1) Brook Lopez on the offensive glass.
Since the All-Star Break, Brook Lopez has arguably been the best offensive rebounder in the NBA.
Read that again. I know! Brook Lopez, whose biggest on-court criticism in NBA circles is his rebound aversion, has been one of the NBA’s best offensive rebounders over his past five games.
Consider: since the break, he’s racked up 27 offensive rebounds and 32 second-chance points in five games, averaging more than seven offensive rebounds per 36 minutes and leading the league with 6.4 second-chance points per game. Only Andre Drummond has averaged more offensive rebounds per game Lopez since the break, and more of Lopez’s rebounds came with at least one player trying to snare it away[note]As of Monday morning, Lopez leads the league with 26 contested offensive rebounds since the All-Star break, per NBA Savant.[/note].
The limited but voracious Reggie Evans, perhaps the greatest rebounder Lopez has ever played with in his brief career, once distilled rebounding to four poignant words in his Pensacola southern drawl: “just go get it.” In the past few weeks, that’s what Lopez has done. Lopez has generally had good footwork boxing out his man in his career, but has struggled in pursuit following the miss. But Lopez has looked more aggressive in the paint and willing to fight on the glass.
Here’s three examples of Lopez’s energy:
All three of these plays have a common link. Lopez went into a pick-and-roll set with Jarrett Jack, freeing space for Jack to attack off the dribble. In the past, Lopez would normally look to “pick-and-stick,” a term used by YES Network announcer Ian Eagle to describe Lopez setting the screen and planting his feet in the ground for an open jumper. But recently, Lopez has shown an energy diving towards the basket, a constant eye on the ball’s caroms, and a willingness to fight for position.
Just two weeks ago, it seemed inevitable that Lopez’s time with Brooklyn would come to a close. Reports indicated that the Nets were willing to make Reggie Jackson the face of their franchise and part with Lopez, who has spent all seven years of his career with the Nets. But the Thunder bolted at the last second, leaving the Nets high and dry… and Brook Lopez On a team that thrives on a rocking boat, Lopez is a steady wave. He’s been through it all in seven seasons: six coaches[note]Eight, if you include two-game stints from assistants Tom Barrise and Joe Prunty. You shouldn’t, but you could![/note], two ownership groups, two general managers, three cities, a revolving door of complementing power forwards[note]Here’s the list of primary players who have started at least 20 games next to Lopez at power forward: Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Josh Boone, Derrick Favors, Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans, Kevin Garnett. Find me one other list this group of players belongs to.[/note], two foot fractures & subsequent surgeries, one ankle surgery, and seven trade deadlines.
With the burden of a potential move off his shoulders for at least another few months, the effort is there. On more than one occasion, Lopez has wrestled a rebound away from a defender, when in a past life he might’ve been more content to let it go.
Even if Lopez’s most prominent putback — a flailing shot attempt with 1:19 left in the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets, that led to an open three-pointer for the Rockets on the other end — went awry, that’s an enormous overall impact. Consider: the Nets, who were tied with the Rockets at that point in the game, had picked up six points from Lopez’s offensive rebounding to that point. Without his impact, they’re in the hole.
Plus, the team as a whole leads the NBA in second-chance points per game since the All-Star Break, averaging 16.4 per game. With Lopez on the floor, that number jumps to 20.5[note]Per 48 minutes.[/note]
Though Lopez has paid particular attention to the offensive glass in the past five games — no coincidence, with the Nets often surrounding him with four wing players — it’s not a total anomaly. His 15.8 offensive rebounding percentage over the past 12 games would rank fourth in the NBA over the course of a full season, and the timing coincides with Lopez playing closer to the basket on offense as a general rule.
The team desperately needs rebounding after Kevin Garnett’s departure & the rise to prominence by their wing-laden starting lineup, and Lopez has rung the bell. Though Lopez hasn’t started, it’s hardly mattered: Hollins has elected to play him more and more as he continues to round into form. The occasional free-wheeling mid-range jumper aside, this is the Lopez the Nets have needed. If he can stay healthy and continue to produce for 30 minutes per game, they have a huge advantage in the post that they wouldn’t have otherwise.