Last year, over at NBAPlaybook Sebastian Pruiti took a look at players who struggled during the season and looked at whether it was a fluke season or the start of a trend. This year, Sebastian is bringing the series to Basketball Prospectus.
Maybe the lone bright spot in the Nets' 12-win season of 2009-10 was the emergence of Brook Lopez as one of the NBA's best centers. After posting 18.8 points per game at nearly 50 percent shooting (49.9 to be exact) and 8.6 rebounds per game, Lopez had Nets fans dreaming of 20-10 seasons for years to come.
However, the 2010-2011 season wasn't the season Nets fans had hoped for. Instead of taking a step forward, Lopez took a step back. Despite seeing his scoring average increase, he did so with less efficiency. His True Shooting Percentage (TS%) dropped from 57 to 54.9. Maybe most importantly, Lopez's rebounding suffered a steep drop. Lopez was never strong on the boards, posting a total rebounding rate (TRR) of 13.5 percent in 2009-2010, but that dropped to just 10 percent in 2010-2011.
Where did he struggle?
Shot Selection/Getting In The Paint
According to HoopData, Brook Lopez went from shooting 6.6 shots at the rim in 2010 to shooting just 4.8 in 2011. To me, this is all about mentality. The best example of this mentality is Lopez's decision making in the pick-and-roll. Lopez went from rolling to the rim 53.1 percent of the time to just 44.8 percent of the time in 2011. What was he doing instead? Popping out of the pick-and-roll, going from doing that 42.3 percent of the time to 50.8 percent.
The problem with this trend is that Lopez is a much less effective pick-and-roll player when he is popping out and settling for jumpers, scoring just 62 points on 95 possessions on just 32.6 percent shooting when he pick-and-pops and doesn't take the basketball to the rim:
Lopez is a solid shooter for a center (41.6 percent from 10-15 feet/39.0 percent from 16-23 feet), but he just doesn't seem comfortable when shooting out of pick-and-pop situations. Being able to pop out and hit a shot is nice when you mix it with an ability to roll to the rim, something that Lopez did well in 2009-10. But when you start popping out more than you are rolling to the rim and your name isn't David West, you make the pick-and-roll less effective not only for yourself, but the team as a whole. In each of the above pick-and-rolls, Lopez's man leaves him to trap the ball handler, and they are able to do this because they know that Lopez won't roll to the rim.
This drop in shot attempts in the paint has a few other consequences as well. For one, it keeps Lopez, who is a very good foul shooter for his size, off of the free throw line. Lopez's free throw rate dropped from 0.45 in 2010 to 0.37 in 2011. In addition, it prevents him from putting back his own misses, as Lopez saw his offensive rebound rate drop from 9.9 percent to 7.8 percent.
Can He Bounce Back?
Maybe this is me hoping he will as a Nets fan, but I do think Brook Lopez can have a bounce back season, with the help of coaching. If Avery Johnson can get Lopez to change his mentality and attack the rim more, especially when in the pick-and-roll, I can see his productivity picking up. We already mentioned that Lopez is very good when attacking the rim, scoring 125 points on 112 possessions where he rolled to the rim, but that will also draw more fouls and put himself in position to grab more offensive rebounds.
Another reason why I am confident about a Lopez bounce back is because he is still a very good post-up player, and in fact, is an improving one. In 2009-10, Lopez posted a PPP of .907 on 42.6 percent shooting when posting up. In 2011, Lopez's PPP (on the same percentage of possessions used) increased to .960 (among the top 23 percent of post-up players) on 47 percent shooting while turning it over three percent less:
Lopez has an ability to make quick moves and get himself and his body close to the rim (when posting up), putting him in position to get high-percentage looks from the block.
Something I haven't mentioned is Lopez and his rebounding. That's because it really isn't a factor for me. Even when Lopez was playing well in 2009-10, it became obvious that he wasn't a great rebounder. He'd much rather look for opportunities to get out and run in an attempt to establish early post position than fight for a rebound. Then, when you put Lopez next to a player like Kris Humphries, a power forward who crashes the boards hard (to the point where he is literally grabbing rebounds out of Lopez's hands), it isn't shocking to see Lopez's rebounding numbers dip. Can he and should he be grabbing a few more rebounds? Yes. Is it something that will prevent him from being an elite center? In my opinion, no.
If Lopez gets back to attacking the rim and taking most of his attempts near the basket, he should have no problem bouncing back.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.