The fate of the Brooklyn Nets’ 2016-2017 season has been decided for some time now. Some may argue that the Nets’ fate was decided in the summer of 2013. But General Manager Sean Marks has made it clear that the Nets’ demolition and complete remodeling will take time. This is merely year one of a franchise building process that could take up to half a decade before seeing concrete results in the form of wins.
With essentially nothing left to play for other than pride (and to beat the Celtics to improve their own draft selections) the Nets have to shift to evaluation. That will come in the form of scouting the NCAA Tournament... and the Euroleague.
But in the NBA, the Nets have to evaluate their players as well. Five Nets have team options or non-guarantees for next season. Four Nets will be on expiring contracts in the summer of 2018. Sean Marks and his staff will have to assess who to keep and who to deal.
One way to assess the Brooklyn Nets’ current roster is to track their offensive performance. This season, Kenny Atkinson installed an up-tempo motion offense for his new team. That has been covered quite a bit (I wrote 3000+ words on it. Check it out!) While the results have not been there all season, the offense is promising, especially when looking at the raw numbers. The talent is the only thing lacking. Atkinson’s offense emphasizes a react and attack style, with shooters and attackers around the perimeter. It’s evident that Atkinson’s offense emphasizes fluidity and freedom for his personnel.
So, how have Nets players fared this season on the offensive end? They’re 13-55, I know. But even with the lackluster record, extrapolations can still be made to see if a player is worth bringing back. Where are Nets players successful on offense?
The constants of being a Net fan may be broken down like this: frustration, Knicks disdain and Brook Lopez. Brook Lopez is the Nets’ cornerstone. He may also be the Nets’ biggest trade chip, but Sean Marks values Lopez, and what his game can provide. That was evident at the trade deadline. Lopez’s trade value may increase with more free salary around the 2017 NBA Draft, but that’s merely speculation.
Lopez’s per game numbers look like those of a scoring wing, averaging 20.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. He shoots at 47% from the field and 35% from three. But don’t take the “scoring wing” comment as an insult! Lopez has shown his versatility, expanding his game as he approaches his tenth season in the league. Time flies, doesn’t it?
Looking at his advanced stats, Lopez’s efficiency shines through. He trails only Quincy Acy in true shooting percentage, at 58% on the season. He may be a high usage player (29%) but he has been efficient. Lopez is a solid offensive player even on a league-wide scale. He ranks third among centers in ESPN’s offensive real plus minus, behind Karl Anthony-Towns and Marc Gasol. He’s responsible for 71 points added, which is 41st in the league, per NBA Math. That ranks him above Anthony Davis, Paul Millsap, and Kristaps Porzingis, among others using that metric. Say what you want about those stats, but Lopez is an above average offensive center.
So here’s a look at what makes Lopez such a productive offensive player (we’ll talk about defense later!)
By all accounts, Lopez is a league average shooter. But that’s compared to every player in the league. Not many of them are 7 feet tall. You can’t teach that. But as a center, his versatility to shoot from everywhere on the court should not be discounted. Compared to other strong offensive centers, Lopez’s shot chart shows his versatility. Most centers have certain sweet spots when shooting from the perimeter. But the distribution of Lopez’s shot chart is pretty evenly spread.
The most obvious takeaway from Lopez’s shot chart is the areas where he shoots at or above league average. As a shooter, Brook excels at shooting from the left side of the court on the perimeter. He can act as both a pick and pop option, and as a trailer. Here, Lopez acts as a trailer for three…
One thing to note from that is that Lopez is a right-side dominant post player, shooting 63 of his shots from the right block. In the Nets’ offense it seems that if Lopez can’t find an angle to receive a post pass on the right black, he cuts across the paint to the perimeter. Several plays are designed for Lopez on the block. Below, Caris LeVert runs horns to set up a Lopez post-up deep on the block.
