Why Can’t Yi (and Brook) Be Friends?

Nets Magic Basketball

It’s a topic that’s been slowly gathering steam since Yi Jianlian’s return from injury a few weeks ago – yes, Yi has been a revelation on the offensive end, averaging 20.3 points per game, but is his success coming at the detriment of Brook Lopez?

The Star-Ledger’s Dave D’Alessandro officially opened this Pandora’s Box when he asked Brook Lopez before yesterday’s game against the Hawks if Yi’s return has contributed to Brook’s recent slump (he’s averaged 14.3 points the past 7 games). Brook responded in the affirmative:

“Yeah, I think it’s just been a tough adjustment having another post guy out there – reading when and where he is, and where I need to be, I guess,” Lopez said.

Here are the facts: Since Yi’s return, Brook has averaged 10.6 field goal attempts per game. Before Yi came back, Brook was averaging 14.6 shots per game. Yi meanwhile is averaging 14.7 shots per game since his return.

So yes, on the surface, Brook Lopez’s game has been dramatically impacted by Yi’s return, to the tune of four less shots per game. As a general rule, Lopez needs to get more than 10 shots a game. He’s one of the only big men in the league who has any kind of a back-to-the-basket post game to speak of, and with his ability to pop out and hit the occasional 18-footer, Lopez has the skillset to be a consistent 18-20 ppg scorer in this league if just given the opportunity.

With that said, I do think it’s a been silly to make Yi’s return into a bad thing for this team. Let’s look at the games where Lopez gets less than 10 field goal attempts per game. Nets fans who have been watching all season long could tell you that even when Devin Harris and Yi were both out at the start of the season, there were nights were Brook would inexplicably get iced out of the offense. In the season’s first 28 games, Lopez averaged a game with less than 10 shots 25 percent of the time. Since Yi has returned, that number has only creeped up to 28 percent of the time. So it’s not like Brook is getting completely ignored for more than one game in a row – even if that’s generally one game too many.

What Brook has not seen in a while is a situation where he’s able to totally dominate on the offensive end. Prior to Yi’s return, Lopez got more than 20 shots in a game four times, including one 10-27 performance on November 17 against the Pacers. Mind you, the Nets are 1-3 in these games, so it’s not like the Nets are proven winners when Brook gets 20+ touches.

What Kiki Vandeweghe and the coaches need from Brook right now more efficiency with his shots. Brook is actually shooting 50 percent his last 7 games, which is better than his season average of 48 percent.  Yi is just a tick behind, shooting 48 percent in the past 7 games. So it’s not like Brook is throwing up a bunch of Alston-esque 1-9 games. Meanwhile, yes, Yi has been more aggressive in terms of scoring closer to the basket, but he’s not exactly taking over the post. Yi is averaging 3.3 field goal attempts at the rim, according to Hoopdata, while averaging another 8.5 shots from all other spots on the floor. He’s still a jump shooter first. If Yi can continue to be primarily a jump shooter at 48 percent, and Brook can hit his shots at the rim 50 percent of the time, the Nets “twin towers” should be okay in the long-term.