Is Brook Lopez Already The Best Center in Franchise History?


Today, ESPN has opened a “Franchise Five” vote, in which SportsNation (I.E. you, the fan) is allowed to vote on their selection for the best players in franchise history at each position for all 30 franchises. At least three players at each position were chosen as the finalists. The options for “The Greatest Nets Team of All Time” are as follows:

PG – Kenny Anderson, Jason Kidd, Bill Melchionni
SG – Vince Carter, Kendall Gill, Kerry Kittles, Michael Ray Richardson, John Williamson
SF – Julius Erving, Richard Jefferson, Chris Morris, Keith Van Horn
PF – Derrick Coleman, Kenyon Martin, Buck Williams, Jayson Williams
C – Sam Bowie, Mike Gminski, Billy Paultz

For this exercise, the Nets have (in my opinion) no-brainers at three positions: Jason Kidd at the point, Vince Carter at shooting guard, and the Doc at small forward. Power Forward is a bit more up in the air – I’d take Kenyon Martin, but you could make a case for any of the other three.

However, it’s hard to deny just how awful our centers are historically: Our three illustrious choices are Mike Gminski (best known for his name), Sam Bowie (best known for not being Michael Jordan), and Billy Paultz (best known for being on this list). I want to clarify: I titled this article as such not because I think Brook Lopez is a God walking among mere mortals, but because our other choices are so poor. This poses the obvious question: with our team’s franchise centers so (ahem) unqualified, should Brook Lopez already be considered the best center the Nets have ever had?

Let’s break it down.

Basic Stats For The Nets (Leader in Bold)

Billy Paultz: Six ABA seasons (1971-1976) from 22-27, 487 GP (81 per year), 7,667 PTS (15.7 PPG), 5,406 REB (11.1 RPG), 751 BLK (2.3 BPG)*, 180 STL (0.8 SPG)* 1,163 AST (2.4 APG), .502 FG%, .724% FT%, 34.4 MPG

Sam Bowie: Four NBA seasons (1990-1993) from 28-31, 280 GP (70 per year), 3,578 PTS (12.7 PPG), 2,304 REB (8.2 RPG), 459 BLK (1.6 BPG), 154 STL (0.6 SPG), 551 AST (2.0 APG), .436 FG%, .762 FT%, 30.0 MPG

Mike Gminski: 7.5 NBA seasons (1980-1988) from 21-28, 550 GP (73 per year), 6,415 PTS (11.7 PPG), 3,671 REB (6.7 RPG), 599 BLK (1.1 BPG), 317 STL (0.6 SPG), 711 AST (1.3 APG), .473 FG%, .834 FT%, 24.8 MPG

Brook Lopez: Two NBA seasons (2009-2010) from 21-22, 164 GP (82 per year), 2,610 PTS (15.9 PPG), 1,374 REB (8.4 RPG), 290 BLK (1.8 BPG), 99 STL (0.6 SPG), 273 AST (1.7 APG), .512% FG%, .810 FT%, 33.7 MPG

Advanced Stats For The Nets (Leader in Bold)

Billy Paultz: 17.9 PER, .502 eFG%, .539 TS%, 8.3 ORB%, 23.0 DRB%, 3.7 BLK%, 107 ORtg (19.4% Usg), 98 DRtg

Sam Bowie: 15.0 PER, .440 eFG%, .495 TS%, 9.1 ORB%, 20.6 DRB%, 3.3 BLK%, 105 ORtg (20.0% Usg), 106 DRtg

Mike Gminski: 16.5 PER, .475 eFG%, .543 TS%, 10.1 ORB%, 20.5 DRB%, 2.6 BLK%, 109 ORtg (20.1% Usg), 105 DRtg

Brook Lopez: 19.1 PER, .512 eFG%, .569 TS%, 10.2 ORB%, 19.2 DRB%, 4.1 BLK%, 111 ORtg (22.1% Usg), 109 DRtg

*Note: Blocks and steals were not kept as official statistics until midway through Paultz’s tenure with the Nets.

While Billy Paultz looks very impressive, it has to be noted that he played the entirety of his career with the Nets in the ABA, where the level of competition, pace, and style of the game were drastically different from the NBA. Outside of not playing in as many games, it’s clear that Brook is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. In the analytical analysis, his numbers glow in comparison to the other three (except defensive rebounding). The only real issue he has is in the Defensive Rating category, and DRtg is a stat that’s highly influenced by the team and its system than any other analytic. None of the other three centers ever had to deal with a 12-70 team surrounding them, or a team as bad defensively as last year’s Nets. While Brook deserves some condemnation for that, DRtg’s highly variant nature makes it a difficult metric to trust as a measure of defensive ability.

While we can’t account for future injury or other random variations, it’s also important to note that Brook has put up these numbers at the tender ages of 21 and 22, and in only his first two seasons in the NBA. His second season – 18.8 points, 8.6 boards, a 20.1 PER, and a .570 true shooting percentage while starting all 82 games – is arguably the best individual season a Net center has ever had. Two of the other three (Bowie & Gminski) put up less impressive numbers in more time as established veterans, while Paultz (as noted) only played for the Nets in the ABA. Brook is already ahead of the other three, and he’s just scratching the surface of his ability.

While there’s something to be said for consistency, there’s not much to be made of mediocrity. Because of that, I personally must answer: Yes, Brook Lopez is the best center in franchise history for the New Jersey Nets.

Look, I know it’s kind of weird to anoint a guy who’s only played two seasons as the greatest center in franchise history. That’s why I really want to stress this: my argument is less that Brook Lopez deserves it and more that no one else on the list does. If the Nets had had any center over the course of their NBA history – any – who had been pretty good throughout a sustained NBA career, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But we don’t. We have a combined 11.5 average seasons from Mike Gminski and Sam Bowie, and an ABA-inflated career from Billy Paultz. This is the definition of scraping the bottom of the barrel, and Brook over the past two years has been the cream, rising quickly to the top.