Brook Lopez Looms as Brooklyn Nets' Biggest Question Mark

By Brendan Murray
Brooke Lopez
Anthony Gruppuso-USA Today Sports

After a mediocre 2013-14 season, the Brooklyn Nets will be looking at any and all options to improve their squad and escape from salary cap purgatory. One way to do that could be by flipping their high scoring big man Brook Lopez for a collection assets and more affordable talent.

Lopez is set to be a decisive figure this summer in Brooklyn. His offensive numbers are impressive, as he averaged over 19 points a game on 52 percent shooting during the 2012-13 season. He showed even better numbers through the first 17 games of the 2013-14, upping his shooting percentage to 56 percent and dropping a slightly improved 20 points a game.

That’s where it ended for Lopez, however, as he missed the final 65 games of the season last year after he broke his foot against the Philadelphia 76ers. Now the Nets will have to decide whether they think Lopez will return to his former self, or, ideally, improve upon his play. He is owed $14.6 million this season, followed by $15.7 million for the 2015-16 campaign and $16.7 million for 2016-17, his final year under contract.

If the Nets think the injury will debilitate him and keep him from being a dominant scorer — which is known to happen with leg/foot injuries in big men — they have to move him and quickly. He sill has a lot of value given his age, and teams would have traded a pretty penny for him during his All-Star season in 2012-13. If teams think he can return to All-Star levels, they could be again willing to shell out for him.

The question of trading Lopez is a tough one for GM Billy King made tougher by the injury. Lopez is a competent but not above-average defender, blocking two shots a game and sitting in the top seven of the Nets’ points allowed per 100 possessions list with 108 points allowed per 100.

His true weakness lies in his rebounding, which is dreadful given his size. He brought in just six rebounds a game before his injury, down from his seven a game in his last full season. Neither number is acceptable for a 7-foot, 275-pound center, and many would love to see him rebound more consistently.

Lopez is, at his core, a very good one dimensional player. What he does well (scoring inside) he does as well as anyone in the NBA. The rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired.

That doesn’t mean he can’t be a crucial roster piece for a playoff run, however. A high scoring and efficient big man can be the backbone of an offense, and that key facet comes at the price of Lopez’s large contract.

At the end of the day, it’s simple: Whether or not the Nets trade Lopez should come down to Brooklyn’s gut feeling on his injury. If they are confident he will return to a 20 PPG game scorer and can go back to dragging down seven rebounds a game, he should stay in the borough. If they are the slightest bit worried that he will return as a shell of himself, they should move him before the rest of the league catches on and before they’re stuck with another huge contract for an overrated “star”.

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