Brook Lopez - California to the Core

To those with an untutored East Coast ear, when Brook Lopez speaks…they hear this…dude.

But Brook Lopez is no surfer dude, no Jeff Spicoli. That’s not to say he's any less West Coast than, say, the Beach Boys. He is a Californian, born and bred, a product of Los Angeles, Fresno and Palo Alto, a Stanford man...and not incidentally the best big man prospect in the 2008 NBA Draft, a guy noted not for his goofiness, but rather his toughness—even meanness--on the court.

Forget the surfer accent, the well known fascination with all things Disney, the desire to be published and accepted as a writer, the quirky TV and music tastes ("Sex and the City" and Michael Jackson's "Captain Eo"), the twin thing. He can ball. You don't average 19 points and 8 rebounds in the PAC-10, then follow up with similar numbers in summer league without an NBA-level skillset.

Read what NBADraft.net wrote about him before the draft:

"Bigman with good strength and solid athletic ability ... Unlike his twin Robin, Brook has an excellent touch within 15 feet of the basket ... Very smooth inside using a variety of polished moves including hook shots and drop steps ...

"Soft hands, rarely fumbles the ball ... Strong legs and upper body make him tough to push around inside ... Strong rebounder using his long arms and body strength to clean the glass ... He also uses his strength well to create space for baskets in the post ... Really came on offensively towards the end of the year with five 20 point games out of the final 8... A solid free throw shooter at 69%, which should improve over time ... Displays good composure and confidence for a player entering his second year in college ... A decent shot blocker, not likely to become a great one but can be solid."

DraftExpress had a similar analysis:

"He should be considered among the top big men available after the initial elite tier of prospects. He is mobile and coordinated for a big man, with good athleticism, though he isn’t overly explosive. He also brings a versatile and developing skill-set to the table, while playing both ends of the floor. Despite his academic ineligibility to start this season, his character can probably be viewed as a plus, as he appears to be a hard worker and shows good intensity on the floor. He projects as more of a center at the next level, though should be able to play power forward at times, depending on matchups.

And David Thorpe of ESPN liked him after scouting the Nets in the Orlando Pro Summer League and the Rocky Mountain Revue.

"Big guys who can score using their size, or craftiness, have a place in this league. Lopez can do both....Did a nice job hedging ballscreens and recovering to shooters or rebounds...he had some of the best post finishes of the week, and looks like a guy who will be a force inside as he strengthens..."

Both had questions about his lower body strength, with Thorpe also writing after one game in the Revue that Lopez "showed some immaturity in Utah that I didn't see in Orlando; he played with a scowl and lacked bounce." Still, Thorpe ranks him as his ninth best rookie right now, and that list includes two other big men taken in last year's draft, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol.

His character and intelligence are unquestioned. He did miss nine games last season due to academic ineligibility, but as Draft Express noted, to his credit, his response was "as mature as one can expect from a college sophomore". Lopez blamed himself for Stanford’s early-season loss to lowly Siena, a game he missed. He also called the ineligibility "an embarrassment to me and my family."

Indeed, the Nets felt lucky to get him at #10. After all, he had refused to work out for them, thinking it would indicate that he thought he could go that late. A lot of stars had to align for the Nets to get him.

As Kiki Vandeweghe told YES:

"We were little bit surprised Brook Lopez was there. He was projected to go much earlier. We didn't have a true center on our team...and that's something that really hurt us last year. I think he's somebody who is going to be able to hold down the fort, especially on the defensive end. But on the offensive end, one of the things thats surprising about him is that he is a very good shooter for a guy who is seven-foot-plus...and that is extremely difficult to find and if you can find it, you have to grab it."

Vandeweghe also described Lopez as a "very competitive guy, i think that's the thing you're going to find out about him. He's very intense, very competitive...a very hard worker...he really improved his offensive game."

And like everyone else who has seen him since his arrival in New Jersey, the Nets' GM remarked about his size. "That's the surprising thing again about him, how big this young man is."

And it was more that a "little surprising" that Lopez dropped so far. Few mock drafts had Lopez available beyond the top 5. The final mock draft posted by NBADraft.net had him going at #4. So did Chad Ford of ESPN…as late as 7:12 p.m. on Draft Night, minutes before the Draft was to begin. Only Draft Express had him so low, going at #9. So it was a shock when he went at #10.

Jay Bilas, ESPN’s Draft Night analyst, thought he should have gone #3, saying "the Nets ought to wear a mask for this one because they stole a really good center prospect."