Lopez has shot 53.5% on post-ups this season, putting him in the 81st percentile of all players in the NBA on post ups. One underrated aspect of Atkinson’s offense is the ease of Lopez to find good-position on post-ups. Gone are the days where Lopez would post-up two steps inside the three-point line. That may contribute to his improved efficiency from inside the arc (53% this season vs. 51% last season).
Pick and Roll/Pop
As the roll man off of pick-and-roll action, Lopez is a mediocre scorer, shooting 44% in these situations, averaging around three pick-and-roll possessions per game. But his shot chart shows that one of his most effective zones is right inside the free throw line. That’s the key area for the Lopez pick and push play, which was a frequent option for Lopez and Deron Williams. Here’s a look at how Lopez used his push shot in a pick and roll with Spencer Dinwiddie.
Lopez may not be a strong enough screener to free himself to streak all the way to the rim on pick and roll. But his push shot is a deadly weapon to catch defenses if they backpedal too much in the paint.
Surprisingly, Lopez drives the ball as often as he shoots on the pick and roll, averaging 2.7 drives per game. He shoots 51.9% on drives, getting fouled 27% of the time. Lopez uses his soft touch and awkward finishing ability to score over defenders. Take a look…
As a passer, Lopez has constantly improved during his career. He formed a nice tandem with Bojan Bogdanovic cutting. With Bogdanovic gone, Lopez could run the same action with Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris, or Jeremy Lin. Here, Lopez passes it nicely to a cutting Kilpatrick out of the post.
Here he passes out of the double in the post to find Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for the foul.
Looking at the numbers, Lopez is a decent passer. He ranks seventh in the NBA in assists per game for centers. Lopez averages as many assists as turnovers, but his turnovers may be due to strips from defenders and offensive fouls, and not poorly placed passes. Lopez is responsible for 4.9 potential assists per game, so it shows that Lopez can find his teammates for good looks. (A potential assist is a pass that leads directly to a shot, foul, or turnover.) These numbers are an improvement for Lopez from last season, where he was tasked with a larger offensive role.
The story has been written way too many times. Nets fans, neutral observers, and analysts alike know that Lopez is not a strong rebounder. This season, that has become a more pressing issue, especially on the defensive end. His offensive rebound percentage of 5.4% is the lowest of his career. He would typically average over 2.5 offensive boards per game. That number has dipped to 1.5 this season. Some of his offensive rebounds may even stem from rebounding his own shots at the rim, and not from tracking his teammates’ perimeter misfires.
Now, Lopez’s foray to the perimeter likely is the cause of this dip. He may simply be too far away from misses to exploit his length to snag boards from opponents. Kenny Atkinson seems to value a retreat on defense over crashing the glass on misses. Lopez is often seen backpedaling on offense after a shot, miss or make. But obviously, that hasn’t made much of a difference in the Nets’ defensive efficiency.
Kenny Atkinson may need to adjust his offensive rebounding strategy to make the most of Brook Lopez’s length. More offensive rebounds is a percentage game. Even if the Nets are missing shots, just having a greater number of possessions could decrease a deficit. Or lead to more misses. Either way, Lopez should be more involved on the offensive glass. Trevor Booker and Hollis-Jefferson, his frontcourt mates, may be too undersized to compete with the trees all the time, despite their effort.
Brook Lopez has been the Nets’ best offensive player all season, bar none. Even in his ninth season, he has shown improvement in several aspects of his offensive game. His shooting has picked up tremendously, extending his range to places Avery Johnson and Lionel Hollins never imagined. His passing continues to improve as well, especially out of double teams. Who says development is just for young bucks?
Personally, I believe Lopez is an ideal fit for Coach Atkinson’s offense. His versatility is a weapon in itself. He can score in any way imaginable, utilizing his multiple offensive aspects. He may need to pick up his rebounding, but that’s the constant narrative around him. That might be the Lopez fan in me (we’ve seen him grow up before our eyes!), but there is no other obtainable big man, either in the draft or trade market, that can match Brook Lopez’s offensive production. Let’s not get too carried away with trade scenarios, OK?
All stats are from NBA.com/stats or basketball-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.