Life without Brook Lopez begins for Brooklyn against Indiana

Gregory Shamus

Just when you thought the Brooklyn Nets were on the way back to respectability, disaster strikes. After winning three straight, Brooklyn has lost three of the past four games, including a buzzer beater in Philadelphia on Friday night. However, none of those losses compare to Brook Lopez's injury. The big guy broke his foot on Friday and is out the rest of the year. Injuries are always unfortunate, but it always hurt twice as hard when a player like Lopez (or Derrick Rose if we're thinking ahead to the Christmas game against Chicago) goes down. Lopez was having his best season as a professional, averaging 20.7 points a night on a career best 62.9 true shooting percentage, strengthened by shooting 50 percent from the midrange area and 81.7 percent from the foul line. In a little bit of good injury news, it looks like Jason Terry & Andrei Kirilenko are close to returning.

Visiting Barclays Center for this game will be the first place Indiana Pacers. At the beginning of the year, I figured the Pacers would be Miami's biggest obstacle on their road to a third straight Championship, and they have not disappointed. In addition to having a sparkling 22-5 record, they're outscoring their opponents by close to nine points per 100 possessions. That differential is very, very important to remember when considering which teams are legitimate Championship contenders. They're at the top of the East and have won their last two ballgames, including a national TV destruction of the Rockets on Friday. This is a rematch from the game Indiana won 96-91 on November 9. If the Nets have any advantage in this game, it's that the Pacers are on the second night of a back-to-back.

The season so far

What's the story with these two teams as we near Christmas? Let's check the numbers:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Indiana

Record

9-17 22-5

Pace

94.72 95.26

Offensive Efficiency

102.8 103

Defensive Efficiency

106.4 93.6

Offensive Rebounding percentage

23.3 24.5

Turnover rate

15.4 16.2

Assist rate

16.6 16.6

Rebound rate

48.6 52.1

Free throw rate

33.5 29.6

Effective Field Goal percentage

49.7 50.3

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.9 44.7

With Lopez out of the picture, look for Kevin Garnett to move back to the Center position and either Mirza Teletovic or Andray Blatche to play power forward. If you're looking for some optimism as it relates to Garnett, as recently as last season he did a very good job anchoring the Center position. With the evolution of the game, the frontcourt positions aren't as dissimilar as they once were, so we may not see Garnett return to the level of play Nets management expected of him. As for Teletovic, he ought to provide more spacing than Blatche. Since he entered the rotation, Teletovic has provided above average three point shooting. He's shooting 41 percent from deep this season, including a six three pointer game against Philly on Friday. Blatche has worked to expand his range, but is best utilized on the inside.

Deron Williams will have to take on more of the offensive responsibility now that Lopez is gone. Williams is coming off a mediocre game against the league's second worst defense, but did have 14 assists to his name. Initially, I was thinking of Williams' 2011-2012 season in terms of having to take on the bulk of offensive responsibility due to the absence of Lopez. However, that frame is incorrect because, even though the team has massively underachieved, the roster as presently constituted is miles ahead of Johan Petro, Gerald Wallace and friends. Paul Pierce has been playing well off the bench and will have to maintain that level of productivity if Brooklyn wants to make it to the playoffs.

Meet the league's stingiest defense. The Pacers lead the league in defensive efficiency and opponent effective field goal percentage. When taking into account how good a defense is, we should take into account how good teams are at defending shots (percentages), but also where shots are taken. Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss detailed this in their paper on Larry Sanders early this year:

More specifically, within the context of spatial splits, effective interior defense should manifest itself in two ways. The most obvious is perhaps reduced shooting efficiencies close to the basket. The second is less apparent but perhaps more important: reduced shooting frequencies close to the basket, and increased frequencies in the mid-range and three-point areas. Taken together, reduced close-range efficiency and close-range frequency translate to fewer easy shots, fewer points, and fewer offensive rebounding opportunities for the offense.

We see this in the Pacers defense. Teams only get 25 shots a game (fifth lowest in the league) inside of the restricted area and shoot 54.9 (second best). Opponents take about 29 shots a game in the midrange and shoot only 36.6 percent from the field. One way in which they differ from Weiss and Goldsberry's analysis is with their three point defense. Teams rarely get threes off, attempting only 17 a night. As you would expect, teams aren't doing that well from three either, converting on only 33 percent of their attempts. George and Hibbert are the headliners, but David West, Born Ready Lance Stephenson and the rest of the Pacers have been great as well.

Leading the way on offense is Paul George. The fourth year man is having a career year offensively, improving on his efficiency inside the restricted area, midrange area, free throw line, and three point area while taking on more responsibility of Indiana's offense. Not to be undone, Roy Hibbert (more on him in a moment), Lance Stephenson and David West have been providing value on that end as well. The offense has added some more punch with the return of former All Star Danny Granger. He'd missed the first month and change with a calf injury and knee soreness. He returned on Friday night, and is coming off a great game against Boston on Sunday, hitting four three pointers. I'm curious to see how Granger is on the second night of a back-to-back and how he adjusts to the Sixth Man role going forward.

Player to watch: Roy Hibbert

By all accounts, Hibbert is the best defensive big man in the league right now. He averages around three blocks a night, but that's not all that being a good defender entails. He serves as the anchor of the Pacer defense, allowing teams to shoot 42.1 percent at the rim against him. A lot of this success is due to his mastery of the "verticality rule," which Mike Prada discusses in depth over at the mothership. It's also very important to note that he's committing fewer fouls per 36 minutes than last year, so he has more flexibility and can be more aggressive knowing that he rarely gets into foul trouble.

Last season, Hibbert was affected by a wrist injury and it led to him having an awful year on offense. His regained health has led to his shooting touch returning, including a career high 75.7 percent from the foul line. Hibbert's offense has led to Indiana being 14 points better per 100 possessions than their opponents and will serve them well in the deeper playoff rounds.

I was eager to see this game because the Hibbert-Lopez matchup would have pitted the two best Centers in the East against one another. However, with Lopez gone for the foreseeable future, we won't be getting that matchup. The Nets are one of the weaker rebounding teams in the league, and Hibbert is the second best offensive rebounder in the league. He figures to punish Garnett, Deron Williams and friends on both sides of the ball.

From the Vault

Since we're talking big men, head on back to 2005 and relive one of Jermaine O'Neal's finest games.


More reading: Indy Cornrows

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