When doing analysis for this article, a lot of what I saw didn’t surprise me at all. I knew the Nets weren’t very good defensively, especially against teams that executed the pick & roll well. But one thing continued to pop up, play after play, until I could no longer ignore it: How ineffective Brook Lopez was at defending it.
It’s not that he’s a poor defender against the roll man. He’s not. He’s average for a center, but average is still better than 50% of his peers. Rather, it’s that when the ballhandler forces him to make a decision, he consistently freezes.
A few examples are highlighted on video below, and there are a couple of things to watch for. Firstly, instead of sliding up to cover the ballhandler on the screen or rotating over to help, Brook stays back on his heels, inviting the opponent to take an open jumpshot or drive him to the lane. Even if the guard went under the screen, Lopez would still hesitate. This resulted in a lot of open jumpers and floaters. Secondly, when the defense did drive into the lane, Lopez either continued to backpedal or froze – half-heartedly contesting at best and losing the defender completely at worst.
I don’t mean to say that I think Brook is making the wrong decision – in fact, I think he’s making the right one. If he tried to even semi-hedge, he’d immediately be frozen by quicker players. He has to backpedal to the basket, since he’s not quick enough to cut off slashing guards. He’s playing the odds. Since everyone is quicker than him, staying back is the right move. He has to hesitate.
It’s just that the problem isn’t what he’s doing. It’s the fact that he has to do it.
He’s just too slow. And there’s a good chance he won’t get faster. This type of lateral quickness and speed is less important on the block, which is where he’ll spend a majority of his time on defense, but against a lot of other looks: pick & roll ballhandlers, spot-up shooters, isolations, slashers, et al – he’s going to have a lot of trouble. Judging by his play style, he knows it.
I know we bemoan the Nets for not having another perimeter scorer that can create his own shot, but I firmly believe that Billy King’s first priority this offseason and beyond should be to get a rotation big (definitely a power forward if Humphries moves on) who makes defense his priority; someone who closes on spot-up shooters and gets in the way consistently when Deron goes over the screen.
There’s no doubt that Brook Lopez is a great scorer, and he certainly brings more to the table than he takes away. It’s also good for a player to know his absolute limitations. But if the Nets are really serious about building a “championship team,” especially in this new Heat/Bulls/Thunder/Explosiveness era that will soon be upon us, the rest of the team had better be able to defend the rim very well if their center – the anchor of a defense – is going to be a defensive liability.