Can the Brooklyn Nets Win Consistently with a Brittle Brook Lopez?
According to Kristie Ackert of The New York Daily News, Brook Lopez will miss the Brooklyn Nets' upcoming game against the New York Knicks on Dec. 11th. Lopez may not return to game activity until next week.
With the Nets in the midst of a four-game losing streak, one must ask: Can Brooklyn win consistently with a brittle Lopez?
Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York had previously reported that Lopez's sprained right foot "was not serious." Lopez claimed that it was not a relapse of the foot injury that forced him to miss 61 games in 2011-12.
With Lopez having missed six games already, concern is certainly a rational reaction.
"I was definitely concerned," Lopez told reporters Friday in a video posted on the Nets' official website, "but like I said, once we went through to check it out and evaluate it, we were just thankful it wasn't in the same spot (as the previous injuries)."
"It already feels a lot better today," he said. "I guess we'll just keep seeing how it gets better each and every day."
These comments were made on November 30th.
Per Ackert's report, Nets general manager Billy King supports Lopez's claims that it is not a serious ailment. In fact, the only reason Lopez could miss more time is to reach the proper level of conditioning.
A level that King does not believe the big man has hit just yet.
“This morning he did not feel he is comfortable enough to play in a game," King announced. "And now without practice time, he probably won't play tomorrow. We'll see if we can bring guys in on Thursday and do a workout and if not then (then next week).
“He just did not feel ready to partake in an NBA game.”
Any Nets fan would be inclined to agree with the approach of letting Lopez heal early and avoid a repeat of last season.
The question is, can the Nets actually overcome Lopez's absence and win games without him in the rotation? Although he's projected to return next week, the 2012-13 regular season and Lopez's career have provided quite the strange turn of events in terms of injuries.
As of the most recent reports, none of those three have a set return date.
Is Lopez the next in line to miss more time than previously believed? If he is, can the Nets win without him?
So far, no good.
Developing the Pick-and-Roll
Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams led the Utah Jazz to the postseason in every season from 2007 to 2010. He did so by running the pick-and-roll to perfection with Carlos Boozer as his go-to finisher.
Unfortunately, Williams hasn't had a reliable pick-and-roll finisher since joining the Nets in 2011.
He and Brook Lopez have the upside to combine for such brilliance. They've never had the opportunity to develop the play, however, as Lopez and Williams each missed extended periods of time due to injury over the past two seasons.
This year appears to be no different.
Williams is a master of facilitating the pick-and-roll. If Lopez can get healthy and work his way into the role of finisher, we could once again see that play at its finest.
With Lopez on the sidelines, however, the Nets' offensive progression goes on hold.
The Andray Blatche Factor
Thus far in Brook Lopez's absence, Andray Blatche is averaging 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He also has two double-doubles in his past three games.
Lopez has posted averages of 18.5 points and 6.7 rebounds with two double-doubles in 14 games.
In other words, Blatche has been the better individual player than Lopez when trusted with a starting spot. This has come by virtue of his scoring at a consistent rate, converting 52.5 percent of his shots over the past five games.
That and his tenacity on the glass.
For the season, Blatche is averaging 22.2 points and 13.0 rebounds per 40 minutes on a true shooting percentage of 53.2. Lopez has posted per-40 numbers of 24.9 points and 9.1 rebounds on a true shooting percentage of 55.5.
The question is, are the Nets a better team with Blatche than with Lopez? Or is this just another case of individual efficiency?
How are the Brooklyn Nets without Brook Lopez?
Better without Lopez?
When Andray Blatche is on the floor, the Brooklyn Nets are allowing 90.4 points per 48 minutes. When he is on the bench, they're allowing 95.3 points per 48 minutes.
They're allowing 92.8 per 48 with Brook Lopez on the floor and 93.6 when he is not. In other words, Blatche is having a more direct impact on the defense's performance.
Even if Lopez's shot blocking is having a positive impact of its own.
Furthermore, the Nets have averaged 95.6 points scored in games which Lopez has played this season. They're presently averaging 97.6 with him currently sidelined by a sprained right foot.
Just don't jump the gun on that.
The Numbers That Count
All of the numbers that have been listed serve a purpose. They prove that the Brooklyn Nets can score points and defend without Lopez in the lineup.
The question at hand, however, is whether or not they can win. And they can't.
The Nets have lost four consecutive games without Lopez in the lineup. They'd lost two straight outings twice this season but responded to each with two separate five-game win streaks.
There appears to be no recovery during this streak, as Lopez's timely scoring has been lost.
Lopez hasn't been the most clutch scorer, shooting just 40.0 percent with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. He has paced the second unit during the opening minutes of the final quarter, however, shooting 61.1 percent from the floor.
He's also gone 51.7 percent when the Nets are trailing by five points or less in the fourth.
Although Lopez may be a poor rebounder, he has a direct result on the team's offensive efficiency during late-game situations. This has been evident, as the Nets have failed to close out well in each of their past four games.
Without Lopez, the Nets have an uphill battle to success. One they have not proven capable of overcoming.
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