The Brooklyn Nets have been so bad that no one's noticing what Brook Lopez has been doing. The big man was dominant in their last two games, scoring a total of 56 points on 21-for-26 (81 percent) shooting in wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. It's a sad truth that this tiny two-game winning streak represents the 7-14 Nets' high-water mark on the season, but Lopez has been quietly excellent just about every time he's stepped on the floor.
Lopez is averaging 20.9 points and 5.9 rebounds on the season, shooting a career-high 57.5 percent from the field. He isn't flashy, but playing through him is likely the best way for Brooklyn to dig itself out of its hole. It's not a coincidence that the Nets only won once with him out of the lineup, a two-point victory in Toronto that almost went the other way.
"We had no answer for Lopez," Bucks head coach Larry Drew told reporters on Saturday. "His size down low was too much for us. We couldn't play him one-on-one. We tried different things, but he got the ball out to their shooters. We tried everything."
In an offense that has been derided for its lack of creativity, simply feeding Lopez in the post has been Brooklyn's best bet. It's not just that insane field goal percentage, it's that he draws double-teams. As Drew lamented, most teams simply don't have strong and skilled enough post defenders to handle him. As evidence, take a look at his mostly green shot chart, via NBA.com's stats tool:
"Brook is tough," Celtics big man Jared Sullinger told reporters on Tuesday. "He's a big dude. I mean, he's what 7-1? It's kinda hard to even contest his shot because he's just shooting right over us."
"I'm just trying to get good position,'' Lopez said to Newsday's Rod Boone. "I know I can trust my guards to give me the ball where I can score easily, and when I catch it on the block, I'm trying to be patient. I just want to be very patient, let the guard come through and try to read all my options. If the double comes, I think I'm confident in kicking it to whoever is there and being able to find the open man.''
The NBA released its first wave of All-Star voting results on Thursday and Lopez came in at No. 14 among frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference. He received 65,672 fewer votes than Kevin Garnett and 7,992 fewer than Paul Pierce. It appears that the average fan hasn't caught up to the fact that Lopez has been far and away Brooklyn's best player.
The presence of those veterans is the main reason the Nets have been one of the slowest teams in the NBA all season. The problem is that their halfcourt offense has been ugly, stagnant and ineffective. Now that point guard Deron Williams is back in the lineup, though, the hope is that it will get better. Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd has said he wants his team to play inside-out and use Lopez as a focal point. The Boston game was a good sign, with Williams and Lopez combining for 49 points on 29 shots. The team as a whole shot 56 percent from the field.
It's no secret this has been a disastrous year so far for the Nets. The good thing, though, is that it's been almost as disastrous for most of their conference. With six of their next eight games against beatable Eastern opponents in the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee and Philadelphia 76ers (twice), they have a chance to make up some ground. If that happens, perhaps people will start talking about Lopez again.