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November 29, 2010
The Clipboard
Brook Lopez's Slow Start

by Sebastian Pruiti

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Last season, second-year center Brook Lopez put up some fantastic numbers despite the 70-loss performance by the Nets. Lopez averaged 18.8 points per game, with a player winning percentage (Win%) of .602, an Offensive Rating (ORtg) of 108.2 and a a True Shooting Percentage (TS%) of .570. Many analysts, including myself, expected to see Lopez's game improve even more with another year of experience and better teammates around him. That hasn't happened, and in fact, Lopez has seen all of his offensive numbers dip (18.6 PPG, .448 Win%, 103.4 ORtg, and .506 TS%). In addition to the dip in his scoring numbers, Lopez's rates in assists, offensive rebounds and foul-drawing all have decreased from last year.

The primary reason for Lopez's decline is that is he's playing farther away from the basket. Last year, 32.8 percent of Lopez's shots came outside of 10 feet, this year that number has jumped to 42.8 percent. Not coincidentally, just 20.2 percent of Lopez's shots have come at the rim. Considering Lopez's position and the fact that he got 48.0 percent of his shots at the basket last year, that's too much perimeter play from Lopez.

There are two reasons why Lopez is playing farther from the basket. The first is that he has developed a tendency to settle for jump shots. You can sense this mindset when watching Lopez in the pick-and-roll. In previous years (especially last year), the Devin Harris-Lopez pick and roll was one of the most dangerous aspects of the Nets' offense:

With the speedy Harris coming off of a Lopez screen, he is able to put a ton of pressure on the defense, freeing up Lopez on the roll. This results in a dunk more often than not.

This year, Lopez has turned the Nets' pick-and-roll into more of a pick and pop, making the play much easier for defenses to stop:

Here, Lopez sets the screen for Jordan Farmar and makes no attempt to roll into the paint. He settles in right at the elbow, makes the catch, and takes a jumper that he misses badly. Let's take a closer look at Lopez's Pick and Pop, and why it helps the defense:

The play starts with Travis Outlaw cutting from the weak-side block to the ball-side corner, clearing out the weak-side area. As this takes place, Lopez comes from his low post position to set a screen for Harris.

As Harris uses the screen, Anderson Varejao (Lopez's man) shows hard. This hard show leaves the backside wide open. All Lopez needs to do is roll to that area and he has a lob at the rim. This doesn't happen because Lopez's first step is back out towards the wing instead of towards the rim.

This allows the defense to recover and Lopez is forced to make the catch at the elbow and settle for another jumper. Here is the play in real time:

Lopez's first step out towards the wing shows you his mindset so far this season. He'd rather float around the elbows and take jumpers instead of rolling hard to the rim.

It is not just the pick-and-roll either. Even when the Nets try to get the ball to Lopez in the post, he is showing a tendency to float towards the perimeter:

Here, Lopez goes to post up against Varejao. Instead of getting low, using his butt, and backing Varejao down, Lopez simply turns and stands there. He makes the catch 2-3 feet farther out then he'd prefer. This means that Lopez needs to put the ball on the floor, and the result is a step-back jumper--a shot that really has no chance of going in.

Posting and getting position after getting out in transition was something that Lopez did very well last year, but even this hasn't carried over into this season. Lopez has the smaller Darnell Jackson matched up with him, but instead of fighting for position, he floats out towards the wing, and settles for yet another jumper.

In addition to Lopez's mindset this year, the coaching staff is at least somewhat responsible for Lopez's perimeter tendencies this season. For whatever reason (I think it is due to all of the new players on the Nets), Avery Johnson is running a scaled back offense that involves three, maybe four different sets. Getting the ball down low to Lopez is the focus of just one these sets:

This big/little screen off the pick-and-roll is a nice set that gets the ball to Lopez deep in the paint. However, since this is the only set that the Nets seem to run consistently for Lopez, opponents are starting to figure it out. This became apparent in the Nets' game against the Cavs:

The Nets want to run their play to Lopez, and as Harris goes to use the screen, Mo Williams jumps Harris' route, forcing him to pick up his dribble.

As this is happening, Lopez tries to roll through to the opposite block. Similar to how Williams jumped Harris, Varejao jumps Lopez and prevents him from getting where he wants to go. The result of all this is a bad shot from Lopez. Here is the play in real time:

Here is another example from the same game:

Again, Varejao knows what is coming and does a great job of beating Lopez to the spot and forcing him to catch it farther out than he would like. The result is an airball.

Along with not running a lot of different set plays for Lopez, the coaching staff seem to be running sets that leave Lopez in the corner, playing into his passive nature this year.

In an effort to keep things simple, the Nets run a lot of pick-and-rolls. With Lopez's struggles on those plays, Avery Johnson is starting to use power forwards more and more as the screener. Because of that, Lopez is forced to be positioned on the outside to keep the lane clear:

Here, Kris Humphries is setting a screen for Harris at the top of the key. In an effort to keep the lane clear, Lopez is forced to hang out in the corner. Of course the defense leaves Lopez open, and the ball eventually finds its way over to Lopez who takes the jumper.

This time, Harris gets a screen from Derrick Favors. Again, Lopez is forced to stand along the perimeter, and when he gets the ball, he--you guessed it--takes another jump shot.

Even when Lopez doesn't get the ball on the perimeter, the fact that he is positioned in the corner leads to problems for the Nets.

This play sums up the problem that I have with the Nets' playcalling. Lopez wants get good post position against someone he can score against (Lopez has had success against Cousins this year). Instead, the Nets call a pick-and-roll for Harris and Favors, sending Lopez to the opposite corner. Favors misses the shot as Lopez stands in the corner, watching. Lopez stranded in the corner, along with his other new perimeter tendencies, have led to the sharp drop in Lopez's offensive rebound rate.

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Lopez's infatuation with the outside jumper has to be worrying Nets fans, and rightfully so. If nothing changes, Lopez (and the Nets) could be in for a long season. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Lopez is just 22, and is coming off a summer-long bout with mono. Also, Avery Johnson is much too smart of a coach to continue calling plays that leaves Brook Lopez hanging out in the corner. If the correct adjustments are made, Lopez can improve on this poor start of the season.

The 2010-11 Pro Basketball Prospectus is now available in paperback form on Amazon.com. For sample chapters and more information, see our book page.

You can follow Sebastian on Twitter at twitter.com/@SebastianPruiti.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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