Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
While Kawhi Leonard creeps closer to the top of the food chain in San Antonio, Brook Lopez appears to have had his spot on the Brooklyn Nets' hierarchy usurped. After all, someone has to sacrifice his game now that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have arrived in the Nets' starting five, alongside fellow veterans Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
But just because Brook is the youngest of the bunch doesn't mean he should be the one to take a backseat. If anything, his youth, size and skill at the center position portend bigger and better things for the Stanford product. He established himself as arguably the best scoring center in basketball (and, perhaps, Brooklyn's best player) after averaging 19.4 points on 52.1 percent shooting and earning his first All-Star bid last season.
Lopez, though, still has a long way to go as far as rebounding, defense and toughness are concerned. His total rebound rate was the sixth lowest among peers at his position who averaged at least 20 minutes per game across no fewer than 10 contests, per Hoopdata.
That wasn't out-of-character for Lopez, either. He hasn't pulled down more than seven rebounds a night since 2009-10 and has yet to average a double-double, despite his seven-foot, 260-pound frame.
To be sure, the Nets weren't any worse for this wear. They still ranked third in the NBA in rebounding percentage, per NBA.com, thanks in no small part to the contributions of Reggie Evans and, to a lesser extent, Gerald Wallace.
Still, this doesn't mean that Lopez can't, won't and shouldn't do better. Having KG around should help to shore up Brooklyn's back line on defense. Garnett has long been among the league's most impactful defenders, with his long arms to challenge shots and grab rebounds and his quick feet to cover ground.
More importantly, Garnett can teach Lopez how to be tough, how to battle on the boards, how to use his superior size to his advantage. Lopez may not have the foot speed to be a disruptor out to the three-point line, but with Garnett's guidance, he could become the sort of productive, intimidating presence that the Nets need to contend in the East.