This article was first published on SLAMonline.com
The 7-footer heads home after a career year.
By Josh Burton
Stuck in relative obscurity with the Nets in both New Jersey and Brooklyn for the first nine seasons of his career, Brook Lopez is the best offensive center you never saw on national TV and rarely saw in the playoffs.
But now, after an offseason trade to his hometown Lakers, Lopez is in the spotlight as the veteran presence on a young and talented L.A. team boosted by the arrival of Lonzo Ball. He’s just 29 but has gone through multiple transformations in his basketball career, the most recent involving his sudden development of a reliable three-point stroke.
After making just three longballs from 2008-16, he shot nearly 35 percent from beyond the arc on almost 400 threes last year in Kenny Atkinson’s uptempo system. While that didn’t help Brooklyn much in the win column, it showed that even an interior-focused 7-footer can change his game to fit the NBA’s radically altered scoring landscape. A stretch-5 who scores over 20 points a night with a slashline of .474/.346/.810 while playing pretty good defense doesn’t come around often.
That versatility sets him apart from more traditional big men, such as Andre Drummond or Dwight Howard, and is part of the reason why the Lakers thought he would be a good (read: temporary) fit. Next summer is still what Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson are focused on and getting Lopez on an expiring deal allows the Lakers to have as much salary cap flexibility as possible when LeBron and Co. hit the open market.
So this season might be more of an audition year for him, during which he’ll be expected to be the same reliable presence he was during the tumult and constant disappointment of his Nets tenure. Health, once a major concern for the 7-footer, hasn’t been an issue since he broke his right foot in December 2013. He’s been nothing but durable in the time-being, playing 72 or more games in each of the past three seasons.
Brook is the perfect big to run pick-and-rolls with Lonzo because defenders need to account not only for his new-found shooting ability but also his massive frame (and wingspan) running to the rim. He’s the type of playmaking point guard Lopez has only been able to play with for fits and starts, whether it was Devin Harris, a physically diminished Deron Williams or an oft-injured Jeremy Lin.
He also can hurt you in the mid-range game too, giving him one of the NBA’s more complete offensive arsenals considering he isn’t the world’s best athlete or an incredible leaper. The problem with Brook, even with his size, is that he just isn’t a great rebounder which takes away some of his value as a well-rounded center.
That much is apparent in his statline, as he averaged just 5.4 rebounds last year. Having Julius Randle start next to him should help shoulder the load in that respect but Brook needs to return to the 7-8 mark for L.A. to compete in that department most nights against the Western Conference.
2016: Not Ranked
2015: Not Ranked
2014: Not Ranked
2013: No. 31
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.