Player Capsule: Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez Brooklyn NetsAs part of a 370-part series, Gothic Ginobili writer Aaron McGuire discusses almost every notable player getting minutes in the NBA. Today, one of McGuire’s capsules was on Brooklyn Nets Center Brook Lopez. I am re-posting it here on The Brooklyn Game with his permission. You can check out the original, along with capsules of Eric Gordon and Steve Novak, and the entirety of the worthwhile Gothic Ginobili universe, here.

Follow Brook Lopez by engaging in chill time with the Green Lantern.

It took a while, but I’ve finally bought in. Thanks to constant bickering with @uuords and other Nets fans, I’ve come to believe something I never thought I’d say — over the full season, Brook Lopez has a reasonably good shot at improving the Nets’ defense. I had to watch a bunch of tape to really buy into the idea, especially since I still don’t think Lopez is a positive contributor on that end. Because I don’t. At all. Lopez is flat-footed and oftentimes virtually immobile on the defensive end. He covers pick and rolls about as effectively as I’d cover a whale, and his shot blocking — while decent by the numbers — tends to vastly overstate his ability to defend the post. He blocks shots, but he doesn’t really get good position on any of the blocks, and he’s got a bad habit of letting slick big men slip behind him for easy off-hand layups. Compounding the problem, Lopez is consistently slow to get back in transition, and that’s not a skill that’s likely to get much better any time soon — in dealing his somewhat tricky foot problems, the chances of Lopez seriously going all-out to stop a transition break end-to-end on a regular basis are minimal to none. As with any seven footer, actually.

But here’s the thing. I’m a big fan of analysis by replacement, especially when dealing with teams like this year’s Nets, who are featuring key new pieces and a generally completely revamped roster. And while I think Lopez is a pretty poor defender, I also think he’s dramatically better than anything the Nets put on the court last season at the center position. Consider — the 2012 Nets were a team that was giving Johan Petro, the hollow husk of Mehmet Okur, and the shadow of Shelden Williams serious burn at the center position. On offense, Lopez — a legitimately talented post player and a serious midrange shooter despite his enormous size — is an obvious upgrade to anything the Nets put out in the frontcourt. But on defense, despite his faults, Lopez is STILL an upgrade. Consider his intrinsic skills versus any of those three players:

  • Johan Petro is exceedingly slow — he’s as slow as Lopez, but without any of the strength. His pick and roll coverage is quite literally just as bad, and unlike Lopez, he isn’t even a largebody center to make up for it. He’s 7’0″, but clearly stands a shade under Lopez and fouls roughly once every 7 minutes on the court, a pretty ridiculous rate.
  • Mehmet Okur finally lost it in 2012. He was playing injured, sure, but the man simply couldn’t move at an NBA level anymore. He couldn’t jump adequately, he couldn’t pretend to front a man in the post, and his pick and roll coverage was confused and hesitant.
  • Shelden Williams is 6’9″. According to his team-reported height, at least. I’d venture he’s more of a 6’8″ or 6’7″, watching him on the court and comparing him to guards and the centers he’d face. I entreat you — go find someone who you’ve got 5-6 inches on and see how effectively he fronts you in the post. And… yep, that’s the joke.

Lopez is an exceedingly disappointing defender for his size. His mobility is such that you really wonder how high his ceiling is on that end, and his rebounding (which is excruciatingly disappointing for his size and skill level) tends to indicate a player whose defensive engagement is decidedly less than it should be. But even with his foibles, even with his flaws? I cannot in good conscience say that Brook Lopez is going to do a markedly worse job defending the post than the Petro/Okur/Williams pu pu platter Avery Johnson put out last season. Simply can’t. None of those three players bring any discernible defensive skills to the table — at least Lopez is 7 feet tall with a strong frame and a decent head on his shoulders. And now that the Nets have a team that actually has a good cast around Lopez and Williams, chances are reasonably high they can develop a system around those several “talents” that at least improves the Nets a slight bit on the defensive end. I’m dubious about claims that they’ll be above average, but they could scrape league average with Brook Lopez manning the middle. Especially if they keep developing new schemes like the ones they showed off in their first game.

Some fun facts about Brook Lopez. Off the court, he’s best described as a “chill surfer bro who likes comic books and jokes.” Emphasis on the comic books, actually. Do you remember when the NBA commissioned Marvel to draw team covers based on various superheroes? Lopez does, and due to his being a massive comics aficionado, ESPN’s J.A. Adande interviewed him to prove whether Lopez really was a comic guy or not by quizzing him on the identity of some of the more obscure covers. Shockingly, Lopez got them all without skipping a beat, including some obscure comic named “Alpha Flight” that I had honestly never heard of before. So good on him. He and his brother are also writing a comic book, which makes me think I really need to meet up with Lopez and give him some tips. I once wrote and drew a comic book approaching Rod Blagojevich through the lens of “The Grand Inquisitor” and Joe Biden’s thirst for humanity’s ever-present end. This, I feel, makes me an expert on the subject and a clearly credentialed advice-giving gentleman in the field of comic books. So, yeah. Hit me up whenever, Brook. I have some great tips for you.