NBA / Nov 28, 2012 / 4:30 pm

The Key Behind Brooklyn’s Early Season Success

Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez, Dime #43

Currently, the Brooklyn Nets are tied with the Knicks for the lead in the Atlantic after winning their last three games (over New York, Portland and the Clippers). Much of their success can be attributed to Brook Lopez‘s excellent post play, which has translated into 19 points a game and over 54 percent shooting through the season’s first month. Regardless of Lopez’s goofy perm and laboring quickness, he’s managed to team with Deron Williams for some pretty pick-n-rolls to keep the Nets a threat in the paint, and his low post moves are effective, if not aesthetically pleasing. But how, in the name of all that is holy, has Brooklyn managed to stay in the top half of the league for rebounding (they’re currently 13th, per Hoopdata) when their 7-0 center is perhaps (Andrea Bargnani is on notice) one of the worst rebounding centers in the history of 7-foot centers? Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans, that’s how.

Humphries has been playing so well of late, he’s actually being considered as trade fodder (I’d switch him straight-up for Amar’e Stoudemire at this point, unless Amar’e can string together a month co-existing with ‘Melo). Among all of the league’s forwards who have averaged at least 15 minutes a game this season, Humphries is ranked fifth for total rebounding percentage (per Hoopdata). He’s pulling down 14 rebounds per 40 minutes (over four on the offensive end), which is keeping the Nets frisky on the glass despite the site of Lopez flailing at a loose ball like the albatross circling the ancient mariner.

But Humphries hasn’t kept the Nets relevant on the boards by himself. Reggie Evans, and his exertions in the paint during his 18 minutes a night, have also contributed. This isn’t a surprise of course. Evans is currently the league leader in rebounding rate for those averaging over 15 minutes a night, and last year with the Clippers, he was fifth in the league in rebounding rate despite only playing – on average – a little over a quarter of basketball a game. But Evans has to be at the top of the league in rebounding rate wherever he plays; he’s so awful at free throw shooting and taking care of the ball, it’s the only way a team would pay him money to put on their uniform. So far this season Evans has the highest percentage in the league for possessions ending in a turnover. Evans’ rebounding is taking the good with the bad because of Lopez. So how bad is Lopez, really? It turns out, he might not be the worst.

This year has actually seen a slight uptick in Lopez’s rebounding numbers. He’s fourth on his team in rebounding per 36 minutes. Currently, he’s tied with his brother at 12.1 rebounds per 100 possessions. In the realm of this season’s NBA center, Nikola Pekovic, Kendrick Perkins, Andrea Bargnani, and Marc Gasol are all rebounding at a lower rate. But we’re only a month into the season, and Lopez has a history of falling to the very bottom of the league. Last year he was the worst rebounder among centers averaging over 20 minutes a game, but that’s based off a sample size of only five games. However, the year before that, he was the second-worst. The year before that, he actually wasn’t so bad. His rookie year, he was passable as a slightly below-average rebounder (something to keep in mind, Bargnani might actually be a worse rebounder than Lopez, which is something I never thought I’d write). So Lopez can rebound, but as time as passed during his professional career, it’s interested him less and less. This year might be the exception, but Nets fans shouldn’t hold their breath.

Super scrappy sub Reggie Evans and power forward Kris Humphries (not to mention Andray Blatche off the bench), have kept the Nets from falling into the lower half of the league in rebounding and that has, in turn, contributed to their early season success. They’re just about average rebounding the basketball through the season’s first month, and with Brook Lopez playing 30-plus minutes a night as their starting center, that’s actually quite good.

But looking at the numbers over the last four years, maybe Toronto’s Bargnani deserves more of our derision. Lopez isn’t a great rebounder, or even a mediocre one, but he’s not as historically awful as Bargnani might turn out to be.

Can you win in the playoffs with Lopez as one of your best players?

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