FanPost

Brooklyn and the All-Star Game, Volume I: Brook Lopez

As we draw closer to February 17 and the All-Star Game, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about one of the Nets who has a chance of playing in the game in Houston.

Right before the season, the NBA made a change in how players get into the All-Star Game. Instead of having the Center position, the league removed the position and decided to have the all-encompassing "Frontcourt" position. If you follow any basketball discussion online or hear Shaquille O'Neal talk for more than a few minutes, you'll hear the "Death of the True Center" meme at some point. The meme is based on the belief that the Center position is no longer the dominant position that it was in the 1980s, and more specifically the 1990s. And that nostalgia is certainly credible, as players like Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing were considered some of the best players in the league and were near the top of the PER and Win Shares rankings every season. These days, perimeter players like Kobe, Durant & LeBron rule the NBA world.

Here's the ballot for the Eastern Conference at the moment (here's the first ballot). Barring something unforeseen, Brook Lopez won't be voted in as a starter for the All Star Game. But, he's been having a nice season after playing only five games last year as he dealt with a foot injury.

How nice has Brook's season been? Let's get into the numbers:

2012-2013

Brook Lopez

Other Centers

True Shooting %

56.2 54

Rebound Rate

15 14.8

Usage Rate

29.4 17.76

Turnover Rate

9.2 16.78

Assist Rate

3.98 9.86

Minutes per Game

29.8 20

PER

25.8 15

Wins Produced per 48

.137 .099

Win Shares per 48

.187 .099

Long story short, but the common belief is that as your usage (how many possessions you use on offense) increases, your efficiency (how well you shoot the ball) decreases. Of course, there are exceptions, and Lopez appears to be one this season.

Why has Brook been so efficient? The simplest (& best) answer is his success at the rim. In November, he shot an astounding 77 percent on FGAs near the basket, but that has dipped a bit and he's now (well, as of 1/2/13) shooting about 70 percent at the rim, still a career high. What's also helped Brook is when and how many times he's been getting the ball. Thirty-three percent of his attempts have come within the first ten seconds of the shot clock, and that's when he's been at his best, as he shot an eFG of 53.4 percent. He's also gotten the ball a lot, as his 29.4 usage rate is sixth highest in the NBA this season and would be a career high (I'm not counting the five games last year). As a point of reference, he has a higher usage rate than Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, James Harden & Monta Ellis. He was struggling with his free throw shooting early in the season, but he's back to shooting a respectable 72.7 percent from the charity stripe on the whole.

Compared to where he's been since his rookie season, Lopez has been a beast on the glass this year. I say compared to because he has developed the reputation of being a terrible rebounder. And it was well deserved, as Lopez had posted below average rebound rates at the Center position each year in the league. But he has been league average on the glass this year, and that's helped him amass the fifth highest PER in the league this year (!!!). That work on the glass has also helped the Nets average 107 points per 100 possessions with the big guy on the court.

The Nets used to be really terrible at defense. Like really, really terrible. These days, they're not so terrible, and Brook has been a part of that. He's averaging a career best two blocks per game this year and opposing Centers have put up a PER of 17.7 against him along with an eFG of 50.7 percent. Now that's certainly not Dikembe Mutombo circa 1994, but it's respectable enough in my view.

So who else would be competing with Brook for the frontcourt position at the game? Let's check them out:

Joakim Noah, C Chicago Bulls

2012-2013

Joakim Noah

Other Centers

True Shooting %

54 54

Rebound Rate

15.4 14.8

Usage Rate

17.5 17.76

Turnover Rate

20.8 16.78

Assist Rate

22.93 9.86

Minutes per Game

38.9 20

PER

17.4 15

Wins Produced per 48

.198 .099

Win Shares per 48

.141 .099

Noah's always been very good, but he's been amazing this year. His numbers may be down a little from last year, but that's where context comes into play. For every season but his first one, he's played alongside Derrick Rose. And with a player like Rose, you're gonna get good looks as the opposing defense will spend a lot of their energy trying to deal with him.

