Nets players wonder if they play better without Brook Lopez
Lopez has missed four straight games with injury and it may not be a coincidence the Nets’ offense has started to look better.
The Nets cruised past the struggling Hornets, 114-87, Saturday while Lopez sat for a fourth straight game with a lower back strain. Brooklyn’s offense, which has fallen to No. 22 in the league, according to NBA.com’s stats page, looked a lot more like last year’s version that moved the ball, spaced the floor effectively and finished top-15 in the league.
Mason Plumlee called the floor a “little bit more spread out” after the game. Head coach Lionel Hollins complimented the ball movement and his team’s 54 assists in the team’s last two wins. Deron Williams recognized this is what the team needs to be for the Nets to be successful this season.
“I don’t know, hopefully we can [keep playing like this],” Williams told reporters Saturday. “We need to. That’s how we want to play. I think everybody understands that, when the ball’s moving around like that, it’s fun to play like that. You get into a rhythm, you feed off each other’s energy and it’s good to see.”
Lopez is producing statistically, averaging 16 points per game this year on 49 percent shooting from the floor, but he’s a classic back-to-the-back post-up player that often struggles to survive in today’s NBA that relies so heavily on spacing and ball movement. In 16 games this season, Lopez only has 12 assists while posting a team-high usage rating of 26.4 percent.
The big numbers back this up. The Nets are 14-19 with him the last two years, but 40-31 when he doesn’t play, including their strong four-month stretch in 2014 that led to a Eastern Conference semifinals appearance.
Deeper numbers are more inconclusive. With Lopez on the floor, the Nets are being outscored by 3.3 points per 100 possessions compared to 1.2 with him off the court, according to NBA.com’s stats page. However, that’s mostly due to a defensive drop-off when Lopez steps on. The offense does improve slightly without him, but the difference is negligible.
The difference was no more pronounced last year during the few games Lopez did play; Brooklyn only scored half a point more per 100 possessions with him on the bench. Then again, the Nets finished the season by scoring two more points per 100 possessions after Lopez played his final game of the year Dec. 20.
It could be that the offense only looks good because Brooklyn faced lowly Philadelphia and Charlotte, two teams that already have combined for 38 losses. Or, maybe Lopez is the symptom of a bigger problem: the Nets are too old this season with pieces that don’t fit.
But it’s telling that the team is 14 games better in the win column without Lopez the past two years. Reports indicate he’ll be back from his back issues soon, leaving Hollins and the Nets very little time to figure out what on Earth to do with him.