Brook Lopez is a polarizing player. Not because he’s enigmatic, selfish, or a problem child type of player. In fact, he’s seemingly quite the opposite as Lopez is into comic books and Disney World. Street cred? Who needs that when you have geek cred!
No, Lopez is polarizing because despite scoring 20.4 points for a full 82-game season, as well as averaging 7.6 rebounds his first three seasons when he didn’t miss one game, he was a victim of hype and grew a legion of detractors and naysayers. Outside of the Brooklyn Nets organization and its fans, Shaquille O’Neal, and fantasy basketball participants (see the geek cred-o-meter rising!), the Brookie Monster is a relatively unknown commodity.
We can blame this on Dwight Howard, the same way we can blame him for helping to destroy the Orlando Magic organization, yanking the chain of Nets fans, and global warming for all of the hot air he let while talking about loyalty. By the simple fact of being the main player going back to the Magic in any potential D12 to Nets trade, Lopez came under society’s microscope where “what have you done for me lately” is the main scope of analysis.
“Lopez can’t rebound.”
“Lopez is injury prone.”
“Lopez can’t play defense.”
“Lopez has crazy hair.”
“Lopez can’t (fill in the blank).”
Bropez came under even more scrutiny when the Los Angeles Lakers entered the Dwightmare fray with Andrew Bynum being the main cog coming back to fit the Magic machine. So, comparisons to Bynum, arguably the second-best center in the league after Howard when healthy, came into play. Raise your hand, Nets fans, if you found yourself defending Lopez’s ability realistically. No, he’s not better than either defensively. Yes, he’s arguably the best of the trio of bigs on offense when you like at skill set and not just athletic ability. No, he’s not injury-prone. Yes, he’s kind of soft and has crazy hair sometimes, but we love Brook nevertheless.
Many people jumped the gun in judging Lopez last season, particularly when it came to his durability. It seemed that no one wanted to accept the fact that Lopez played 82 games in each of his previous seasons from his rookie campaign before last season’s injuries kicked it, limiting his play to five games. Fine. Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander as I will look at the five games played by Lopez thus far.
Durability: Lopez has played all five Nets games in limited minutes (28.6), not because of any nagging injury, but because of a solid back-up in Andray Blatche and playing in two blowouts, of which the Nets won one (107-68 at Orlando, playing under 24 minutes) and lost one (103-73 at Miami, playing just over 20 minutes). Otherwise, Lopez hasn’t played less than 31 minutes in the three other contests. I’d imagine once rotations are figured out by Avery Johnson, Lopez will get a bit more burn on the court, in line with his 34.0 MPG career average. Now, answer this, how many games has Bynum played this season? When is he supposed to come back? Exactly. Ignore Bynum’s consistent missing of games before last season’s shortened season, but you can’t do that now. Sour grapes on my part? Admittedly so.
Offense: In his limited minutes, Lopez is averaging 16.4 points per game, but when you bump up the numbers to Per 36, it’s 20.6. So, considering the small sample size, we’d need to feel comfortable in assuming that Lopez gets close to, if not back to, being a 20-point scorer. Lopez is also shooting a career-worst 48.4 percent from the floor, which many players would be happy to take as their career-best.
His 66.7 percent from the free throw line is bad (although relatively good for a center), but his career 79.3 percent mark shows that there is definitely room for improvement that will be met. His 6.0 free throw attempts per game ranks 10th overall, which shows he’s attacking the basket.
From an advanced perspective, Lopez’s 103 Offensive Rating isn’t anything to write home about and it also represents his career-low. However, his career 110 OR gives us hope, as well as his current 21.5 PER.
Defense: Lopez is a defensive beast! His career-best 2.0 blocks per game and amazing 99 Defensive Rating says so! You all better recognize, fools! Okay, I won’t jump the gun here and bring reason back into perspective. It’s only five games and certainly the numbers look good. However, numbers don’t always tell the whole story as the old adage goes.
Watching Lopez play defense and it was certainly infuriating at the beginning of the season when he looked lost on how to play the pick-and-roll and opponents driving to the hoop and converting like Lopez wasn’t there. I actually threw pretend daggers at my TV and telekinetically busted the screen! Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. In any case, it seems like in the past two games, ironically against the team that didn’t want him in the Magic, Lopez made some adjustments and looked more decisive in “showing” against the PNR facilitator. Guarding the rim? In both games, Lopez threw down a trio of rejections in each game. Take that, you stupid mousaphiliacs!
Seriously, the past two games have been almost night and day relative to the first three games. Lopez is definitely a work in progress defensively, but all signs point to him getting there.
Rebounding: The woes justifiably began during the 2010-11 season when Lopez averaged a career full season-low 6.0 rebounds per game. Pretty pathetic for a seven-footer averaging three-quarters’ worth of play. However, Nets fans know that Lopez was getting over mono and Kris Humphries has to be the worst team rebounder ever. I can’t even count the number of times he’d fight his own teammate for a board! Stupido!
Anyway, last season’s 3.6 average in only five games didn’t help the perception any. This season, while it’s a very slightly improved 6.6 (8.3 Per 36) boards per, if Lopez is going to shut his critics up, he’ll need to do better than that moving forward. And there are solid signs that given the playing time, it’ll happen. His 20.3 Defensive Rebound Percentage is second behind his 21.2 DRB% from his rookie season when he averaged 8.1 boards and better than the 17.5 DRB% his second season when he pulled down 8.6 rebounds. Lopez’s current 13.5 Total Rebound Percentage is tied with his second season and behind the 15.8 TRB% his rookie season. If Lopez could get back to that eight rebound mark, the murmurs of his being a weak rebound will go the way of the 8-track player.
Miscellaneous: It’s a new location, a new look, and a new attitude with the Nets’ move to Brooklyn. There are going to be some chemistry and role issues that will need to be hashed out because of new personnel, but Lopez seems to understand his role to do damage inside. He still looks like he’s plodding along as he makes his moves to the hoop, but understandably, Lopez still needs to get in game shape physically and mentally. He does look stronger and I actually love the stand-up jumper he has going on ala Tim Duncan. There’s still zero explosion attacking the rim, but he’s at least extending and keeping the ball high.
Overall, Lopez looks primed to have a comeback sort of season. However, my dream is that Lopez answers his critics with an “I didn’t go nowhere, suckas… I been here up in your grill the whole time” type of attitude. However, that’s just not Lopez’s way. He’s different from Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. And, really, is that such a bad thing?