Another night, another embarrassing loss for the Brooklyn Nets.
A 111-81 wipeout on the road against the vastly improved Minnesota Timberwolves still isn't cause enough for the Nets to slam on the panic button, not in November and certainly not when considering that four of their top seven players (Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko) were out due to injury.
Lopez's absence has been, is and will be particularly troubling for the Nets. The Stanford product is arguably Brooklyn's most important player—now and for years to come. At 3-9, the Nets will be hard-pressed to qualify for the playoffs, much less contend for the Eastern Conference crown.
That is, if Lopez qualified for the scoring title. His four-game absence due to an ankle injury has knocked him out of the running for now.
Not surprisingly, Lopez's latest injury has coincided with Brooklyn's current four-game skid. The Nets have averaged just 93.3 points per game without him, as opposed to a (still not so impressive) 96.3 points with him.
Brook's impact on the Nets' success (or lack thereof) extends far beyond his scoring, though. In fact, according to NBA.com, Brooklyn has actually averaged more points per 100 possessions without Lopez, even though (per Synergy Sports) the skilled seven-footer currently ranks as the league's most efficient low-post scorer.
Believe it or not, the Lopez effect has been felt much more on the defensive end. When Lopez plays, the Nets allow just 98.7 points per 100 possessions, a number on par with the Phoenix Suns' sixth stingiest defense. When he sits, Brooklyn gives up an astounding 110.4 points per 100 possessions, which would stand as the worst mark in the NBA by a wide margin.
The indicators are even more disconcerting when roping Kevin Garnett into the equation. According to NBAWOWY.com, the Nets allow 111.6 points per 100 possessions when KG is on the court without Lopez, but surrender a decent 102.5 points per 100 possessions when the script is flipped.
Put them both on the court, and Brooklyn's opponents muster a mere 99.8.
It's no wonder, then, that Garnett was in such low spirits after his first-ever loss to the team that drafted him; he misses his front-court friend, for whose absence Garnett could be considered responsible (via ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo):
KG: "We're soul searching right now, to see who we are. We're better than this." #Nets— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) November 23, 2013
Which is understandable. Long a master of defense, KG appears to have taught Lopez his ways on that end of the court. Lopez ranks third in the league in blocks per game (2.8) and block percentage (7.0 percent), behind only Roy Hibbert and Anthony Davis. The NBA's SportVU stats peg Lopez as the second-best rim protector among players who've averaged no fewer than two challenges at the rim in 15 minutes or more a night and appeared in at least five of their team's games.
All of which is to say, Lopez had asserted himself as a superb rim protector prior to his latest setback.
Lopez's defensive improvement has extended According to Synergy Sports, Lopez has allowed his opponents to shoot a paltry 30 percent from the floor and score just 0.58 points per play. Narrow the scope down to post-ups, and you'll see Lopez leading the league in D, with a microscopic 0.23 points per play surrendered on 9.5 percent shooting.
Compare that to last year, when Lopez surrendered 0.86 points per possession on 42.9 percent shooting overall—including 0.88 points per possession on 44.7 percent shooting in the post—and it's clear that something has clicked for the All-Star center, most likely with an educational assist from the Big Ticket.
Or, rather, had clicked until his left ankle got tangled up with Garnett during the Nets' last win, over the Phoenix Suns, on November 15th. Lopez's latest injury isn't anywhere near as severe as those with his foot that kept him out of action for all but five games in 2011-12.
But when you're as tall as Lopez is and you have a history of foot problems like he does, any news of injuries in and around those parts of his body are bound to raise more than a few eyebrows.
Lopez is still shy of his 26th birthday, with plenty of room for improvement (particularly as a rebounder). He's easily the youngest member of Brooklyn's geriatric core. As such, he'll be counted on to carry the load for the capped-out Nets long after this one-year, star-studded experiment comes to a close, regardless of the results. If Brooklyn can barely handle life without Lopez now, just imagine how bad they'll be if their man in the middle can't stay on the floor once Garnett and Paul Pierce are (probably) gone.
Who will win the Atlantic Division?
Then again, there's not need to dwell on the potential failure of the future when the Nets are struggling so mightily without Lopez in the present. Surely, Brook will get healthy and, as a result, Brooklyn will get better as the season rolls along.
And considering how bad the Atlantic Division is—the 6-7 Toronto Raptors are currently in the driver's seat—a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs is hardly out of reach for the Nets.
For now, though, folks in New York City's most hipster-inhabited borough might have to brace themselves for more nights like this miserable one in Minnesota before the wins start coming in.
Or, rather, until Lopez returns to rescue the most expensive roster in NBA history from becoming yet another blight amidst Brooklyn's tortured sports history.
I'll be keeping track of when Brook is coming back.