Brook Lopez, center
2015-2016: 33.7 MPG, 20.6 PPG, .511 FG%, 7.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 2.4 TOV, 73 G
Who is Brook Lopez?
If you’re a reader of The Brooklyn Game, this player is one that doesn’t need introducing. Or, in an even broader stroke, if you’re a fan of the NBA in general, you’re likely aware of the 7’0 center’s old-school skill-set, obsession with comic books and Disneyland, and his undying loyalty (for some reason) to the Brooklyn (and New Jersey!) Nets. For as long as this blog has existed — and even before that: hi, NetsAreScorching, we miss you! — Brook Lopez has been front and center and the historical records show it.
Since the Nets lucked into Lopez — Michael Jordan, thank you! — with the no. 10 overall pick back in 2008, he’s been through the truly awful — hi, 12-70, we don’t miss you! — and the somewhat pleasant, including the Nets’ second-round appearance in 2014 and was, famously, on the court for Devin Harris’ bonkers game-winner in 2009. Lopez has a career average of 18.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, been through eight different head coaches, and saw the rise and fall of the BrooklyNight. The ever-humorous Lopez dreams of playing a Wookie in Star Wars, had a Jedi-themed bobblehead night last season, and squeezed into a phone booth this fall with Jimmy Fallon. He enjoys trick or treating with Ryan Anderson, beating up mascots and going to McDonalds at 2AM with his twin brother, and is, along with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, the last players from the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft still playing with the team that drafted them.
By any definition of the word, Brook Lopez is a national treasure.
As of today, Lopez is 5th in Nets’ franchise history for minutes played, 2nd in field goals made, 6th in rebounds, 2nd in blocks, and 2nd in points — if he has another season similar to his 2015-2016 line, he’d comfortably become the 1st-place holder in most of those categories. Oh, and if Lopez does play another 73-game season, he’ll have competed in the 2nd-most contests (560) in franchise history, firmly placing him above Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, and Richard Jefferson — only trailing Buck Williams’ total of 630.
So, why, then, am I eulogizing Lopez’s career with the Nets?
Because, for once, he may not make it through another full season with the team.
Now, 2015-2016 was no 2009-2010, make no mistake, but it was pretty damn bad. After the Nets moved on from Deron Williams over the summer, they were left with Lopez, an aging, plodding, and checked-out Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, and 5 or 6 dudes that now play in Europe or are unsigned. Needless to say, if Lopez didn’t drop at least 20 points, then, relatively speaking, the Nets had little chance of winning that basketball game at hand.
In fact, the Nets were a disgustingly poor 7-25 in games where Lopez did not reach the 20-point mark and two of those victories came against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers and they grabbed another one from a matchup with the Phoenix Suns — 2 of the other 4 consensus worst teams in the NBA.
Lopez missed 9 games in 2015-2016 and the Nets lost every single one of them.
The one-time All-Star averaged 20.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game and none of them seemed like nearly enough to keep the Nets afloat, who lost both Jarrett Jack and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, their starting point guard and small forward, by the New Year. For those of us that survived all 82 hopeless Nets games last season, Lopez’s uncanny ability to single-handedly keep a team alive into the 3rd quarter was a marvel.
Although the Nets have evolved, died, and been reborn countless times since 2008, Lopez has been the team’s one constant, a loyal servant to the game that learned new nuances, tricks, flips, and contorted his body time and time again just so that his team would lose by 18 points instead of 27.
After the newly-appointed general manager Sean Marks shut down Lopez and Young for the season on April 3rd, the Nets lost their final six games by deficits of 19, 18, 14, 24, 9, and 7.
What Does Lopez Bring to the Table?
Through his first couple years as a professional, Lopez was as gangly and lanky as ever, still popping out for the occasional mid-range jumper and bullying his way into high-percentage shots — but if you compare this highlight reel to the 2016 model, he’s a completely different beast.
