Brooklyn’s Big Problem With Brook Lopez

For years, Brook Lopez was the center the Nets never had. What does the organization do if this is the player he is now?

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. How the narrative could flip from irreplaceable to unplayable. Although it’s only been eleven games since his return from major foot surgery, the unfortunate reality may be that the Brooklyn Nets may be better off without their homegrown center, Brook Lopez, if things don’t change.

If you’ve been a Nets fan as long as I have, this realization is a painful one to accept. After all, we’ve seen our fair share of dreck occupy the center position over the years: Chris Dudley, Shawn Bradley, Jim McIlvaine, Benoit Benjamin, Evan Eschmeyer, Dwayne Schintzius, Eric Montross, Soumaila Samake, Johan Petro, and of course, Yinka Dare. Did I forget anyone?

When more prominent big name players were acquired to man the middle, most notably Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, it was in the twilight of their respective careers when they had little remaining in the tank. Timing is everything, right?

There was once a glimmer of hope by the name of Nenad Krstic, but a torn ACL abruptly ended his breakout third season and derailed his promising career. Krstic eventually returned, but was never the same player.

If you think back to those great Nets teams of the early 2000s, you’ll remember that a lack of an interior scorer was what held them from reaching their ultimate goal of winning a title. Surely Jason Collins played his role effectively, but when the slower postseason pace prevented the Nets from getting out and running, his offensive prowess, or lack thereof, was a great liability. Would history have been different if a capable low post scoring option was on the roster? Maybe.

When the Nets drafted Lopez in the 2008, it appeared that the organization had finally acquired the type of center that had been so hard to come by over the years. Although the team’s performance as a whole was hardly something to celebrate, Lopez’s production was something that offered promise. In his first three seasons, he averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks, with a 50.4 field goal percentage. From the looks of it, the Nets appeared to have a strong foundation that could be built upon heading into the future.

At the age of 26, Lopez should still be young enough to get better as he enters what should be the prime years of his career. Certainly the reoccurring injuries have disrupted his progress, but what’s alarming is that there are many aspects of his game that continue to worsen and these negative attributes seem to outnumber the positives. We all know the usual critiques: the embarrassing rebounding rate, the propensity to settle for outside jumpers, the absence of a killer instinct, and the lack of sharing the ball with teammates.

On the surface, the statistics suggest that he’s a good rim protector, but more often than not, opponents have no problem shooting over his outstretched arm. In fact, more often than not, smaller opponents seem to challenge him directly when driving to the hoop… without any reservation.

Additionally, he constantly finds himself out of place in pick and roll situations leading to easy, uncontested buckets. It’s not just his limited mobility, but also a lack of awareness on the defensive end that hurts the team. What good is the offense you produce, if your defense gives it right back?

Supporters of Lopez seem to disagree with the approach that Lionel Hollins has used to handle his center. Yes, he is holding his player to a high standard, and maybe that’s exactly what Lopez needs if he cares to be more than just a one trick pony.

This is a player who seems to have been coddled too long and as a result his mental approach to the game is soft. When you have a significant physical advantage over your opponent, you should never be fading away from the basket while shooting, nonetheless 15 feet away from it. When you’re taller than most on the court, you should look to grab and fight for loose balls and rebounds, not try to tap everything out. After all, it’s not volleyball they’re playing.

The Nets have turned over their coaching staffs too many times during Lopez’s tenure, yet the product hasn’t changed. The supporting cast has been upgraded, yet it hasn’t elevated his game to where it should be. Even the quintessential mentor in Kevin Garnett seems to have made a little impact in Lopez’s approach and demeanor. Maybe this is just who he is and there’s no changing him.

Brooklyn has a big problem on their hands. What do you do with a prolific scorer if his contributions come with a negative effect? The Nets were able to turn around their season a year ago without Lopez when there was no other choice. The offense became more efficient and the defense was more effective.

Now that he is back and healthy, where do the Nets go from here? With so much uncertainty regarding his health and the warts in his game being more exposed than ever, dealing him may net pennies on the dollar. You can’t bench a player who’s owed more than 32 million over the next two years (assuming he exercises his player option), can you?

It’s time for Brook to shape up or ship out…something I never envisioned myself saying.