You may have noticed that when you were voting for your NBA All-Star Game starters this season, there was a bit of a difference aside from the new names on the ballot compared to last year. Instead of voting for two backcourt players, two frontcourt players, and one center, the 2013 ballot was missing the “center” choice, and in it’s place stood another “frontcourt” slot. The NBA decided to rid it’s All-Star ballot of the center position. The decision took many by surprise, as this was the first time the league truly embraced and fully accepted the transformation this game has gone through. No more are the days where every team runs their offense through a center who works down low in the post. However, where people are mistaken is that many of them believe the center position is dead. Brook Lopez thinks otherwise.
The way this game of basketball is played now in the National Basketball Association is vastly different from the days of the past, this is obvious. It’s not hard to compare how many times the ball was dumped down low on offense for the center to get their team an easy score happened per game then and now. No need for advanced statistic gimmickry here, there is just one center in this year’s top-20 leaders in points. In the 1985 season, there were five. The game is more guard-and-wing penetration based now, with the ideal center being able to hit the mid-range shot like a guard would. But with this, there is a common misconception. Many fans believe the center position is completely depleted, and we will never see another Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing in our basketball era. He may not become either player, he may never win a championship and he may never play another All-Star game again, but Brook Lopez is hope.
The top two centers in the league according to many fans and analysts are Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. One is having the worst season in his career and tries to laugh it off at any possible moment and the other hasn’t played a game this season. An already shallow center position has been trimmed down significantly this year. Yet still, it took an injury to Eastern Conference All-Star starter Rajon Rondo to get Brook Lopez into the All-Star game this past weekend. He looks like a goofball, he collects comic books, and he plays for the Brooklyn Nets. But Brook Lopez is the best scoring center in basketball.
In an offense that is centered around the scoring backcourt tandem of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez has emerged as the most efficient scorer on his Nets squad, yet still receives the ball much fewer times than he deserves. With a career-high PER of 24.8, Lopez is ahead of all centers and is fifth in the entire league in that category. He’s shooting 52% from the field, averages nearly 23 points per game per-36 minutes, yet puts up less than 15 shots and plays only 30 minutes a night. Lopez still leads every center in the game in points per game, despite the eight players under him all playing more minutes a night.
Lopez has always been a gifted scorer. His array of moves in the post are, dare I say, Olajuwon-esque. He’ll fake you out of your shoes and put himself on the line, where he makes 75% of his free-throws, good for eighth-best among centers. He’ll go up-and-under, and finish strong in traffic. His hook shot is viable and his hands instinctively ready to catch, turn, and score the ball with ease. Scoring is what he does bets, but his defense and rebounding is what has a lot of room for improvement.
Lopez is no where near a Omer Asik, let alone a Bill Russell. However, you can see the effort Lopez has put on increasing his impact on the boards and on the defensive end. Two seasons ago, (last season Lopez played merely 5 games) Lopez was the 52nd best center in the league in rebound rate (same as REB%, percentage of missed shots a player rebounds) and played and started 82 games for the Nets. This year he jumped to 29th best. Still abysmal, but a very noticeable leap, and all the more impressive considering he’s starting alongside the NBA’s leader in rebound rate Reggie Evans.
On defense, Lopez is becoming much more ferocious getting up high and swatting shots. He’s blocking 2.2 shots per game and his Defensive Rating is a 104, both career highs. For Brooklyn Nets players totaling over 1,000 minutes, Lopez is the third go-to option on the team for defense, with the squad’s defensive rating being at it’s third-highest when he compared to every other player is on the court.
Brook Lopez is an All-Star, and the best scoring center in the game. His team is clawing away in a scrum that’s the 2nd to 6th seeds in the Eastern Conference. And he collects comic books. At the end of the day though, his scoring talents and steady improvements in the other facets of his basketball makes him our only real hope for another Olajuwon or Ewing-esque center in our league. Not to say he will become that guy, or that he won’t, but that he has the tools for it, and he’s become a better and more complete player this year.