The Nets loss last night was definitely deflating, no doubt about it. Is it time to panic? No, of course not. But, there are some things that I saw that could be improved by one player in particular: Brook Lopez.
Lopez had a "typical" stat-line: 21 points, 5 rebounds, and an impressive 4 blocks. On paper that looks great, although, after watching some film on him, his game wasn't as great as the stats would indicate. Yes, one game is too soon to tell, but there are some things the 7-footer must fix for the Nets to achieve success.
Lopez shot a fine 9-of-18 from the floor, an effective 50%, but his misses were not necessarily "good" shots. Several times one could see Lopez outside the paint taking set jumpers, which is usually fine if it's about 12-feet out and a bank shot -- a shot Lopez is adept at knocking down. But Lopez was, at times, way too far out, with one being a near 3-pointer.
Lopez is a staple of the Nets offense; he is crafty in the post, and now that he is a massive 290 pounds, he can back opposing big men down with ease and finish around the rim. So, why in the world is he dribbling into the post from the elbow extended and taking a running floater? This just shouldn't a part of Lopez's game -- it doesn't need to be.
Floaters weren't the only bad type of shot Lopez took last night. On one possession, after backing Anderson Varejao into the post, Lopez turned right and faded away as opposed to going strong at Varejao and finishing near the rim, and likely drawing a foul. Now, being so large and nearly impossible to stop when he uses his body, Lopez should not settle for fadeaways like that one.
Something the Nets did well last night was spread the ball around and move it crisply and methodically, but there were too many times that Lopez took matters into his own hands and dribbled too much, and eventually into trouble. Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, and other wings should be driving into the paint to collapse the defense, not Lopez.
It's not only Lopez's offensive game that could use some tweaking. His defensive game is something that has been critiqued for so many years that still seems a work in progress.
Lopez played a Nets-high 33 minutes last night, and in that time he only managed to grab a five rebounds. Compare that to Andrew Bynum, who had as many rebounds as Lopez did in the 13 minutes he played, while Varejao pulled down eight boards in 33 minutes. Lopez needs to find that aggressive, bull-dog mentality that is needed to post a nightly double-double; which at times comes out, but in spurts and not necessarily throughout his time on the basketball court.
Lopez did record four blocks -- including a huge one on Kyrie Irving -- which is definitely a positive sign. He slid over three of the four times on help-side defense to alter a Cavs' shot and block it. Lopez sliding over and helping out on a drive also shows his development as a big man, but in the pick-and-roll, oh boy.
Lopez is not quick, everyone knows that, to which he can't defend guards when he needs to switch on to them. Twice last night, Dion Waiters got a screen and Lopez had to switch on to him, instead of applying pressure, Lopez kept his distance, preventing the drive, but Waiters had no problem pulling an uncontested 20-footer and hitting it. Sure, 20-footers are typically not the best shot for a player, but that doesn't mean they should be easy to take.
Lastly, which I alluded to before, Lopez doesn't always have that aggressive mentality and doesn't really always show a "killer instinct." In his five minutes of action in the fourth, Lopez shot 1-of-3 from the floor, had zero rebounds, two fouls, and a net rating of -4. Down the stretch in last night's game, Lopez missed a point blank layup that would have put the Nets down by one with 2:30 left. There are no excuses with that one, either dunk it like a typical 7-footer should, or draw the foul. Later, with 16 seconds remaining, Paul Pierce missed his patent step-back jumper. The ball was heading in Lopez's direction, but got out-hustled by Kyrie Irving (a player nearly one-foot shorter) for the rebound, essentially taking the game away from the Nets.
Am I being nitpicky and harsh on Lopez? Yes. This was only one game and I still expect him to have a monster year. Nevertheless, I look at Lopez in a different light, as a superstar, so I critique him more and expect him to bring it every night. All of the issues I pointed out here can be fixed, and I do expect a more efficient night from the center against the Heat. After all, he's still young and developing. Which, really, is scary to think about how could he can become.
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