Remember when Nets fans were all over Twitter talking about how trading for Reggie Jackson and letting go of Brook Lopez was imperative to the Nets succeeding? Well, let's talk about that, because Brook Lopez has been on a tear in the month of March.
Here's the simple stats for Lopez's March: 20.8 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, 119 offensive rating, 108 defensive rating, shooting 55% from the floor. Those numbers are up significantly from other months (his defensive rating is about the same as prior ones).
But let's look deeper into how Lopez has been able to turn his game around on the offensive side of the ball.
Lopez has been the focal point of the Nets offense since being inserted back into the starting lineup about a month ago. Lopez's length and ability to stretch the floor has made him a matchup nightmare for standard fives because they simply can't defend the big man so efficiently past the foul line. Bropez's ability to take, and make, 17 footers has opened up what has been a stagnant Nets offense of late.
Here, Thaddeus Young drives into the lane and Lopez clears out to the corner. This simple action can make the Nets offense immensely better because one of two things is going to happen: one, the defender (in this case Alexis Ajinca) will need to step in and check Young's drive to the rim; or two, the defender will need to move out with Lopez, who is a proven shooter from the corners this season, and give Young the easy lay in. In this case, Ajinca commits to Young. Next, Lopez clears out to the left corner, and gets an easy jumper to fall.
Not many 7-footers can clear out the way Lopez can and be an efficient shooter from that far away. With the play of Mason Plumlee overall this season, Lopez has had to go further and further away from the rim—he is taking 29% of his shots at the rim this season as opposed to 37% when he was fully healthy in 2012—and 19% from 16 feet to the three-point line. It had mixed results at first, but it seems that Lopez has grown into his role as a stretch five and he is now thriving. Defenders, such as Al Jefferson on Wednesday and Tyler Zeller two nights prior, have trouble getting out from under the rim to cover Lopez and contest the shot. In turn, Lopez is getting easy looks from that far out and making them look easy. He's hitting on 54% of his shots outside the paint and to the three-point line this month.
Where Lopez has really shown improvement, especially of late, is in the pick-and-roll. More specifically, Lopez has shown real chemistry with Deron Williams. The two have been running a lot of pick-and-rolls together as of late, but it isn't a typical point-to-big PNR. Lopez has been either popping out after Williams rejects the screen, or Lopez has been moving parallel to Williams, stopping at about 6-to-10 feet and pulling up for a floater.
Here are two examples:
Defenders sag off of DWill because he isn't a scary shooter anymore, but he has no problem splitting the D by hitting Lopez in stride for an easy finish. The two have worked really well together recently and Lionel Hollins has recognized that. Here is the game winning play from Wednesday night, notice the play.
While Williams isn't a threat to score 30 points anymore, his large teammate is, and DWill has no problem feeding the big fella. Williams has been dishing as well as anyone of late, averaging more than eight assists over his last five.
The other place Lopez has excelled is on the offensive glass. The longest tenured Net is grabbing a shade under four offensive rebounds per game in the month of March and is going up strong with it too. Lopez, known for being "soft" and "weak" on the inside, has turned his reputation around over the past 13 or so games by showing his aggressive side. The big man has always hit defenders with an array of moves on the post, but now he has been more forceful in his command of them, going right at his defender and drawing more fouls in the process. Lopez is taking 1.2 more free throw attempts per game in the month of March compared to the whole season. An aggressive Lopez is a good Lopez for the Nets.
The Nets offense is not pretty right now, like their entire team. They don't move as much as they used to, and they tend to ride one hot hand throughout the game, which is fine to an extent, but no one else gets going and it comes to hurt them when they sub that hot hand out. The one bright spot in this offense has been Lopez and his incredible scoring streak, he is averaging nearly 31 points per game over his last four, and the Nets have done a good job of finding him. Now, if someone else could get going on the offensive end besides Thad Young (who hyperextended his knee on Wednesday) the Nets can be in good shape heading into the final three weeks of the season.