We're 61 games into the foggy "bridge year" and the sun is (sorta) peaking out thanks to the recent play of Brook Lopez, along with the improvements in the offense from new interim head coach Tony Brown.
Since Brown took over as coach of the Nets, he emphasized his desire to work a "freer" offense through Brook Lopez, who's obviously reaping the benefits of the new offense.
Brook made a strong case for Player of the Month in February after averaging 22 points and 7.3 rebounds on a season-best 55.8 percent from the field. He also had an offensive rating of 104.6 compared to his season average of 101.4.
His shotchart in February:
He may not have been considered an All-Star "snub" by most, but as the season grows and Lopez continues to dominate, he's not only looking like an All-Star, but rather one of the best big men the game has to offer.
He ranks second in the NBA for points per game (20.6) just behind DeMarcus Cousins (27.3) and nearly three points ahead of the third ranked Nikola Vucevic. He's 15th in the NBA for double doubles with 25, tied with teammate Thaddeus Young.
Things started to change once Lionel Hollins was axed on January 10th.
Since Hollins was fired and Brown took over, Lopez has averaged 22 points on 52.8 percent shooting in 24 games. With Hollins, Lopez averaged 19.8 points on 49 percent shooting.
In the 11 games played in February, Lopez was second behind Joe Johnson for shots attempted in the fourth quarter at 2.9. This was an issue with Hollins: Brook wasn't getting enough touches in the fourth.
So what has Tony done differently than Lionel?
"Obviously, we've made a conscious effort to speed the game a little bit. I think our movement, our pace has helped us in that regard to scoring over 100 in those games, and I'd like to keep it up there," Brown said back in mid-February. "We want to make sure we're pushing the ball up, exploring opportunities, secondary break and our guys have opportunity to attack, I want them to do that. I just think that's what we want, and it's helped some of our guys get the rhythm of the game a little bit better."
Lopez has reaped the benefits, which might be a sign of good things to come as the pace of the average NBA game continues to increase and the amount of three-pointers taken is greater than ever. The two go hand-in-hand.
"Obviously a lot of teams are going in that [small-ball] direction. But when you have a quality big man like Brook Lopez, small-ball goes out the window in my mind,'' Tony Brown said before Lopez scored a season-high 36 points in 112-104 loss to Portland.
In early February, Brown said he wanted to push the pace and give the athletic players on the team a chance to thrive. With the ball moving more and the pace speeding up, the paint and perimeter continue to open up.
"It's not just post-ups. We consciously tried to move the ball side-to-side, and during that process, if Brook is on the move in the paint area, we'd like for him to catch it if he has an opportunity,'' Brown said. "[It's] just not walking it up and throwing it in to him now. It's more movement, creates changes in direction so when he has space, he can find a way to seal his guy and the ball will find him. ... There's going to be various ways to get him the ball, but so far I like the way we've been doing it."
It's paid off... a lot. Under Hollins, the Nets shot a third-worst 31.5 percent from three. Under Brown, in February, the Nets shot 42.7 percent, which ranked SECOND in the NBA for three-point percentage behind the San Antonio Spurs and three spots ahead of the Golden State Warriors.
It's a different, feel-good game for guys Markel Brown, Bojan Bogdanovic and Donald Sloan, whom have all shot the deep ball at an impressive rate since Tony Brown was hired.
As for the 17-44 record... it is what it is. Like Hollins, Brown was dealt an unfair hand - perhaps an even worse one with Jarrett Jack and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both getting hurt. There's little room for optimism during a season like this.
But taking the good out of a tough situation, Brown is helping develop some of the younger guys and Brook Lopez is excelling in an advanced system. It's a win/win as Lopez is proving to be Brown's best reward since taking over for Lionel Hollins and for Lopez, Brown's free and advanced offensive system is helping him reach a new level.
Still, the most impressive number for Brook Lopez is 120 and counting. That's the amount of consecutive games he's played since receiving his THIRD surgery on his right foot back in 2014.