As expected, Noah's taken on a more active role on offense. One area where Noah's been more active is from deep two point range. I kinda fit into the typical online basketball fan stereotypical thinking of "only shots at the rim and three pointers are useful and eff 16-23 foot jumpers," but that shot does have value. This year, Noah's taken close to three shots a game from deep two, and he's shooting a very respectable 37 percent. Along with the jumpers, he's been more successful attacking the basket, shooting a career best 63.4 percent at the rim this year.

But the most impressive, and in the actual All Star Game most aesthetically pleasing, part of his game is his passing. He's always been viewed as one of the better passing big men in the Association, and this year he's stepped it up in that department. He's averaging a touch over four assists per game, which puts him right up there with Memphis' Marc Gasol at the top of the Center leaderboards. Noah typically initiates his offense at the high post, and because of that, two of his assists are leading to baskets at the rim. SB Nation Chicago's Ricky O'Donnell discusses one nice passing sequence as well as Noah in general. In the actual game, that passing skill would lead to some nice highlights with LeBron, Wade and the rest of the Eastern Conference wing players.

Noah is currently fourth in minutes per game at 39.2 a contest, trailing only his teammate Luol Deng (who didn't get his right wrist fixed, which still enrages me), Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant. With that in mind, you'd think Noah would take it easy a bit on defense, right? You'd be completely wrong. Noah is very energetic and quick on defense, and those traits help him limit opposing Centers to a PER of 15.1 and eFG of 48.1. He also does a great job in the passing lanes, as he collects close to two steals a game. When we look at Noah with relation to Chicago on the whole, we see how influential he is. When Noah is on the court, Chitown allows 96.9 points per 100 possessions, which is a shade below their overall mark of 98.4 (which is Top Five in the League). Without him, the Bulls allow 104 per 100 possessions. Maybe that's why Thibs plays him so many minutes.

And on a totally unrelated note, I want Noah to troll the hell out of Dwight Howard when the Bulls and Lakers play this year. That dude deserves it.

Chris Bosh, C Miami Heat

2012-2013

Chris Bosh

Other Centers

Minutes Per game

33.7 20

True Shooting

61.7 54

Rebound Rate

13.7 14.8

Turnover Rate

11.8 16.78

Usage Rate

23 17.76

Assist Rate

8.63 9.86

Win Shares per 48

.193 .099

Wins Produced per 48

.139 .099

PER

21.6 15

Bosh jokes never get old, but in between all the funnin' at Bosh's expense, he's been fantastic for the defending Champions this year. CB4 is putting up a career high 61.7 True Shooting percentage, and to be more specific, he's been lethal in the midrange game. Bosh has always been a solid jump shooting big man, but this season, he's outdone himself. He's shooting a career best 59 percent from 16-23 feet, which is one of the highest marks in the league (& a quick side note, Rondo is shooting 51 percent. When the hell did he get a good jumper?) and about 15 percentage points above his career mark. And to unpack this a little bit more, he's done the majority of his damage on the right elbow, shooting a swanky 55.1 percent from that area of the court. In addition to the excellence on the perimeter, Bosh has dominated on the inside as well, as he's shooting a career best 74 percent at the rim this year.

Bosh has always (unfairly) been labeled soft, and he's been doing a great job of shedding that label over the past year. Tom ZiIller has more:

There's no denying that Bosh was vital to this championship run. Miami struggled when he was lost for a spell against the Pacers and Celtics; they've looked nearly unstoppable since he returned to form late in the Boston series. His pick-and-roll action with Wade has been a perfect counter as teams loaded up on LeBron. His tough rebounding opposite Kevin Durant and OKC's bigs was incredibly important.

And through it all -- last year, this year, this month -- he remained himself. He didn't edit himself to gain approval from the jeering section. He didn't pull a Drake and put on a Tough Guy costume, assuring everyone who'd listen that he was in fact the baddest man around. He remained himself. When he confronted Skip Bayless about the "Bosh Spice" nonsense, he remained calm and spoke of his pride in his family's name. The 20-something multi-millionaire showing up the former journalist who spits nasty for a paycheck while taking the high ground. Maybe that's when Bosh started winning fans back.

