He’s been deemed unfixable. Five head coaches (and a few interims) have tried and failed. He may only be 26 years old, but with the amount of professional experience he has, Brook Lopez is not someone most consider a young, up-and-coming player. This is who he is and the saying goes, "you can’t teach an old dog new tricks". But there's another saying, too, in basketball, "You can't teach height."
When Lionel Hollins was hired, there was excitement that the track record of success he had in Memphis would follow him to Brooklyn, especially in the player development department. It was under his watch that players such as Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley developed into the players they are now. The optimism here was that Lopez, in particular, would benefit the most from a coach like Hollins.
Well to say that this marriage got off to a rocky start would be an understatement. As Brook struggled in regaining his old form, Hollins didn’t hold back in his public criticism of his center. To any outsider looking at the situation, it had appeared that this relationship wasn’t going to work out, as some felt that this wasn’t the best way to get the most out of Lopez. After all, Avery Johnson used a similar approach when he once told the media that he "dreamed about his center getting 10 rebounds". Unfortunately that tactic didn’t yield the results the Little General was hoping for.
A funny thing has happened since the All-Star break as Lopez is finally showing a prowess for rebounding not seen since his rookie season. It was during that 2008-09 season in which Lopez averaged 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. His collective total rebounding average per 36 minutes this year is 9.0.
In a way, the cumulative statistics are misleading since Brook struggled mightily during the first half of the season following the major reconstruction surgery of his foot. If you compare what he has done in the 18 games since the All-Star break to what other centers have compiled for the season, the results will surprise you. Are you sitting down?
Per Game Since ASG:
Per 36 Minutes Since ASG:
How good are those offensive rebounding numbers? For some perspective, compare them to what other centers have averaged for the season at a 36-minute rate:
Would you agree that Lopez’s offensive rebounding at a rate close to Chandler and Jordan is impressive? I thought so.
As for the total rebounds per 36 minutes, Lopez compares favorably to some other "bigs" around the league, including one born of the same parents.
Some cynics will say that Lopez’s rebounding production doesn’t pass the eye test, however, the numbers don’t lie. Even an advanced metric such as total rebounding percentage shows that Lopez, for the season, is in the neighborhood as some of his other counterparts, who don’t nearly receive the criticism he does. Very few compare to the gold standard set by DeAndre Jordan.
So what’s the explanation for this dramatic improvement in the rebounding department? It can’t be that his foot is finally healthy, because even before all of his injuries we never saw this ferocity on the glass. Is it that he is setting himself up for hefty pay raise should he decide to opt out of his current contract? Maybe. Could it just be that Hollins’s persistent criticism of him finally ignited the fire that has been lacking for so many years?
I believe that his coach’s open challenges have forced Brook to grow as a player. Although he is relatively young, he’s been in the league for quite a while now and seems at a crossroads in his career. He could easily continue down the same path and be the one-trick pony who scores at an efficient rate, but doesn’t contribute enough in the other departments to make his team successful. The way in which he wears his emotions on his sleeve leads me to believe that Lopez is not the type of player who is content with having noticeable deficiencies in his game.
Dennis Rodman once said, "I am hungrier out there than those other guys and every rebound is a personal challenge." Combine that mindset with the physical attributes Lopez possesses and the results should be what we are consistently seeing. Yes, he may lack the foot speed as others, but you can’t ignore his size --a 7'6" wingspan -- and craftiness on the court. Maybe playing volleyball while growing up has helped make that back tap such an effective tool in his game.
Whatever the reason is, every Nets fan will welcome this type of production from their seven-foot center. The sample is large enough now to dismiss this as a fluke. For a long time the 5-rebound games were the norm as the double-digit rebounding nights only happened once in a blue moon. Since the All-Star break those embarrassing rebounding games seem few and far between as 8 rebounds or more occur more consistently.
There’s a saying: "If it doesn’t challenge you, then it won’t change you." Perhaps the "it" was Lionel Hollins all along. And even if it wasn’t, it’s refreshing to see that the glass is no longer Brook’s kryptonite.