Brook Lopez’s March Madness

March has been a funny month for Brook Lopez. As the Nets most consistent starter all season, and the only key player to have suited up for every game, a late-season slump had to be expected for Lopez, especially since he’s averaging nearly 7 minutes more per game this season (37.0), compared to his rookie campaign (30.5).

Fresh on the heels of what might have been his best offensive month as a pro in February, where Lopez averaged 19.8 points on nearly 59 percent shooting, Lopez had been slipping, until very recently, in March,  averaging 18 points on 46 percent shooting. He’s had some statistical aberrations, including a game against Miami on Monday where he scored 26 points, but only shockingly grabbed one rebound. He’s also had a string of rough shooting games for perhaps the first time this season from March 8-12, where he combined for 14-40 (35 percent) on the road against Memphis, Dallas and Oklahoma City. He’s been notably relying on his 15-18 foot jumper again. In what might have been his worst performance of the month, a 2-9 game on March 17 against Philadelphia on the road, Lopez only converted one shot in the paint. Even his strong overall performance in Wednesday’s win against Sacramento, he took seven of his 21 shots from the outside, a percentage that’s just way too high for a center whose bread and butter is in the post.

So what’s the problem with Brook Lopez? He’s obviously been the focal point for opposing teams to defend all season, so it goes beyond the fact that Lopez is drawing more double-teams now than ever before.  As I alluded to before, this may simply be a case of the long season finally catching up to Brook. In 71 games played this season, Lopez has already surpassed his total minutes of last season (2501) by more than 100 minutes (2626).  Before the season began, in his scouting report, John Hollinger criticized Brook’s lack of minutes last season under Lawrence Frank:

The other surprise was how easily he stayed on the floor, as his foul rate of 4.11 per 40 minutes was among the lowest at his position. Even so, he played only 30.5 minutes per game for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. Since so many folks still worship at the altar of per-game averages, those missing minutes probably helped cost him the Rookie of the Year trophy.

But, just maybe, Lawrence Frank was on to something last season in being judicious with Brook’s minutes. If you look at other quality young centers in their sophomore years, you’ll notice that Brook’s jump in minutes this season is a bit of an abnormality. Dwight Howard increased from 32.6 to 36.8 (4.2) in his second year, Yao Ming went from 29.0 to 32.8 (3.8) and Marc Gasol, a contemporary of Brook’s, jumped from 30.7 to 35.9 (5.2). Most of Brook’s minutes are attributed to the lack of frontcourt depth on the Nets roster, and considering the team is playing to avoid having the worst record in NBA history, these minutes should be considered meaningful for Brook. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if between now and the end of the season he puts up a few more clunkers do to fatigue. Let’s just hope they don’t come during winnable games like last week’s blowout loss to the terrible Sixers.