The Brooklyn Nets have won four of their last five games during a time when it's needed most. You know, with the playoff race coming down to the wire and the Nets falling only a half-game out of the eighth seed Friday night vs. Cleveland.
Two of the five teams they beat are above .500, most notably LeBron James and the Cavs, while the other three are the biggest threats to steal the final spot in the East.
The Nets have been searching for a leader all season, and little did they know, he was standing right in front of them the whole time. It just took him some time, you know, because he's coming off his third foot surgery.
The Nets shouldn't have missed him. He's very tall and goes by the name of Brook Lopez and he's been shredding it for the Nets of late.
In the last five games, Brook's averaged 28.6 points, 9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks on 64.4% shooting. He's hit 25 of his last 26 free throws taken. It's a small sample size, however it's no mistake that the Nets have gotten hot behind their resurgent big man.
To expand the sample size, in the month of March -- Lopez has averaged 20 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2 blocks on 54.1% shooting. Sounds like Player of the Month numbers. Take a look at his shotchart from the past month:
He's obviously asserted himself inside the paint, but what's most impressive about the chart is his efficiency around the perimeter. He's shooting 52.4% from the mid-to-long range area outside the top of the key. He's above the league average in all five areas, excluding the left elbow where he's way below the league average.
By the official definition of a leader in the dictionary, it says a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country. Kevin Garnett was the vocal leader, but when the Nets' last hopes were running out, Lopez acquired the leadership role on the court with his high level of play doing all the talking.
He'll never tell you it's just about him. It's always a team mentality, something true leaders do. They attribute their success to the guys working with -or- for them. It seems like Coach Lionel Hollins has had a large part in sticking this mentality inside Lopez's head, despite the rocky relationship the two supposedly have.
Following the Nets' 106-98 victory over Cleveland, Brook was asked about being the teams leading scorer in the last five.
"It's a team effort completely. We had a lot of guys play well tonight and we fed off double A's energy (Alan Anderson), Jack's energy, Bogie played great, you know Joe did his thing and we stuck through it until the end."
Not a peep about himself. All about team.
The craziest part about Lopez grasping the subtle leadership role for Brooklyn is that he really shouldn't be here after what occurred on the February 19th trade deadline. We can thank OKC GM Sam Presti for that. Presti was the GM who pulled out of the near deal centered around him and Reggie Jackson, just moments before the deadline hour. Lopez would've been gone, and Reggie Jackson would've been the face of the Nets' franchise.
Instead, Presti notched Enes Kanter from Utah. He can't be kicking himself over Lopez's emergence. Kanter has been scorching in the month of March, averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds on 56.6% shooting.
Supposedly OKC wasn't "in love" with Lopez and the possibility of him suffering another foot injury. Ironically, it's now same problem they have with their own superstar, Kevin Durant. He's out for the season to get the same procedure Brook underwent ... ironically with the same surgeons!
It proved to be a big question mark for the Thunder around deadline time -- and now one the Nets will have to figure out come the end of the season. Brook can opt out of his contract and look for a bigger deal, or he can wait a year and try for even a bigger deal in 2016 when the NBA national TV deal drops cash into the hands of all teams.
It's of little significance if you're living in the moment and hoping to watch the Nets in the playoffs this season. Rather than falling flat and handing over a lottery pick to the top seeded Atlanta Hawks. That's the nightmare Brook is helping the Nets prevent.
"As bad as it got during the lowest points, we still were in the race. It was just baffling to us, crazy," Lopez told reporters at Saturday's practice.
They're 10-9 since the All-Star break and Brook's resurgence. They'll need to finish better than .500 in the second half of the season if they want any shot at making the playoffs. That's of course assuming the teams ranking from 8-11 in the East actually win games down the stretch. At least there's hope, even though it looked completely lost at one point.
And it's all thanks to the big fella, Brook Lopez.