Mark Jackson agreed, adding the Nets "got a big time post player, a guy who can be a presence in the paint for them for a long time to come."

Why did he drop? There was the issue of the Orlando predraft combine where he was ranked low among big men in most tests measuring athleticism. In particular, he flunked the lane agility test, as well as the ¾ court speed test, finishing dead last in both. (The two winners wound up as second round picks.)

Some pundits suggested the Nets might be better off taking Robin, who is deemed to be the more athletic...although he didn't go to the draft combine and was ultimately taken at #15 by the Suns.

Bilas was completely dismissive of the rationale that combine results translate to NBA success: "the one knock on him is that he is not that athletic…So if you’re going to put together a 4 x 100 relay team, don’t draft him, but if you want a basketball player, he’s going to be a good basketball player, five on five. He’s not going to be a workout guy. I tell you, I think he is going to get better and better."

And he is a legitimate big man. At the combine he measured out at 7’0.5" with sneakers and an extraordinary 7’5.5" wingspan, third longest among the draft prospects behind JaVale McGee and DeAndre Jordan. As Chad Ford noted at the time, "Brook Lopez's measurements were strong. His 9-foot-5 standing reach and his 7-foot-5½ wingspan are excellent for an NBA big man. He also weighed in at 258 pounds with just 6.3 percent body fat, which means he's mostly muscle and bone."

The bigger reason he dropped was so many teams wanted or needed point guards or combo guards. The rise of players like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and yes, Devin Harris, had put a new premium on speedy, athletic PG’s and combo guards.

So Russell Westbrook went to the Thunder at #4, Eric Gordon went to the Clippers at #7, and in the single biggest surprise of the lottery, D.J. Augustin, who barely touches the 6-foot bar, went #9 to the Bobcats. In fact, it wasn’t a given that the Nets would take Lopez. They had a choice, go big with Lopez or follow the trend and take Jerryl Bayless from Arizona at #10. Bayless, who was seen as a shoot-first point guard, had dropped as well. Even though he plays a lot like Harris, some in the Nets’ organization believed his talent level was so high that he deserved consideration.

Ultimately, Lopez won out, fulfilling Kiki Vandeweghe’s pre-draft prediction that the Nets could wind up with a player projected in the top three or four.

There followed the first endearing, some might say goofy, moment of his Nets career. He had been miked during the draft. After being congratulated by David Stern and returning to his seat, Lopez and his agent reviewed the Nets brass, who he was about to meet. Rod Thorn he seemed to know. Vandeweghe he knew…and why not, Kiki played at UCLA. But Lawrence Frank? Nothing. Not a clue. No sign of recognition. He had to repeat Frank’s name as if hearing it for the first time.

He quickly recouped in his interview with Stephen A. Smith, telling Smith the Nets were getting a player "who is coachable, who is willing to do everything that is required."

Beyond brains and toughness, the Lopez twins certainly have the genes for athletic success. As Rivals.com wrote in a profile of them last year, Deborah Ledford, the twins' mother, was ranked second in the world in the 400-meter individual medley in 1966. She won a silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley at the 1967 World Student Games in Tokyo. Heriberto Lopez, their father, played baseball in Cuba, acted in plays in Spain and threw the javelin after moving to the United States. He abandoned Brook, Robin and their two older brothers when the twins were 5. Their father’s cousin, Marcelino, pitched for five major league teams over a 10 year stretch in the 1960’s and 70’s, and their maternal grandfather played college and semi-pro basketball in the 1940’s. He is also 6’7" tall. Their maternal grandmother was a legendary gymnastics instructor. She also was an artist.

Deborah Ledford can also give you a detailed scouting report on their possibilities as pro’s, with a surprising analysis of where Brook likes to play.

"Brook likes to be a forward," she told Rivals.com. "He can play the three or the four. He likes shooting from outside more. People think he's the better player offensively – that's the perception people have – but Robin has an arsenal of offensive moves that most people haven't gotten to see because he doesn't often get the ball in his hands."

"When they started out, Brook was a better player than Robin, but over time Robin caught up and found his own niche," Ledford said. "I consider them to be equally good in different areas. It's like an apple and an orange. Who's better? Well, they're different."

She'll also admit in a back-handed way to a certain, well, weirdness in her twin sons.

"I suppose they are not your typical teenagers," Ms. Ledford told their hometown paper two years ago. "They're normal for our family."

Brook Lopez is indeed a complicated figure off the court…unlike almost any college player of recent vintage (other than his twin brother, Robin, with whom he shares a lot of interests.)

