Brook Lopez and the Elusive Rebound

Brook Lopez once grabbed a rebound … by accident.

Brook Lopez couldn’t rebound from a breakup with Amy Winehouse.

Brook Lopez couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if he had a hot date with a babe … I lost my train of thought.

These are the jokes parading about the internet on a daily basis (except for the last one, which just parades around my mind like all the other suppressed Seinfeld jokes) with respect to the Nets center’s rebounding woes this season. The commentary is a vicious beast that’s just as comical as it is depressing, and personally I take delight in participating in different capacities.

In fact, Daily Dime Live regulars will attest to my joking, but they’ll also attest that I’m quick to come to Lopez’s defense amid the plentiful criticism. And there is some substance to my advocating on Lopez’s behalf.

Before diving in, let’s get one thing straight. Lopez has been a terrible rebounder this season; there’s no denying that. He’s grabbing 5.7 rebounds a game. He’s a side-splitting 60th out of 61 qualifying centers in rebound rate at a nauseating 10.0. After putting up 33 double-doubles last season, Lopez has just one this season — and it took him three overtimes to meet the landmark that night.

So what’s the point here? It’s not to argue that Lopez has been a surprisingly good rebounder or anything like that because he hasn’t. The point is to illuminate the circumstances surrounding his rebounding woes to those other than the three people who watch Nets Basketball. I don’t see any problem with ridiculing Lopez, but at least have some comprehension of it before deciding to do so.

Based on my observation, there are two main factors that have directly contributed to Lopez’s decline (read: plummet) in the rebounding category.

The first is one that’s going to be more agreeable among the critics, as it is verifiable based on the Nets’ reputation. Playing on a team with less talent than an audition for a nonspeaking role on Burn Notice, Lopez has to — absolutely has to — be an offensive presence to keep New Jersey from turning into Cleveland Lite. There simply isn’t enough firepower on the roster, even including Devin Harris, to churn out any sort of competitive scoring effort without appreciable input from Lopez.

Accordingly, Lopez is really feeling the pressure to take the reins on the offensive end. And if he increases focus and effort in that regard, then there has to be a sacrifice somewhere else. For Lopez, it’s on the boards. Watch a Nets game some time (believe me: your eyes won’t bleed) and notice how Lopez often chooses to avoid attacking the paint for rebounds in order to hustle down the court for either: (a) a quick fast-break bucket or (b) good post position in the next half-court possession. You’ll be surprised at what you see, if you’re not in shock yet from how bad the team is overall. Is it an excuse or justification? Absolutely not. But it is an explanation, which is all I’m trying to provide here.

The second factor, that will probably roll more eyes than a Brett Favre retirement speech, can’t really be confirmed without doing the grunt work of watching the games. It’s clear that Kris Humphries’ presence on the court is drastically hindering Lopez’s rebounding: not just because there are fewer rebounds for Lopez to haul in but also because Hump literally rips boards out of his hands.

Steals them. Like the Hamburglar steals crappy burgers. Like forgotten Nets first-round pick Marcus Williams steals laptops. It doesn’t really matter.

Here’s an excerpt from John Hollinger’s 2010-2011 player profile for Humphries:

Perhaps this vignette from Humphries’ time in Dallas will offer some insight into how he thinks on the court: In an early-season game against Minnesota, Dallas teammate Jason Terry found himself isolated against Eurostiff Oleksiy Pecherov — a total mismatch. All the other Mavs got out of the way … except for Humphries, who flashed to the low post calling for the ball.

The man is selfish. Yelling “SAME TEAM!” on a rebound to Hump is like commanding Eddy Curry not to eat the hot dog you just put in front of him: you might as well have done nothing. Maybe it’s because he’s playing in a contract year, or maybe it’s because his machismo makes Kim hot. Either way, it comes at Lopez’s expense. By a completely unofficial estimate, Humphries jacks between one and two boards a game from his frontcourt mate. He’s screwing him behind his back and right to his face, really.

The opponent here will argue that Lopez shouldn’t let Humphries push him out of the way for rebounds. In response, I say: have you seen Hump’s muscles? There’s no way in heck he’d ever outwrestle Hump for a board, not that it would help the team if he tried.

But that brings up another potential point of clarification. Lopez did suffer from mono last summer, which caused him to lose a ton of weight to the point that Jordan Farmar tried to use him as a Q-Tip, and some assert that it’s his thin stature that’s limiting him in rebounding.

Looking at his rest splits, it actually makes some sense. When Lopez is playing in the second game of a back-to-back or had one day of rest since his last game, he averages 5.3 rebounds a game; when he has two or more days of rest, he averages 6.8 boards.

Personally, I don’t buy it. For one, Lopez plays more minutes on average when he has more rest, so of course he’s going to have more rebounds. Also, I’m no doctor, but it seems like that could be a product of regular fatigue as much as a lack of endurance caused by mono.

Irrespective of why Lopez is playing like J.J. Barea this season, the other question is why people seem to care so much. They’re the Nets, people! So what if Lopez isn’t rebounding? They’re bound to the lottery tighter than Avery Johnson to Stephen Graham or Masai Ujiri to delusion. It’s not like Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol is pulling this nonsense on a team that could compete for a championship.

I don’t see anyone getting on Andrea Bargnani’s case for having the only rebounding rate in the league worse than Lopez’s. And he was a first overall pick, for cripes sake!

Conveniently, some will say that it is Lopez’s drop in rebounding compared to last year that is troubling. What a bunch of bologna that is. If you’ve seen him do it better before, then what is so worrisome? It’s just fair to assume he won’t return to that standard?

An opposing team’s color commentator made the regrettable suggestion that this season is the norm and that Lopez’s last two years of rebounding were the exception. How nice it was of him to predict the future. Claiming that Lopez is going to rebound like this for the rest of his career is no sounder an argument than contending Greg Oden’s four years of injury are the exception and that he’s going to play every game for the rest of his career.

And anyone really paying attention wouldn’t be all that surprised at Lopez’s struggles anyway. His mediocre rebound rate of 13.5 last season was good for only 40th out of 59 qualifying centers. It’s the pervasiveness of per-game stats that made him look so much better.

Meanwhile, the Nets’ team rebounding has improved from last season from about 39 a game to about 41 a game. So Lopez’s shortcomings have been really detrimental, haven’t they?

Look. Brook Lopez is a bad rebounder. I know it. You know it. Vegetable Lasagna here knows it. I can enjoy the jokes, too. But anyone who comes after Lopez had better know the context, or else the criticism is just meaningless drivel.