Bosh isn't one of the best rebounders in the sport, but he holds his own on the glass. Miami's the best shooting team in the NBA so it doesn't really matter that they're near the bottom of the rankings in terms of offensive rebounding. Bosh grabs 8 percent of available offensive rebounds, which is below what other centers have done (10 percent), but again, the Heat don't miss so it's not harmful to them.

Anderson Varejao, C Cleveland Cavaliers

2012-2013

Anderson Varejao

Other Centers

Minutes Per game

36 20

True Shooting

52.9 54

Rebound Rate

23.2 14.8

Turnover Rate

11.6 16.78

Usage Rate

18.5 17.76

Assist Rate

18.19 9.86

Win Shares per 48

.179 .099

Wins Produced per 48

.324 .099

PER

22 15

He's been gone for a while due to a right knee bruise, but it looks like he's on the path of returning to game action. Hopefully he gets back soon because he's been awesome this year.

This is as of December 6, but:

Think about this, through his first 17 games:

  • Varejao has missed 96 shots this season. He has 105 offensive rebounds. This is absurd.
  • Varejao is averaging 6.2 offensive rebounds per game. Brook Lopez averages 6.8 rebounds per game.
  • Despite being a career 62% free throw shooter, he is averaging 78% this season.
  • He is averaging 15.4 rebounds per game.
  • That's amazing. He's slowed down some in that regard, but he's still the league leader in rebounds per game, first in offensive rebounding rate and second in total rebound rate (a smidge behind our own Reggie Evans).

    I think one of the things we have to avoid is looking at a team's record and dismissing a player from that team who's having a wonderful season from consideration. It's one of the mistakes I think was made a few years ago when Kevin Love had his breakout season and the Timberwolves sucked. The Cavaliers had a 5-21 record with Varejao, but that, by and large, is through no fault of Varejao. Outside of Kyrie Irving, the Cavs employ no other players who would be defined (through the lens of Win Shares and PER) as above average. That's to be expected since the Cavs are in a rebuilding stage, but still.

    in keeping with the theme of the Cavs being awful, the Cavs have an efficiency differential of -8.3 on the season, but it's a little better with Varejao in the game. They're "only" being outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions when Varejao's playing, vs. 9.5 points per 100 when he's not out there. That's still bad, but again, the Cavs have a terrible roster at this point in history.

    Tyson Chandler, C New York Knicks

    2012-2013

    Tyson Chandler

    Other Centers

    Minutes per game

    32.8 20

    True Shooting %

    71.4 54

    Usage rate

    14.4 17.76

    Turnover rate

    12.4 16.28

    Rebound rate

    18.6 14.8

    Assist rate

    6.99 9.86

    PER

    21.9

    15

    Win Shares per 48

    .250

    .099

    Wins Produced per 48

    .335

    .099




    If I told you Chandler has been the best Center in basketball the past two seasons, you'd think I was a liar. Tyson Chandler has been the best Center in basketball the past two seasons.

    The most impressive thing about Chandler's offense is how efficient he is from the field. Yes, the overwhelming majority of his offense comes from the inside, but when you amassed two of the highest True Shooting percentages in league history and are on track to do it again this year, who can complain?

    Another check in his favor has been his stellar offensive rebounding. Individually, Chandler has collected 14.6 percent of the offensive rebounds available while he was on the court, a mark that is eighth best in the NBA this season. When we look at what effect his rebounding has had on the NYK offense, it becomes even more impressive. The Knicks are 10 percent better on the offensive glass when Chandler's in the game, which in turn has allowed them to put up an offensive efficiency of 113.1, a tally that would make them the best offense in the league. Without him, they're scoring about 102 points per 100 possessions, which would be right around league average. Along with the great offensive rebounding, Chandler has drawn fouls close to 25 percent of the time he has possession of the ball. He's only shooting 68.2 percent on his close to five attempts per game, but in this instance, you can live with the opportunities (five FTAs a night) even if the outcomes aren't what you would prefer (low conversion rate).

    For a while, the Knicks had the highest efficiency differential in the league. It was something obscene like +11, which is at a Championship level (and then some). Their differential is (well, as of 1/2/13) is 6.3, which is the fifth highest mark in the NBA, behind Oklahoma City, San Antonio, the LA Clippers and Miami, teams with Championship aspirations.

