Meet Player A and Player B. They both play Center in the NBA. Player A outscores Player B by more than 2 points per game, despite playing 5 less minutes on average. They both block around 2 shots per game (Player B’s numbers indicate he gets .4 more per contest) but Player B hauls down 5 more rebounds per game. That being said, Player A’s PER rating is a whole 5 points better – perhaps due to his 76% free throw shooting, comparing to Player B’s 49%. Who’s the better player? Setting aside the rebound disparity, Player A is the superior player in almost every respect. Player A, Brook Lopez, may just be a better basketballer than Player B, Dwight Howard; but is often regarded as worlds behind the Lakers star when the discussion of league’s best Centers emerges.
Playing in merely 5 games last season because of a persistent foot injury, Lopez was regarded as one of the biggest question marks heading into the Brooklyn Nets’ inaugral campaign. Could he regain his potent scoring touch that he displayed before his injury? Lopez has answered the doubters with a resounding yes this year, capping a big year with a huge 28-point night against the Chicago Bulls, which included a monster 18 point first quarter. But Lopez isn’t just a streaky shooter. In 32 of his 68 appearances this season, Lopez has dropped in more than 20 points. While his numbers this year have affirmed he’s consolidated, not improved, upon the form he’s been showing since his sophomore season, bringing in such solid numbers while rebounding, and later recovering, from a torrent of injuries is encouraging news.
Lopez has also managed to keep these numbers consistent with prior years despite going from sharing the floor with Courtney Lee and Yi Jianlian to Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. While much has been made of Brooklyn’s backcourt, it could be their big seven-footer up front that possesses the key to their post-season run.
The Nets are set to clash with either the Hawks or Bulls in their round of the playoffs, holding the higher seed and home court advantage. In both match-ups, the Nets have the clear backcourt advantage with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson being trump cards against either the pairings of Jeff Teague/Devin Harris and Nate Robinson/Rip Hamilton. Additionally, they are set to lose either match-up at power forward with Josh Smith and Carlos Boozer both being better than anything the Nets could throw at them. With the small forward encounter being a wildcard (Kyle Korver and Luol Deng pose two very different issues), the onus is likely going to fall on Brook Lopez to account for his elite opposition.
Both Al Horford and Joakim Noah are world-class NBA Centers. Lopez coped well with both teams during the regular season, putting in 20 points a contest against each. However, his rebounding against the Bulls needs to be more consistent than the 5.7 he’s hauled down in 3 contests thus far. Whether or not Brook Lopez is the best Center in the NBA is not really relevant at this point in the season. The All-Star game has been played and the All-NBA selectors probably already have an idea of who’s coming in first, second and third when the teams are released in the coming weeks.
Being a North Hollywood native, Brook Lopez should know what the bright lights are all about despite not playing a minute of playoff action in his first four seasons in the NBA. The seven-footer comic book aficionado will need to stand tall for the Nets to make any sort of impact in the post-season, and failure to do so could unravel the Nets and leave them searching for answers.