Player Season Reviews

2014-15 in Review: Brook Lopez

When Brook Lopez’s career is over, his tenure as a New Jersey/Brooklyn Net will likely go down as one of the most interesting in team history whether or not it encapsulates his entire NBA lifespan. This season was no different than Lopez’s previous six in how it puzzled us with the many turns it took to skew our perception of Lopez as a basketball player. This is a guy who was the best prospect the Nets drafted in the current millennium, yet was held back consistently due to injury. Yet he still managed to put up All-Star numbers and show flashes of stardom in a league evolving away from his play style. In 2014-15, it seemed there was a likelihood that Lopez’s wild tale would be put to bed for good, but we should have known better than to expect as such.

As sophomore Mason Plumlee was on the rise and Lopez was coming off yet another major injury, this year was going to be pivotal to Lopez’s career arc, especially since he has a player option for 2015-16. He could let the almost maniacal injury history hamper his play and relegate him to the bench in favor of the younger, enticing Blue Devil or return to his All-Star form and continue to leave onlookers befuddled. At first, the former looked like reality. Lopez missed ten of the season’s first 26 games and when he did play, the results were underwhelming to say the least. He couldn’t get off the ground well, his defense was horrid, he forced up bad shots and was actively killing Brooklyn’s chances to win games.

Lopez’s stat-line when Plumlee upended him in the starting five about a third of the way into the season? 16.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 2.2 turnovers and 48.8% shooting from the field in 30 minutes of action a night. It wasn’t just the rustiness, as new head coach Lionel Hollins failed to run an offense that generated easy looks for Lopez, instead opting to make him work in the post. Plumlee took the reins and went on an individual tear through December, before falling off once the calendar struck 2015. He wasn’t the only one, as the Nets as a whole laid an egg in January and most of February as well. Lopez was slowly regaining his footing, but mostly off the bench in a reserve role that had many shaking their heads when he would stay on the court for a bit too long in the final quarters of tight games.

As the trade deadline loomed, Lopez was perhaps the most common name heard in trade rumors, very nearly being dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder at one point. The Nets-Lopez marriage was as close to divorce as could be, marking what seemed to be the final straw in this flawed but fascinating union.

Then came the final leg of the season, where the Nets were on the ropes, in desperate need of a playoff push. Of course, it would be Lopez that shined in this moment, going completely berserk on the league in a stretch of his best basketball to date. After being reinserted into the starting lineup on March 8th, Lopez averaged 21.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and only a single turnover a game in 33.8 minutes a night. His rim protection was suddenly a legitimate plus, the offense had him in a flurry of pick-and-rolls that got his floater game rolling, his rebounding - a long ridiculed facet of his game - jumped to an elite level and he even looked to swing the ball to his teammates more. Some combination of time to heal, being a contract year, the Playoffs in sight and the Nets reinventing their play style with the Kevin Garnett-Thaddeus Young trade brought forth this peak form of Brook Lopez, and Brooklyn thrived.

In the Nets’ first round series against Atlanta, Lopez couldn’t dominate as he did in the regular season’s home stretch, but still put up an effort worth applauding. Lopez played 39 minutes a game, averaging 19.8 points, nine rebounds and 2.2 blocks on 49.4% shooting from the field.

The Nets and Lopez are now at a critical juncture, where their paths may split or continue marching together depending on what he decides to do. Either way, we’ll be watching one of the most unique legacies play out before us, and I can’t wait.