    The Knicks have been worse defending this year with the reigning DPOY in the game, as they're allowing close to 105 points per 100 possessions with Chandler, versus a more respectable 100.4 without him. Now, I don't think it's entirely fair to pin all of that fall on Chandler, as the Knicks are allowing an effective field goal percentage of 51.6. That could be due to the Knicks allowing teams to shoot 37.1 percent from three point range, and that falls on the perimeter defense. However, teams have been shooting 67.2 percent at the rim, the third highest in the league and close to five percentage points higher than last year.

    Josh Smith, F Atlanta Hawks

    2012-2013

    Josh Smith

    Other Power Forwards

    Minutes Per game

    34.8 19

    True Shooting

    47.6 52.6

    Rebound Rate

    13.7 13.3

    Turnover Rate

    14.4 11.17

    Usage Rate

    27.5 18.9

    Assist Rate

    15.32 10.19

    Win Shares per 48

    .069 .099

    Wins Produced per 48

    .042 .099

    PER

    17.8 15

    "I don't know what I can do to get the eye of the national fan," Smith says regarding his perpetual less-than-stellar placement among All-Star vote-getters. "All I can keep to is playing the way I've been playing, progressing as an individual and as a player. I'm not really worried about what's going to happen, but when it does, it will definitely be well appreciated."

    Josh Smith, in an interview with Scott Sargent

    With the exception of fans who remember the 2005 Dunk Contest, I would say Smith is right. He isn't someone that will typically be the headliner on the "Game of the Week," but he's been one of the better forwards in the Association the past couple of seasons.

    Like all players, shot location is a very important aspect of Smith's game. The biggest gripe with Smith is the fact that he has made a living from 16-23 feet. The complaints, of which I subscribe to, are that 16-23 feet aren't that valuable (although, FWIW, my point of view is changing on this), and more specific to Smith, he's awful at them. For most of his career, Smith has taken more than his fair share of deep jumpers, and with the exception of the 2010-2011 & 2011-2012 seasons, he's been below average (typically 37-39 percent) from this area. CourtVision Analytics has more:

    Speaking of high-risk-low-reward phenomena, there was a time when an urbandictionary.com search for "Josh Smith" returned the following definition:
    "Any ill-advised three point shot taken by a player who should be nowhere near the three point line."

    I swear I didn’t write that, but that’s not the point; it could have been me or millions of other NBA fans. Perhaps there’s no better exemplar of poor shot site selection in the NBA than Mr. Smith, who I will never call J-Smoove; btw, as a quick aside to the people who call him that: please stop, you’re embarrassing yourselves. Josh Smith is a wonderful basketball player, but his unique skills are too often hidden from our eyeballs. To be blunt, when his team has the ball he shouldn’t be anywhere near the 3-point line. It’s not just that he’s a below average jump shooter, which he is. The reason Atlanta fans melt down when Josh shoots a jumper is dualistic: it’s a low-percentage shot AND he is a beast near the rim. Josh Smith is an above average scorer at or near the rim, and he’s one of his team’s best rebounders. Just like LeBron, who recently migrated inward (how’d that work out, you guys?), Josh Smith and the Hawks must realize that good things happen when he is near the rim. When you’re 6’8″, an above average inside force, and a below average jump shooter, it’s probably wise to hang out closer to the basket and leave those jumpers to your teammates.

    What's Smith been like this season? He's trimmed down on the 16-23 feet jumpers (6.3 attempts per game in 2011-2012 vs. 4.4 in 2012-2013), but he's gotten worse shooting them. So far, he's shooting a career worst 27 percent from deep two, but to his credit he's taking fewer attempts.

    The CourtVision Analytics mentions Hawk fans melting down when Smith jacks up deep twos, and Smith's performance in a recent double overtime win to the Pistons caused Hawk fans to have a mini meltdown. PeachTree Hoops' Kris Willis explains:

    So in one basketball game Josh Smith showed why he is capable of performing at an All-Star level and why he has never participated in the game. I'm not suggesting the Hawks are a better team without Smith whose line of 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists is impressive despite the late struggles. Rather I'm pointing out that his shot selection and decision making still have room for improvement.

