Brook Lopez: Beginning Vindication (SEASON GRADE)

Previous: Reggie Evans Next: Andray Blatche


By the numbers: 74 G, 74 GS, 30.4 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 2.1 BPG, .521 FG%, .758 FT%, .567 TS%, .521 eFG%

Advanced: 24.7 PER, 114 ORtg, 105 DRtg, 28.6 USG%, 10.8 ORB%, 16.1 DRB%, 13.4 TRB%, 6.4 AST%, 0.8 SPG%, 5.2 BLK%, 9.4 TOV%, 15.9 estimated wins added

I’m going to begin this with a rundown of Brook Lopez’s various weaknesses.

  • He’s slow. He’s never going to get faster than slow. That lack of foot speed makes him vulnerable to defensive switches, which is why the Nets often cross-switch to keep Lopez close to the basket.
  • Comic books.
  • He relies on his outside jumper more than you’d like from a 7’2″ behemoth with a half-dozen effective post moves — according to MySynergySports, Lopez averaged 0.91 points per possession in the post (44th in the NBA) and 1.06 points per possession as a pick-and-roll finisher (also 44th), but only 0.86 points per possession spotting up (244th). About 30% of Lopez’s offense comes outside of the paint. His outside game is a threat that needs to be respected, but it’s also a tradeoff most teams will take over having him in the paint.
  • He’s still not a great rebounder and will likely never become one.
  • He slows down after hot offensive starts to games. Lopez is fifth in the NBA in scoring in the first quarter (7.1 PPG), the highest of any player that averaged fewer than 10 minutes in the first quarter, and shot 55.8% from the field. After the first quarter, Lopez averaged 4.1 points per quarter on 50% shooting.

That’s a preface for the slobbering that’s going to continue from here forward about Lopez, who took every expectation from before this season and exceeded it, who became a better defender than he’d ever been in his first few years, who found the balance between creating his own offense and working in tandem with the weapons around him, who dominated lesser opponents, played with an eerie consistency (his splits month-by-month barely fluctuate), and carried the offense through stretches when their other options struggled. From start to finish, Lopez was the unequivocal MVP of a team that went 49-33 despite a coaching change and a 3-month stretch in which neither of their vaunted backcourt members could string together a coherent stretch of basketball games. Then, Lopez shined brightest in his first playoff series; even though the Nets dropped the series to the Chicago Bulls in seven games, Lopez averaged 22 & 7 with three blocks per game, defending the paint like a seasoned veteran.

It was a season both of redemption and breakout for Lopez, who justified the four-year, $61.8 million “mini-max” extension Brooklyn signed him to in the offseason, originally to mixed reviews. After fighting various ailments in his past two seasons — mononucleosis in 2010-11, a broken foot in 2011-12 — Lopez came to training camp fully healthy with 15 added pounds of muscle, and dominated from the outset.

WATCH: Brook Lopez’s Top 10 Plays of 2012-13

Lopez’s evolution was understandable, but it came with significant leaps forward. When off the ball, he improved his understanding of the space in the paint, moving from block to elbow to block, lying in wait for the split-second his opponent would divert his gaze. Lopez got dunks, layups, and floaters in the lane with ease, leading the NBA in points off plays designated as “cuts,” and developed the necessary chemistry with Deron Williams — 41% of Lopez’s baskets were assisted by Williams when the two shared the court.

With the ball in his hands, Lopez continued his steps forward as the player we saw coming out of Stanford in 2008: a lanky post wizard with the smarts to get around defenders as well as the length to drop hook shots over them. He shot nearly 65% in the restricted area and nearly 45% in the rest of the paint, both well above the league average. He posted a career-best 10.8% offensive rebounding percentage, and scored over 55% of the time after getting an offensive rebound and going back up with the ball.

Lopez’s scoring has always been his bread and butter, but he also improved his overall game. His defensive awareness, once considered the nadir of his abilities, leapfrogged from laughingstock to average. The Nets left him closer to the rim on those aforementioned pick-and-roll switches not only because of Lopez’s poor defense outside of the paint, but his constantly improving defense inside it. Lopez averaged a career-high 2.5 blocks per game and 5.2% block percentage, and opponents struggled to convert against Lopez with him on the floor. Some smart people even argued that Reggie Evans’s historic rebounding season was thanks to Lopez — Lopez! — doing the dirty work. He’s a scorer first, and always will be, but the Nets improved significantly because of both his scoring improvement and his improvements across the board.

Lopez is imperfect. He’s not the best center in the NBA and his PER (fifth in the league) certainly overstates his value. It was frightening watching the constantly emotional Joakim Noah beat him to loose balls and offensive rebounds.

But after all the questions about his contract, about if he could stay healthy for a full season, about whether or not the Nets made a colossal mistake making him their third-highest paid player, Lopez developed into one of the franchise’s cornerstones and a symbol of their success.

Now he’s got to improve on it next year.

HIGH POINT: Dunking on his twin brother. Absolutely dunking on his twin brother. Lopez had better overall games, but never a better moment.

LOW POINT: Every pick-and-roll coverage after the first quarter of every game after the All-Star break. Lopez’s activity on defense was far more evident early in the season than late, and even with his impressive paint defense in the season and playoffs, he looked lost and lethargic when moving outside of the paint on defense. Easily his biggest weakness and most the frustrating aspect of his game.

MY FAVORITE MOMENT: I can’t find video for this, but I promise it happened. The Nets showed Lopez on the jumbotron talking about the latest Batman film. His direct quote: “I enjoyed it. There were a few inconsistencies.”

Never change, Brook.

Final Grade:

Previous: Reggie Evans Next: Andray Blatche

Full List:
Deron Williams | Joe Johnson | Gerald Wallace | Reggie Evans | Brook Lopez | Andray Blatche | C.J. Watson | Keith Bogans | Kris Humphries | MarShon Brooks | Mirza Teletovic | Tyshawn Taylor | Tornike Shengelia