Brook Lopez may be the most underrated overrated player in the NBA.
Pundits, fans, pretty much everyone has been killing the guy all season, primarily because of his putrid rebounding rate and his puzzling insistence on taking jump shots despite being one of the better post players in the game right now (about 37 percent of Lopez’s field goal attempts were beyond 10-feet this year, up from 33 percent last season). He’s unlikely to make anybody’s All-NBA first, second or third teams despite averaging 20.4 points per game, and if many Nets fans (and perhaps Mikhail Prokhorov?) get their way, Brook will be the centerpiece in any deal that brings Dwight Howard to New Jersey/Brooklyn.
And let me tell you, I can’t blame anyone who has an issue with Lopez. After being declared an untouchable last summer, he’s been perhaps the team’s most frustrating player – a “franchise” center that disappears from the toughest competition (he only averaged 15.8 points on 42 percent shooting against Howard and the Magic this year) and who goes stretches of the season looking generally uninterested in playing basketball (i.e. his subpar February when he averaged 18.7 points on 44 percent shooting while the entire team around him was rumored to be traded to Denver for Carmelo Anthongy and the immediate stretch of games after Deron Williams was first shut down, including back-to-back clunkers against Orlando and Atlanta when he scored 16 points and grabbed two rebounds collectively).
But still, despite the relentless and warranted criticism, Lopez still managed to find himself in the most elite company this season. As NetsDaily aptly pointed out, Lopez is the 6th seven-footer in NBA history to average more than 20 points per game under the age of 23. He’s joined by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon, two Hall-of-Famers; Shaquille O’Neal and Dirk Nowitzki, two certain Hall-of-Famers; and Bill Cartwright, a multiple NBA champion (who benefitted from playing with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen).
If I’m Brett Yormark, I’m marketing the heck out of the fact that Lopez has been put in the same company as Shaq, the Dream and Kareem. For people who think the Nets lack a true “star” besides Deron Williams, you can’t argue with those results for Lopez, and if the Orlando Magic think they’d rather build a deal around Andrew Bynum in Los Angeles, maybe they should rethink their position and figure out if Lopez could become a more complete player (i.e. rebound) with some better coaching and tougher love from Stan Van Gundy.
Personally, I’ve waffled on Brook this year. A part of me understands that this is a star-driven league and that Dwight Howard is an absolute defensive juggernaut and MVP-candidate who through sheer athletic ability finds ways to score. He is clearly the superior center and the Nets could essentially put a group of stiffs and vet minimum contracts around Howard and DWill (or even just their current roster) and still be a top four team in the east.
But what if the Nets could build around Lopez and Williams? What if they bring in more versatile scorers on the wing and better defenders and rebounders to compliment Lopez in the frontcourt? What if the Nets evolve into a team like the current Chicago Bulls, a stud point guard surrounded by a very good frontcourt and solid role players?
Wouldn’t you all rather win with Lopez than without him? Wouldn’t you rather win with a guy who luck handed to this franchise on a silver platter after the Bobcats foolishly went with DJ Augustin a pick before in 2008 (Monday’s game winner notwithstanding)? Wouldn’t you rather win with a guy who, 20 years from now, when some other scoring-centric big man comes up through the ranks, will be statistically aligned with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon and Dirk Nowitzki?
I have my inclinations. I’m all too used to seeing Nets lottery picks flame out. I would love to see one of them be a piece and stay a piece for years to come. Lopez has his flaws – tremendous flaws – but despite the drek of the past few weeks, there is also a lot to celebrate with this player. So why not turn a blind eye, at least for the next few days, and say the New Jersey Nets have a player on the same level as Shaq?