He's not just a Disney buff, but a fanatic, able to recite details of the most obscure Disney film or cartoon. His television tastes run to "Sex and the City", not exactly aimed at the teenaged jock market...which, it should be noted, he watched with Stanford women students. His favorite musical talent: Michael Jackson. He has written (but not published) two novels and a play and is working on a comic book. As his hometown newspaper reported in gruesome detail, Lopez performed in numerous high school plays and musicals, including "West Side Story" and "Footloose."

Even teammate and former Pac-10 rival Ryan Anderson is surprised, well more than surprised, about how much Lopez is into Disney like when the Nets were in Orlando for summer league. They had to go to Disney World.

"I guess the funniest thing to me was how much this kid, Brook Lopez, loves Disney World and Disneyland," Anderson, also from northern California, told his former college newspaper. "He's like a Disney fanatic, so that was pretty funny to me. He knew every historical thing about Disney. It was pretty funny.

Was it his idea?

"It definitely was," responded Anderson. "It was on his mind the entire trip."

Indeed, it all does sound goofy...but you also get the impression that Brook and Robin are at least some of the time goofing on us all. After all, they did go to Stanford. After all, they were born on April Fool's Day. Here’s a sampling of the twins' thoughts from a recent interview with Hoop Magazine:

HOOP: Where did the fascination for everything Disney come from?
Brook: We kind of just picked it up from our older brothers and our grandma.
Robin: We went to Disneyland a lot when we lived down that way.

HOOP: Do you have a favorite Disney princess?
Robin: Probably Belle, because she is cute, but smart too.
Brook: Sleeping Beauty, but I couldn’t tell you why.

HOOP: What are your favorite Disneyland rides?
Robin: I always hate this question. Ever since I was little, my favorite was Pirates of the Caribbean, but ever since the movies came out, everybody says that’s their favorite.
Brook: Mine was always Star Tours when I was little. I’ve heard rumors they were going to update it, but nothing yet.

HOOP: If you worked at Disneyland for a day, which ride would you want to work at?
Brook: Probably Pirates or the Mansion.
Robin: I’d either want to work on Tom Sawyer Island or I’d want to work late in the Haunted Mansion. There’s this position called the "walker," where you walk through the attraction by yourself late at night to make sure everything is working properly.

HOOP: If you see any Hollywood types sitting courtside at games, will you approach them or will you be too nervous?
Brook: I’d approach them with a couple screenplays during timeouts.
Robin: I would too. I’d make it seem spontaneous though.

HOOP: Tell us about the comic book you guys are working on?
Brook: I prefer not to tell much about that actually. It’s pretty classified. [laughs] No, it’s kind of Indiana Jones meets the Goonies meets The Breakfast Club.
Robin: I’d say it derives from the Bob Hope Road movies.

HOOP: Brook, you’re the writer, and Robin, you’re the artist, right?
Robin: Yes, although I came up with a lot of the concepts for it, too.
Brook: We brainstorm on a lot of general ideas together.

HOOP: What comic-book hero would you most want to be?
Brook: My favorite is Batman, although I don’t know that I’d want to be him. Probably either the Green Lantern or Green Arrow.
Robin: The "Wally West" Flash.

Lopez may also have been goofing when he told the Nets' Ben Couch of his most embarrassing moment. "In...first grade, I remember one play I went up for a rebound, and my shorts just fell down. They were so loose ’cause I was playing with older kids. It was the most embarrassing thing. I stopped everything and just picked them up real quick."

He certainly has a sense of humor. At the Nets' introductory press conference after the draft he was asked about "a former Twin, also from Stanford, who played for this team", an obvious reference to Jason Collins, a family friend who has advised both brothers.

"Uh", responded Lopez. "who was the Twin?" When Gary Sussman, the Nets P.R. man, pointed out "He's in Minnesota now", Lopez paused for four seconds before answering, "Oh" to gales of laughter.

Bottom line though is that Lopez loves the game and is very, very ambitious.

"When I was younger I always loved watching Tim Duncan," Lopez said after a recent practice. "It’s pretty lofty. That’s what I like to watch and try to emulate his game.

"I want to be a player that the team can anchor themselves around, defensively," Lopez said. "That’s what I’ve really been concentrating on in this training camp – being down there, learning rotations, relearning it, just burning it in my mind.

"I just want to be there so I can help the guys, so they can worry about getting in their man and playing great on-ball defense."

As Robin says of the Nets' luck: "They got a really big mean streak."

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