EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On the same day Dave Cowens was blogging about how the NBA stands for “No Bigs Allowed,” Brook Lopez was working out at the Brooklyn Nets' practice facility, looking to improve as a player and expand his range.
Lopez began his workout with Nets assistant coach Joe Wolf earlier this week by taking some left-handed push shots around the perimeter of the paint. Lopez, of course, is right-handed. The 7-foot center then hoisted some midrange jumpers before eventually moving beyond the 3-point arc.
Lopez attempted a career-high 10 3-pointers in 2014-15.
He made one of them.
He is 1-for-17 from downtown in his career.
But given his soft shooting touch, he has the potential to get vastly better.
Consider: Chris Bosh, a similar player if only for his height (6-11) and perimeter marksmanship, attempted 302 3s in his first 10 seasons in the NBA. He made 28.8 percent of them. But over the past two seasons, Bosh has attempted 386 triples, connecting at a 35.5 percent clip on those shots.
Now, more than ever, it seems like outside shooting is at a premium. Big men, however, are not.
Traditional centers Andrew Bogut and Timofey Mozgov have been benched. Draymond Green (6-7) and Tristan Thompson (6-9) have been moved from the 4 to the 5. Even LeBron James (6-8), the best player in the game as he finally pointed out himself, handled some “point center” duty.
These days, value is defined by versatility. Stretch 4s with range who can create space for their teammates are en vogue. Long defenders who can switch have become game-changers.
How many different positions can you play? How many different positions can you defend?
Lopez is more old school than new school, although he’s also unique in his own way -- a half-court scoring machine who does much of his damage on push shots off pocket passes in pick-and-roll sets. That is, when he isn’t draining stand-still J's or operating in isolation sets.
Will he ever further develop his low-post, back-to-the-basket game? While Nets coach Lionel Hollins, who clashed with Lopez early in the season before the two began to figure one another out later in the 2014-15 campaign, thinks Lopez needs to do so in order to become a franchise player, that’s never been his style. His passing certainly needs some work.
Defensively, he’s more than adequate at protecting the rim, but struggles guarding the pick-and-roll because he’s slower than smaller, quicker bigs. And after the All-Star break, with Thaddeus Young by his side, he was certainly a much-improved rebounder.
A team has to essentially gear its entire system around Lopez, which perhaps improves Brooklyn’s chances of keeping him in spite of the fact the organization has wanted to trade him for years.
That doesn’t mean he won’t garner interest from other clubs. But a team like the Milwaukee Bucks, for example, who finished 12th in pace in 2014-15 -- and are exploring the possibility of pursuing Lopez this summer according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein -- would probably have to slow its tempo down significantly with him in the fold. It’s something any potential suitor has to factor into the equation.
It stands to reason that the Nets could offer Lopez, who is expected to opt out and become a free agent prior to July 1, a five-year max contract worth north of $100 million. Given their messy salary-cap situation and lack of future first-round draft picks in the short term, they basically have no choice. The 27-year-old is far and away their best asset. They have to keep him.
As long as he’s healthy, Lopez is as dominant as they come. During a 13-game stretch from March 20 to April 10, he averaged 26.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while shooting 59.2 percent from the field and 84.7 percent from the free throw line.
The Nets would not have qualified for the playoffs without him. And in their two wins over the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, Lopez posted a combined 48 points, 23 rebounds and six blocks.
Now, it appears he’s trying to make himself even better, trying to stay ahead of the game in a progressive league in which position-less basketball may ultimately reign and the 7-foot center may become more of a specialty role than a significant one.
And if the Nets are able to retain Lopez, GM Billy King eventually needs to put the perfect pieces around him -- upgrading all over the floor and finding players who bring out his strengths and negate his weaknesses.
If it’s going to work with Lopez, it’s probably going to have to work with an attacking pick-and-roll point guard who can finish at the rim and draw the attention of defenses, multiple perimeter shooters on the wings -- preferably at least one of whom can create his own shot -- and a frontcourt complement who brings toughness, defensive clout and perhaps floor spacing to the table.
Sounds like a daunting task, but if the Nets want to contend for a championship with Brook Lopez at center, that’s the type of supporting cast they need to put around him.