What’s Up, Brook Lopez?

Yesterday, Mark did a dissection of the disturbing trend in Brook Lopez’s rebounding in his career – he’s been trending downwards at grabbing boards since his first year and has taken a particularly precipitous drop in the first seven games of this season. But what’s arguably even more disturbing has been his scoring production. Despite scoring nearly the same amount of points per game as last season, Lopez has been one of the most inefficient scorers on the Nets this season and by far the most inefficient of his carer. What’s going on with Brook? Let’s try to break it down.

Despite Avery’s specific instruction in the offseason to throw Brook down low and leave him there, the opposite has been the case – and with poor results. In the preseason, Brook looked consistently excellent in the post – he absolutely manhandled Yao Ming in China down low with an array of fancy post moves. Taking a look at Brook’s shot locations this year, however, shows a disturbing trend. After averaging over six attempts at the rim in his first two seasons, in 2011 so far Brook has only averaged 3.4 attempts at the rim, a cut of almost 50%. Not only that, his efficiency at the rim has plummeted – after shooting over 60% in his first two seasons, he’s at 41.7% right now. I repeat: these are shots at the rim. The league average is 61.5% and the cornerstone center is shooting 20 percentage points below that.

As his shots at the rim have begun to decrease, Brook’s shots everywhere else have seen a spike. He’s attempting 1.4 shots more per game from 16-23 feet, 1 more shot from 10-15 feet, and (get this) 4.4 shots more from within 10 feet (up to 7 from 2.6). It’s not surprising that his offensive rebounding numbers have plummeted as a result: when you’re not near the basket, you’re not going to get rebounds. Derrick Favors is like seven years old, and he gets this. The most alarming number to me, though, is the amount of long (16-23) twos he’s taking: for a guy that’s supposed to be locking down the post, it’s frustrating to see him take the most inefficient shot in the game over and over again. It also doesn’t help that he’s 0-11 from 16 feet and beyond in the past three games. Add on to that is that he’s getting his shot blocked (1.57 times per game) more than ever before, and as a result he’s got a career high in usage rate and a career low almost everywhere else – 38.8 field goal percentage, 46.5 true shooting percentage, a league average PER and a shockingly bad 96 Offensive Rating (points produced per 100 possessions). That’s Jason Collins territory. Seriously.

What’s particularly frustrating about this issue is that it seems so simple to fix. In a few games so far, the Nets have gone to Brook down low early with great results – in the most recent Miami game, Lopez got great position on Joel Anthony and scored three low post buckets in the first four Nets possessions. However, for some reason he and the Nets just did not seem interested in replicating this success, and he barely saw any more looks on the low block for the rest of the game. This meant that when Brook did get the ball, he felt the need to force the issue, which led to bad shots from everywhere – the block, the top of the key, and the wing.

To be effective in the post, he’s got to get used to being there, and it can’t just come early. That means that he can’t settle for floating away from the rim and look for long, inefficient jumpers. He can’t then try to force bad shots from within 10 feet when he’s double-teamed – teams are starting to realize more and more that he’s not adept at passing out of the post yet. He’s got one of the most diverse low block scoring skillsets in the NBA, and he’s got to a) be tough enough to bang down low to utilize it, and b) know which spots to pick when he does. A guy with his ability to score down low and his great touch from the charity stripe (87.5% on the season so far) should not be completely hidden in the second half.

I want to stress that I don’t blame Brook entirely for his struggles. He deserves most of it, but like any post player, he relies on the ability of his guards to properly set him up. He should be taking 17.3 shots per game, it’s just which shots he’s taking and why. Avery Johnson needs to drill it into the heads of Jordan Farmar, Devin Harris, and anyone else that handles the ball that they should be feeding him whenever possible. If Brook’s not posting up down low, that’s on him, but when he’s got position, he should be getting the ball almost every time.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s only been seven games and Brook is probably still feeling the effects of mono this summer. This could just be a fluke. He could come out tonight and score 40 points in the paint against Cleveland. If he does? I’ll be cheering loudly along with everyone else. Because he’s just too skilled to be playing this poorly.