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Can Lionel Hollins and Brook Lopez make the Brooklyn Nets a top flight defense?


During his final three years in Memphis, ESPN notes, Lionel Hollins' Grizzlies were a top 10 defensive team in each of those seasons, anchored by an unlikely defender, Marc Gasol, who came into the league without a lot of references as a defensive-minded center.

In fact, Draft Express noted before Gasol's rookie year,

He doesn't make a great impact on the defensive end. His limited mobility gets exploited in pick-and-roll situations that the opponents throw at him; he's not a great intimidator, he allows smaller opponents to shoot over him; and given his superb size, he's not the best rebounder around.

By the time Hollins was through mentoring him, Marc Gasol was Defensive Player of the Year!

Now, Hollins is faced with a collection of players who have some but not a lot of defensive credentials. Some players like Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko have a long history of solid defense, but their skill set has declined. Others' have had their credentials on "the other side of the floor" continually questioned.  Can Hollins turn it around in Brooklyn like he did in Memphis?  Cement his reputation as a defensive coach.  (He didn't hurt himself by hiring Tony Brown, who excels at breaking down NBA offenses, away from Rick Carlisle.)

And just as he helped turn Marc Gasol into the DPOYr, he will be trying the same with Brook Lopez, with whom he has spent a lot of time lately. There is some hope there. Lopez has already gotten a lot better. As ESPN notes...

In the 17 games he played, Lopez allowed opponents to shoot just 39.7 percent at the rim (9.2 attempts per game), and the Nets gave up only 102.7 points per 100 possessions with the 7-footer on the court.

Lopez was also averaging close to two blocks a game early in the season. Still, his pick-and-roll defense and his rebounding have long been seen as suspect.

Hollins hasn't broken down the roster into good or bad defenders. That's not likely to be the case.  An ability to learn a defensive system is often more important. Marco Belinelli was a poster boy for bad (European) defenders, yet he got time under two demanding defensive coaches, Tom Thidodeau in Chicago and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, because he embraced a system ... as did his teammates.  Not everyone can be a Tony Allen or Jimmy Butler, but if enough players buy in, there's hope the system will work.