    Other than his shooting struggles, he's been his typical self in the other areas of the game. One of the keys to the Hawks season has been their defense. When Smith is on the court, they're allowing only 98 points per 100 possessions and an opponent effective field goal percentage of 47.6 percent. Smith is doing his part on the individual side of things by blocking two shots per game, getting close to two steals a game, holding opposing power forwards to a 15 PER. Along with those exploits, he's dished out three assists a game and has snatched up a little over eight rebounds per contest. And in a game that'll feature a whole lot of dunks, it'll be nice to have a dunker of Smith's caliber showcasing his skills. Just ask Serge Ibaka (who ain't about this life) and Steve Nash.

    Al Horford, C Atlanta Hawks

    2012-2013

    Al Horford

    Other Centers

    True Shooting %

    54.6 54

    Rebound Rate

    15.1 14.8

    Usage Rate

    20 17.76

    Turnover Rate

    10.1 16.28

    Assist Rate

    16.95 9.86

    Minutes per Game

    37.2 20

    PER

    18.5 15

    Wins Produced per 48

    .131 .099

    Win Shares per 48

    .155 .099

    Quietly, Horford has been having another solid season. One of his big strengths has always been his jump shooting, and this year is just a continuation of that success. On his attempts from 16-23 feet, he's shooting 43 percent, which is one of the higher marks for the Center position. He's been even better converting on his attempts at the rim, shooting a robust 81.1 percent, which is one of the best success rates in the NBA this year. Along with the great shooting, he chips in with three assists per contest with a limited amount of turnovers.

    Horford doesn't take away from the Hawks defensively, as the team allows 99.8 points per 100 possessions with Al on the court, vs. 100.3 per 100 without him. He's also holding Centers to an eFG of 47.5 percent and PER of 15.4, both of which are also around the league average.

    Piercelol_medium_medium

    (Yes I'm petty.)

    2012-2013

    Paul Pierce

    Other Small Forwards

    Minutes per game

    33.6 20

    True Shooting %

    56 53

    Usage rate

    28.4 18.26

    Turnover rate

    11.6 11.1

    Rebound rate

    9.8 9.9

    Assist rate

    15.61 13.88

    PER

    20.3

    15

    Win Shares per 48

    .144

    .099

    Wins Produced per 48

    .133

    .099

    In between falling down when defending Joe Johnson and trolling the Knicks, Boston's second all time leading scorer has managed to put together another good season.

    He's only shooting 43 percent from the field, but don't let that fool you. He's shot a very good 39 percent from three point range and has hit on 80 percent of his free throw attempts. Putting it all together, he's amassed a more than acceptable True Shooting percentage of 55.8 percent, which is pretty much his career average.

    Whenever Rondo is out of action (due to injury or suffering from a case of teh stupid), Pierce always manages to step up in his absence. He had an efficient 23 points along with 6 assists and some key shots in the fourth quarter against the Knicks. Having a game like that against a rival that's a Title Contender in their building and while missing your best player is certainly something that'll boost his All Star chances.

    After being a ferocious defense since the arrival of Kevin Garnett, Boston has taken a step back on defense this year.

    What are Lopez's chances of making the team?

    He's certainly not going to be voted in as a starter, but I think he has a decent shot of being named to the team as a reserve. He's got good counting stats (18 points and seven rebounds per game in only 29 minutes a night), he's on a winning team in a decent division and grades out well when looking at the newer metrics. But unfortunately for Brook, Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler, and Joakim Noah have those same characteristics along with narratives that will help push them over the top (Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and is on a team that could realistically be at the top of the Eastern Conference by All Star Weekend, Noah is having a superlative season leading the injury ravaged Bulls and Bosh has been great on the defending NBA Champion).

    Even if he doesn't make it, it's been a great first half for the big man as he's been Brooklyn's most indispensable player and figures to play a key role if they hope to catch the Knicks in the Atlantic Division standings and in the playoffs come Spring time.

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