Is Brook Lopez the NBA Playoffs' Best Kept Secret?

Vin GetzCorrespondent IMay 4, 2013

Brook Lopez: The Brooklyn Nets' secret weapon.
Brook Lopez: The Brooklyn Nets' secret weapon.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Brook Lopez sits atop the 2013 NBA playoffs’ list of breakout players. Lopez’ performance this postseason, his first, is echoing his best regular season so far—the one that just ended.

It’s more than echoing, actually. Lopez is peaking right now, at the right time, putting up numbers that surpass anything he’s done on a professional court before.

In his stereotypical, laid-back, Southern Californian manner, Lopez has done all of this under the national radar.

He is dominating the Nets’ postseason stat line. Lopez leads the Nets in scoring (22.5), blocks (3.2), offensive rebounds (a mean 3.5 a game) and playoff-critical free throws made (6.0).

He’s second on the Nets in overall rebounds (7.2) behind teammate Reggie Evans, whose 12.2 leads all players still active this postseason (now that Kevin Garnett’s 13.7 rebounds and the Boston Celtics have been sent packing).

Lopez is clocking about 38 minutes a game this postseason, the highest average of his career. He’s come to play.

Lopez, though the Brooklyn Nets’ leading scorer all year, is still playing in the media shadows (and comfortably so) of Deron Williams, Kris Humphries, Joe Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Mikhail Prokhorov and the New York Knicks, too.

The Nets’ organization has quite a cast of characters, reflecting its city’s populace, and Lopez is thriving with the attention focused on others.

Locally, he has become a favorite. Brooklynites know Brook well, have embraced his consistency and understand his impact on the Nets’ bottom line: 49 wins, a top-half seed and a Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls.

Nationally, Lopez is a practical unknown.  Who of the Nets’ “Big Three” makes the most back pages? Prokhorov’s coaching search got more press.

Where in the headlines, among teams’ other leading postseason scorers—Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul—do you find Brook Lopez? Nowhere.

Brook is the NBA’s seventh-best postseason scorer, right behind those superstars. His 3.2 blocks per game lead all comers. He’s the playoff’s eighth most efficient player: not shabby at all considering the competition.

Lopez has quietly developed into one of league’s best big men.

And his attitude goes a long way. Ask Nets’ fans who they would rather have on their team now, Lopez or Dwight Howard, and there will at least be a pause before an answer.

Many will opt for Lopez’ discreet production over the Howard circus and the relatively small statistical improvement the Los Angeles Laker would bring.

Considering his stats and the market he plays in, how has Lopez managed such a low profile? Three reasons: his team, his 2011-12 injury and his game.

Frankly, until this year, no one has cared about the Nets in all the time Lopez has been on the team. He joined in 2008-09 which was a so-so year. That season was followed up with a 12-70 2009-10. Deron Williams and Howard trade rumors dominated 2010-11.

All the while, Lopez was putting up respectable numbers, with the Nets steadily (but slowly) improving.

Then, thanks to foot surgery, Lopez managed just five games in 2011-12.

While Howard marched through the offseason with all the tact of a bull in a china shop, Lopez tiptoed into 2012-13.

It’s not all positive about Lopez. There is room for improvement. He’s a little soft. His production, while statistically fine, is soft. Lopez is not banging around on the inside. He’s not physical. He is a poor rebounder for a player his size (7’0”, 260 pounds)

He’s not the finisher, either. That spotlight falls on Williams and Johnson.

Still, without Brook, there would be no Brooklyn in the playoffs.

USA Today has finally caught on:

“The one constant for the Nets [against] the Chicago Bulls has been the play of Brook Lopez. Lopez has established himself as arguably the best offensive center in the NBA this year. His combination of deft around-the-basket scoring moves and a solid midrange game has made him one of the tougher big men to guard.”

Did you know that? “The best offensive center in the NBA.” It looks like the secret is out.