Brook Lopez was coming off of a solid year and was expected to take another step forward for the Nets. Unfortunately, a major foot injury occurred and he had to miss the remainder of the season. Here's what he had to say following the injury:
You've seen some unfortunate things. But I don't worry about that. I try to focus on the positive things, and right now I'm real excited to get ready for the first day of training camp next year.
Did you catch that? That quote was actually from the 2011-2012 season. Lopez returned from his foot injury & had a wonderful 2012-2013 campaign. He set career highs in PER, Win Shares, blocks and a career low in turnovers. He also appeared in his first All-Star Game & made everyone forget about trading him for Dwight Howard (well, everyone with the exception of Will Leitch over at New York Magazine). Coming into the 2013-2014 season, Lopez was expected to lead the revamped Brooklyn Nets in scoring and provide a stabilizing presence inside.
How was the big guy's season? Let's check the numbers:
Minutes per game
True Shooting percentage
Win Shares per 48
There's a lot to like here. With the offense flowing through him, he was able to become an even better player on offense. With the additions of Paul Pierce & Jason Terry, it was expected that Brook would be a little less active on offense. And that turned out to be somewhat true as Brook had a lower usage rate and took two fewer field goal attempts per 36 minutes.
Despite the slight drop in field goal attempts, Lopez more than made up for it. Lopez got to the line at seemingly every turn, and in fact got there every other field goal attempt. Brook got to the free throw line almost seven times a game in only 31 minutes and shot a career high 81.7 percent. And when we look at the shot chart:
The picture becomes even prettier. Lopez sometimes gets flack for taking too many shots outside of the paint, but he had a ton of success from deep two this season. After making in the thirties from 16-24 feet in each of his last three full seasons, Lopez was practically automatic from that range this year. There's been light talk of Lopez expanding his range to include the corner three (the shortest distance), but it'll probably go the way of Amar'e Stoudemire talking about expanding his range to include three pointers, which means this won't be happening. That right block looks to be his sweet spot as he's consistently shot above the league average from that area and banked on a career best 62.5 percent from that section of the floor. He's also better than most inside of eight feet, converting on 60.4 of his 144 attempts.
Defensively, Lopez showed himself to be a pretty great rim protector. On nine field goal attempts a game, the big guy held opponents to only 40.3 percent efficiency, one of the best marks in the league. As a point of reference, Roy Hibbert, widely considered to be the league's best defensive big man when he's on his game, held opponents to only 41.4 percent efficiency during the regular season. Along with that, he also picked up two blocks a game as well. He's not the most athletic big man in the world, and that lack of athleticism comes back to haunt him when he switches onto perimeter players on pick-and-roll coverage.
On the whole, the Nets were more productive defensively with Brook on the court. They allowed 102.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to 105 points per 100 with him out. This is impressive because the Nets were the league's worst defensive team in the early portion of the season. They were also better on the glass when Brook was on the court compared to without him. Lopez isn't the best rebounder, but that deficiency (if you wanna call it that) can be masked when paired with a player as good on the defensive glass as a Kevin Garnett.
Injuries proved to be a bugaboo for Lopez throughout the season. Ankle injuries in November and December slowed him down and caused him to miss games. However, those ankle injuries proved to be minor compared to the big injury he suffered in Philadelphia. During the overtime session against the Sixers, Lopez landed on Evan Turner and broke his foot (In case you're wondering, broken bones qualify as a situation where the all caps headline works).
The Highlight Reel
Joe Johnson hit the game winner, but Brook had a great game as well.
Lopez will be making $15.7 million for the upcoming 2014-2015 season.
He needs to?
Stay healthy. How's Lopez feeling about that foot of his:
"I don't think I could go on the court and play basketball and have that doubt in my mind. We've done everything that we can. It is up to me to do the right things in this rehab and get it back to where I won't have to worry about it again."
When Lopez is on the court, he's extremely difficult to slow down in the post. He's automatic close to the basket and has cut down on his turnovers in recent years. He's also a sure bet to get at least five free throw attempts a game and converting on close to 80 percent of them. He can stand to become a better rebounder, but it's not the end of the world if he stays at his current rebounding levels.
In the future
When he returns next season, it'll take some time to get back into game shape. The Nets could stand to utilize him a bit better, but that's an issue that can wait until he gets more playing time under his belt (and on how the roster looks going into next season) . The immediate concern for Lopez & Nets management is having him rehab and come back even stronger. When he is healthy, he's a lock for 70+ games a year and 30+ minutes a night. Despite his high level of production over the past season and a half, we've reached the point where we have to be concerned about his long term viability. Now don't get me wrong I'm not saying he should be traded or anything like that, but I am worried that he won't be able to be as successful going forward as he was this season. This becomes even more tricky because if Lopez isn't at his best, Brooklyn will have to rely on Andray Blatche, a player who has shown throughout his career that he isn't able to play well once expectations have been raised.
Another question I have with relation to Lopez is how he and Garnett will function together. Although they were a net positive in the 257 minutes they played together before Lopez's injury, Garnett struggled mightily at the power forward position. Dating back to the 2011-2012 season when he first moved to the Center position, KG has been much better at the five compared to the four (Romy has more on that). I wonder how Garnett will adjust going back to the power forward and how often Kidd will play that duo together.
The last, and perhaps most intriguing, question surrounding Lopez is what will hapen with Mason Plumlee. Once Plumlee entered the rotation, he looked great and provided the frontcourt with some needed explosiveness and athleticism. There was even talk that Mason might be a better fit than Lopez. Plumlee fell out of the rotation in the playoffs and had some struggles, so it's fair to wonder how he'll play with extended minutes. Management is in a very difficult position, but they'd be wise to bet on Brook Lopez.
For as good as Brook was when he played, 17 games isn't enough to give a complete grade. If he were able to have played the full season or as close to a full season as possible, he would have gotten an easy A.