Going into the 2015-16 season it looked like the Conference of Champions would once again be a force to reckoned with come tournament time. Long-time powerhouses such as Arizona and UCLA looked poised to make a tournament run, while conference upstarts such as Cal, Washington and Utah had promising young rosters. With only a few weeks left in the season, the standout team in the conference has easily been none other than the Oregon Ducks. Many predicted this young Ducks team to struggle with the loss of reigning PAC-12 player of the year Joseph Young to graduation. It is the emergence of sophomore Dillon Brooks as candidate for PAC-12 player of the year who has changed the question from will the Ducks make the tournament, to how far will the Ducks go?
Most pundits will claim they could see the progression, that Brooks was the obvious candidate to take over the reigns as leader of the Ducks after Young’s departure; however, it is highly doubtful that anyone could have predicted this type of explosion from the sophomore. There were signs that he was capable of being an outstanding player, as a high-schooler he dominated at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships leading Canada to a silver medal while scoring a staggeringly efficient 25.3 points per game while shooting 61.7 percent from the field. What makes Brooks effective is how he combines his size and athleticism with his aggressiveness, the young Canadian plays like a bull in a china shop. Standing 6’7 and weighing 230 pounds, Brooks is able to carve out space and bully his way to the rim. Combine this with his career 81% free throw shooting and you get a talented wing player who can flat out score.
His first year at Oregon he continued his progression finishing the season scoring 11.1 points per game which was good enough to finish as the third highest scoring freshman in his conference. This season he has upped his scoring numbers, increasing his them to 16.9 points per game, while also increasing his efficiency from 45% to 48%. His improvement can be traced directly to his improved strength as well as ball handling. Last season Brooks would score most of his points from attacking off of the catch, using his quickness to catch defenders sleeping and then finishing strong at the rim. This season, with the departure of ball controlling Young, Brooks has had more opportunity to control the offense. He now has the opportunity to control the ball in both pick and roll as well as isolation situations, particularly at the end of shot clock situations. These improvements to Dillon Brooks’ ball handling can be seen in his increased free throws per game as he went from 2.5 free throw attempts per game to almost four, doubling his freshman years output. This improved ball handling has allowed Brooks to create more for his team, effectively doubling his assist totals from 1.7 assists per game to 3.2 assists per game while increasing his assist percentage from 11% to almost 20%. What is even more impressive is that most of Brooks’ assists end up in wide open three pointers or layups. He is able to drive into the heart of the defense then dish out to open shooters, of which Oregon has plenty, or give a dumb off pass to a diving big man for an easy dunk.
The scary part of Dillon Brooks’ game is that there is a lot of room for improvement. His first year in college Brooks shot a respectable 37% from 3-point range, this percentage has plummeted to a lowly 29%. One could only imagine if Brooks manages to find the shooting range that he had as a freshman, he will be an unstoppable scorer. Defenders are able to take a few steps back, yet Brooks is still able to blow by them, if they had to guard him past the three point line he would have already locked up PAC-12 player of the year.
The Oregon Ducks are very quickly becoming PAC-12 basketball royalty, almost always in the conversation as a tournament team under Head Coach Dana Altman, and with talented young players like Dillon Brooks it is easy to see why.