On any given night, you’re going to get one of three different types of Lopez games — a. the aggressive, dunk-in-your-face version, b. the methodical, patient pick-and-pop variation, or, c., if you’re very lucky, a combination of a. and b., complete with a mind-blowing amount of circus shots, which this goofball takes (and makes) an otherworldly amount of. When you get that combined a/b version of Lopez, there are very few defenders that can stop him.
Using any number of body contortions, elbow-ranged jumpers, and now, apparently, three-pointers (!), Lopez has a trillion different ways to beat you — just ask Robin.
However, there is some reason for concern heading into this new season under head coach Kenny Atkinson. Unfortunately, Lopez is moving quickly towards a bygone era of centers in the NBA and those crafty big man are being shifted away in favor of those that can stretch and run the floor, like the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis or Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins.
The Nets finished with the second highest pace of any team in preseason.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) October 22, 2016
It’s certainly just preseason, which means it’s far too early to get worked up about it, but as Brian Lewis of The New York Post noted on Sunday, the new system hasn’t been exactly kind to Lopez. He’s averaged just 8.0 points on 39% from the floor during preseason, but he’s trying his best according to Marks:
“[It’s] not going to be run through the post every time. Those are options for us, and Brook will get that. He’s enjoying it. If you watch his body language during practice, he’s getting a kick out of the ball really flying around and moving, and bodies moving, too.”
Lopez certainly seems game for the change — but one has to wonder if he still remains in the Nets’ future plans. His skills remain old-school and on the cusp of extinction, but sticking him in the corner for three-point attempts seems like a waste of everybody’s time. Should Lopez and the Nets find a healthy medium, then this paragraph will likely be irrelevant by December, but, if they don’t, get ready to rev up your trade machine engines for another consecutive year.*
*(It is worth noting that if the Nets trade Lopez, they’ll have to finish the season with a rotation of Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett, and Justin Hamilton at the position — which is, uh, a compelling enough reason alone to keep the Nets’ big man until the perfect trade comes along.)
The Lopez Highlight Reel Theater:
The description on this YouTube video from DownToBuck — whom we’ve linked tons of highlights from this summer, so, cheers! — is absolute gold. For your reading pleasure:
“I understand if maybe you have not watched the Brook Lopez highlights I have made in the past. Blopez isn’t the most exciting player; consistent, yes, but not exciting. His team sucks, and maybe you prefer to not be reminded of their existence. Sometimes real life gets in the way and you don’t have the time to watch subpar vids. Possibly you have a cap on your Internet usage that you don’t want to use on him scoring 23 points. As I said, there are lots of reasons to not watch a Blopez highlight package.
Those reasons do not apply to this video. You will watch it. You WILL watch it. You don’t have a choice. Brook does it all this game. No-jump jumpers. Dirk-style fadeaway jumpers. Post moves. Dunks (actually he doesn’t dunk in this one). And most importantly: hella blocks. Not wimpy ones either. Let’s put it this way: if Brook Lopez died right now, I’m pretty sure that in lieu of an obituary they’d find a way to embed this video in a newspaper. That’s how good these highlights are.”
The Bottom Line:
Whether or not Brook Lopez makes it through another full season with the Nets is largely irrelevant to me, as he’s already in the conversation for the one or two most important players in franchise history. Sure, for the Nets and their non-championship winning history, that may not mean much, but for the fans who have endured the last nine seasons alongside Lopez — with absolute determined loyalty, by the way — it means the world.
With Lopez, they’ll win some more games than if they don’t have Lopez — that’s for certain, but even if he averages 20 points per game again, the Nets still won’t sniff the playoffs. If Atkinson can find a way to integrate the slower-moving Lopez into their new breakneck offense, then there’s no reason why we can’t have another campaign full of his funny faces — but, if he struggles like he did in the preseason, it might be time to let the near-franchise-leader in everything get his chance to win a ring, just like Kidd did in 2008.