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Brook Lopez Quietly Playing Strong Defense

Bryan Smith/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Brook Lopez is the Brooklyn Nets’ most talented offensive weapon, so he’s often viewed heavily through the lens of scoring production and efficiency. Nets fans and media often fail to account for his work on the defensive side.

Lopez isn’t a breathtaking defensive weapon, and his slow-footedness certainly doesn’t help him against sleeker, speedier lineups. But he’s actually done a fine job protecting the rim so far this season.

What he lacks in lateral agility and vertical explosiveness, he makes up for with awareness, effort and length. By keeping his head on a swivel and always tracking the ball, Lopez effectively slides into optimal help position and deters or alters countless shots.

The Nets shouldn’t blame their collective defensive woes on the big fella. Most of the problem lies on the perimeter, where the guards and wings are struggling mightily to stop slashers and contest three-point shooters.

When opponents bring the ball to the middle, Lopez usually employs great timing and relies on his length to bother shots. Within 10 feet of the hoop, foes shoot 8.8 percent worse than they do against the rest of the league (45.9 percent compared to 54.7 percent). He’s stout within six feet of the basket too: Attackers are 10.6 percent worse against him than the rest of the league (48.5 percent compared to 59.1 percent).

Lopez’s defensive shot chart (courtesy of NBASavant.com) illustrates how stingy he’s been in contrast to the league average around the hoop:

BrookLopezDChart

The impressive numbers don’t stop there. Lopez is posting career-bests or near-bests in several key categories: defensive rating (104), defensive box plus/minus (1.2), block percentage (5.5) and blocks per 36 minutes (2.5).

There have been sporadic miscues against pick-and-rolls and the occasional unnecessary foul. When opposing teams turn to small-ball lineups, Lopez struggles sometimes to keep pace and challenge shooters.

But thanks to his awareness and length, he’s able to maintain good positioning against post-ups and serve as a dynamic helper away from the ball.

Watch him slide over quickly from the weak side to defend Blake Griffin rolling to the hoop. Lopez got out above the block so Griffin couldn’t just dunk over him. He forced Griffin to change from a scorer into an unsuccessful jump-passer:

On this sequence against the Houston Rockets, he exhibited terrific timing as he defended Trevor Ariza curling to the bucket. He waited for Ariza to commit and leave the floor, and then used his towering reach to reject him:

Lopez hasn’t been close to a top-tier rebounder throughout his career, but he’s done solid work on the defensive glass this season. When he’s in the paint, he almost always remains within an arm’s length of his man, which enables him to box out quickly when a shot goes up.

That doesn’t mean he always gets the rebound—he struggles to spring vertically or laterally to snag long misses—but it does mean he maintains inside position and often prevents opponents from easy offensive putbacks.

Saturday’s matchup against DeAndre Jordan was a good example. Lopez surrendered a couple of swooping dunks to Jordan (who doesn’t?), but he prevented the Clippers’ center from going wild on the glass. Jordan has averaged at least 3.8 offensive rebounds per game during the past three seasons, but Lopez held him to just two.

Lopez’s solid-but-not-spectacular defense and improved rebounding should be accounted for even when he’s going through an offensive slump like the past three games (15 points and 5.3 turnovers per game). It’s fine to ride the occasional Andrea Bargnani hot streak, but sitting Lopez in favor of Bargs should be a rare event. Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily.com explained:

Thing is, even when Bargnani’s hot, his offense rarely covers up for his poor defense and dreadful box-outs down low. So for that, Brook should never be sitting on the bench behind Andrea Bargnani…They rise and fall with Brook.

Lopez’s deft scoring touch in and out of the post will always be his calling card. He’ll always be a more potent offensive asset than a stopper. Brooklyn’s three-year, $60 million investment in him is based largely on his bucket-getting firepower.

But the Nets are fortunate that he also offers value on the other end. Don’t overlook his presence and hard work on defense.

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