It’s odd to describe Brook Lopez as anything other than bad at rebounding, but Wednesday night’s game was an exhibition into how many roles the Nets center can really play. It might have just been that case that most people were focusing on him given the embarrassment of terrors joining him in the startling lineup (namely Jordan Farmar, Mario West, Sasha Vujacic, and Dan Gadzuric), but Lopez was under the spotlight — or, more accurately, an area of dim light surrounded by unprecedented darkness.
With a number of injuries reducing the Nets’ roster to rubble for the game against the Pistons, Lopez was appropriately tasked with carrying the offensive load, and carry it he did. Detroit’s bigs were helpless to stop him, and his impressive production was the only thing keeping the Nets from utter humiliation.
Using an array of layups, dunks, jumpshots, and free throws, Lopez cruised until about a quarter of the way through the fourth period. At the time, he had 39 points (a new career high) on astounding 14-of-17 shooting. Little did the Nets know, when Chris Wilcox fouled out at that point in time, it would be the kiss of death for Lopez. During the rest of the game, he was 0-of-3 from the field.
For minutes afterward, Lopez was harassed with double teams, the Pistons not content with allowing him to catch the ball with any meaningful post position. Soon enough, though, the Nets gave up on trying to thread him the rock, even as the double teams stopped coming. In typical pre-Deron Williams fashion, the guards were helpless to throw an acceptable entry pass, and the offense slowed to a halt. Instead of relying on the only semblance of offense, the Nets were content with contested jumpers by Travis Outlaw, missed layups by Farmar and Ben Uzoh, and overall sluggishness from Gadzuric.
This turn of events speaks to a few things: (1) The Nets’ guards are terrible when Williams is not on the floor; (2) Lopez lacks the respect of the team to be able to effectively demand the ball in the post (though having Farmar and Vujacic, conditioned by Phil Jackson to avoid good entries, certainly doesn’t help); and (3) Avery Johnson can’t draw up an offensive set late in games.
It’s a troubling prophecy for the Nets when the only acceptable offensive player is completely ignored, and it makes for terrible basketball. Something has to give with the play calling, or else doubling Lopez will be an easy solution to forcing the ball out of his hands.
Alas, this wasn’t the last of Lopez’s manifestations Wednesday night. In the final minute or two of the game, with the result decided, Lopez began to pout, whine, and show general disinterest in the game. In fact, in the final seconds, with the clock stopped, he actually began to walk off the court before Johnson forced him back on.
Lopez was obviously pissed off, and rightfully so, that he didn’t get the ball down the stretch, but even more obvious is the fact that pouting is not the right recourse for handling the situation. Does Kobe Bryant pout when he doesn’t get the ball? No. He reams his teammates a new one. He makes his teammates regret not finding a way to give him the rock in his spot.
As Lopez continues to mature, he must realize that he is the second-best player on this Nets team, which means he deserves respect — he needs to develop the appropriate leadership. Whining will only make him look weak and selfish. Really, this would have been grounds for Johnson to let him keep walking to the locker room and replace him with someone who’s grateful to play.