RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Brook Lopez didn’t have much to say, and he knew it. “Get ready for Thrillsville,” he deadpanned as he sat down to speak with the media Tuesday afternoon.
Lionel Hollins, Lopez’s eighth coach in seven years, hopes he can make Lopez’s game do enough talking.
But for now, Hollins is content yelling at him until the season starts. “I don’t know if you heard me holler at (Lopez) to get in the paint, but I still want him to be where he’s supposed to be as a seven-footer,” Hollins said after Tuesday’s practice.
When healthy, Lopez is one of the league’s preeminent big men at scoring inside, though he’s moved away from the basket as his career progressed. He began his career as close to the basket as possible, taking more than 50 percent of his shots in the precious real estate within 3 feet of the basket, and over 72 percent of his shots came from within 10 feet. But since then, Lopez has expanded his game, shooting barely 30 percent of his attempts from within 3 feet. The split has stayed roughly the same, with about 70 percent of his total shots coming from within 10 feet, but more of his shots have come off post-ups than dump-offs close to the basket.
Blame the feet. After playing in all 82 games in each of his first three seasons, Lopez has fallen victim to numerous and severe foot fractures and ailments, particularly with the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot. After four surgeries in the last three years, Lopez enters training camp healthy and without many restrictions, though he’s taken some practices and repetitions off, at the behest of Hollins (and most likely team trainer Tim Walsh).
Despite the team’s season-opening debacles — they went just 7-10 in his 17 games in the lineup, and he played under 90 minutes total with last year’s starters — Lopez was on pace for numerous season highs last season, including points per game (20.7), effective field goal percentage (.563), and offensive rating (producing roughly 121 points per 100 possessions). His turnovers had gone down, and his on-ball post defense had improved, though his rebounding had gotten worse.
Hollins knows that Lopez has touch inside, and wants him there. Earlier this week, he alluded to the importance of having a big presence inside.
“If you’re just counting on hitting jump shots every night, or you have to count on playing fast in order to win, you can never slow the game down and use your time,” Hollins said. “You always have to play fast to be effective. It’s nice to have a big guy that you can always throw the ball into and take pressure off, force guys to double-team, and it activates the defense to have to scramble.”
Because his range doesn’t extend to the three-point line, the system isn’t altogether different for a big man like Lopez: post up, slide around the paint and set screens, and look for quick dives to the basket for easy shots. As long as he stays in the general area the game doesn’t change.
“It’s been a mixture of high post and low post, depending on our set,” Lopez said about his shots. “It’s been a lot of moving the ball, we have a lot of smart guys that can move the ball. So we want to take advantage of that.”
That doesn’t mean Lopez won’t shoot outside at all. “Basketball is a game of flow, and sometimes you’re in the post shooting, sometimes you’re on the elbow shooting, sometimes you’re on the baseline,” Hollins added. “When you’re open, you’ve got to be able to make a shot.”
He does have comfortable range from 10-16 feet and beyond, and his field goal percentage from midrange has increased incrementally each year from that midrange area. But Lopez knows it all starts with him inside. “We have to be in our the right spots if we want the offense to run the correct way, to be as productive as possible.”