Six Things We’ve Seen From The Brooklyn Nets, Part VI:
Brook Lopez The Elite Defender

Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez’s defense has taken major early strides. (AP)
Brook Lopez's defense has taken major early strides. (AP)
Brook Lopez’s defense has taken major early strides. (AP)

Lopez’s offensive dominance is nothing new. He leads the league in scoring off cuts, at an astonishing 1.44 points per possession. Yawn. He’s shooting 64% from the field in the post, and leading the league with 1.29 points per post-up. What else is new? He’s leading the Nets in scoring, field goal percentage, player efficiency rating, win shares per 48 minutes, and usage. Barely worth a tweet.

But it isn’t Lopez’s complete and utter dominance of the offensive paint that’s surprising this season; it’s his dominance of the other side of the ball that’s made the biggest impact.

For the first time ever this season, the NBA has access to data from optical tracking cameras provided by SportVU, expected to change how we view the game of basketball. One of these ways is to track how many field goals a player rejects at the rim per game, even if there’s no blocked shot. The importance here is twofold: you need 1) a player who’s going to function as a rim protector throughout the game, and 2) someone who’s going to be good at it.

Through six games, Lopez has allowed opponents to shoot just 33.3% at the rim on 9.5 attempts per game. In this early season, 29 players have played at least five games and contested at least seven shots at the rim per game. Of those 29 players, no one has given up a lower percentage at the rim than Brook Lopez.

Brook LopezNo one. Not Dwight Howard, not Roy Hibbert, not Anderson Varejao. Tim Duncan, who’s contested 2.5 fewer shots per game, is his only equal.

In an evolving NBA that puts a premium on big men who can act like goalies, roaming from post to post and cutting off all driving lanes, Lopez shrunk the goal; on any given defensive play, you’ll most likely see Lopez staying home near the rim, even when his defensive assignment strays away. That leads to a tradeoff: shooters can more easily get open jumpers when Lopez is supposed to guard them, because he’s staying close to the rim. Opponents have shot 50% on spot-up jumpers against Lopez this season, according to mySynergySports. It’s a necessity due to Lopez’s lack of foot speed, and beats an open shot at the rim — a shot he’s turning back at a league-best rate.

His dominance doesn’t stop there. In 19 possessions defending post-ups, opponents have shot just 2-14 against Lopez, turning the ball over three times and drawing two fouls. To give you an idea of how early it is, Roy Hibbert on Saturday (1-7 against Lopez in the post) accounted for half of those misses. But early on, Lopez’s added strength has meant players shoot further from the rim than they’d like, and Lopez has improved dramatically at standing straight up to avoid fouling. Here’s three examples of Lopez forcing three bad shots with his size:

In 181 minutes with Lopez on the court, the Nets have allowed just 97.8 points per 100 possessions, a number that would rank among the best teams in the league. With Lopez on the bench, the Nets allow an even 109 points per 100 possessions — more than 11 points worse. That’s not just the Kevin Garnett effect, as Garnett has stumbled out of the gate. That’s the Brook Lopez effect. (Though, as we’ve also noted, that effect means significantly less in the second half of games.)

At 2-4, the Nets don’t have a ton to brag about. Yes, their three losses have been in close games, but they’re losses nonetheless. They’ve certainly struggled for long stretches on both ends of the floor. Brook Lopez is not one of those weak spots. Though they’d like to see him improve in the second half of games,