks: Different from the NBA
Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks are very different from the modern NBA backcourt. In the modern game, backcourt duos are asked to shoot a high volume of three-point baskets. It’s not uncommon to see Steph Curry, James Harden, or Damian Lillard launch ten threes in a single game and have their back-court teammate (Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, or CJ MCCollum) also throw up five or more of their own. Morant and Brooks? On average they combine to shoot just nine threes per game.
It’s not that Morant or Brooks are awful three-point shooters (30-percent and 34-percent respectively). It’s that their strengths are closer to the basket. Ja Morant’s floater over the outreached hand of a seven-footer strikes old school and avante garde chords. Dillon Brooks pulls up around the free-throw line as players trail his hip as if he were stuck in the wrong era. Both players can shoot the three… but neither relies on that as their primary mode of scoring.
Instead, they both rely on raw energy and nonstop movement. Watching film on Morant and Brooks can be exhausting because they dart into crowds, pop in-between bigs, and run from one corner along the baseline and around the three-point line to evade defenders. Your eyes have to focus so hard that it can hurt your brain because their movements are an odd combination of unpredictable and brilliant.
And that’s just watching them. Typing to cover them? That looks impossible.
Modern basketball involves an initial set that leads to some sort of isolation with shooters coming off of a single screen if not already spotted up. How teams get there is different, but that’s the crux of how most teams orchestrate the offense with a high-power creator on the perimeter. The Memphis Grizzlies duo? They’re just different.
Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks: Different from Each Other
But where Morant and Brooks become OutKast, and not a group like Memphis’ own rap group Three 6 Mafia, is that the pair of young stars are so different from one another. Morant is six-foot-three, nearly 175 pounds, and approaching 22-years-old. Dillon Brooks? Six-foot-seven, 225 pounds, and celebrated his 25th birthday earlier this season. Morant wears South Carolina on his chest and a mid-major in his background; Brooks is a Canadian from a Nevadan prep school that earned numerous Pac12 honors at Oregon. But Morant was the top-two pick, Brooks was the second rounder.
Much like the differences in Big Boi and Andre 3000, the Memphis Grizzlies backcourt approach their craft differently. Ja Morant keeps the defense at an arm’s length until he escapes and they’re suddenly much further away. Brooks, once the defense catches up to him, prefers to be shoulder to shoulder and force his way through space. Their yin and yang create a backcourt that is young, explosive, and hard to gameplan for. How do you prepare for a point guard reminiscent of a young Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose and a two-way two-guard built like a power forward? In the swing of a basketball, the defense has to shift coverage from sprinting rotations to sturdy foundations.
In OutKast, Big Boi and Andre 3000 compliment each other by being different. For traditional southern lyricism, Big Boi offers southern metaphors, similes, and rhymes that sync up with the baseline. For those who want southern eccentrics? Andre 3000 brings funk, wit, and innovation with hues of historically southern and Black music. Together, they create one of the strongest, most unique rap groups of all time.
On the Memphis Grizzlies, Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks share the same type of relationship. We’ve had explosive, athletic, high-flying creators play point guard- the aforementioned Westbrook and Rose each won an MVP award. We’ve seen the giant defensive-minded guard- Ben Simmons was a number one pick in 2016, Kawhi Leonard was the Finals MVP two years ago this June, and Jimmy Butler was in the NBA Finals just last fall. But how often have we seen players like that together?
What’s that mean for the NBA?
It means the NBA could be in trouble forever, forever-ever, for-ever-ever. In Game One of the Memphis Grizzlies NBA Playoff series, Morant and Brooks were too much for the number one seeded Utah Jazz to handle. In pick-and-roll scenarios, two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was stuck in no man’s land with Ja Morant. If he dropped too far, Morant popped a floater over the outstretched arm of the seven-footer. If he played too high up? Morant went by him and laid it in off the glass. While Morant and the others occupied one-half of the defense? Brooks forced his way through the other half like a playground bully. They alternated second-half quarters to seal the game and steal the first on the road.
Game Two was different in that the Jazz won, but not in how Morant or Brooks dominated. Brooks was in and out of the game with foul trouble, but Morant tallied 47 points- the most of any Grizzly in a playoff game in the franchise’s history. Coming out of halftime, with Morant and Brooks on the floor, the Grizzlies scored on every possession for more than eight consecutive minutes. The Memphis Grizzlies backcourt wasn’t stopped, they were outscored. The Jazz had the third-best defense, statistically, in the NBA. The Jazz also boast a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and the Las Vegas favorite to win it again this year, protecting the rim to anchor said defense. Two young guards in Memphis tore them apart from, predominantly, inside the arc. They were fearless, explosive, and unstoppable.
“Forever never seems that long until you’re gone.” If the modern NBA tells us anything, the only certainty is uncertainty. Anthony Davis was a promising young Pelican. Kevin Durant was set to launch the small market of Oklahoma City into basketball history books. Kawhi Leonard was supposed to, silently, take the torch from Tim Duncan and carry the San Antonio dynasty forward. What the long term holds for the pair is unknown, but it is clear that they’re very fun in the here and now. OutKast as a duo didn’t last forever, either. Andre 3000 has done numerous solo projects, both he and Big Boi have dabbled in acting careers, and both have taken time to be family men. Both dynamic duos dominated their crafts by being intentionally authentic and different from the world around them.
So fresh, so clean; the Memphis Grizzlies backcourt is as fun as any in the NBA. And while it may or may not be enough to get “over the hump” this year, or any year, but that’s not the point. The point is they do what they do very well, in as exciting of a way as possible. And that’s something you’ve got to enjoy regardless of where they play.