Brook Lopez and Setting the Bar

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Published: February 13, 2017

Earlier this week, I wrote about the swirling Jahlil Okafor rumors and why I don’t think it’s a good idea for the Pelicans to trade for him. Yesterday, one of the targets I proposed for the Pelicans, Jusuf Nurkic, was unloaded to Portland; this might have taken Portland out of the bidding war for Okafor, and allegedly, the Pelicans and Bulls remain the two most likely landing spots for the 76ers big.

Today, it was reported that the Pelicans are getting antsy and “will not wait for Okafor,” which, given our circumstances, seems like an odd report and potentially just noise produced to get an Okafor deal done.  The 8th seed may be up for grabs, but Jahlil Okafor sure as heck isn’t the NOS the Pelicans need for a playoff boost, so I don’t see any “urgency” to get him, unless we’re using him for a stealth tank.

There was also a report that the Pelicans are discussing a Brook Lopez trade in the wake of the stalled Okafor negotiations.  The proposed deal, according to this article, is Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier and a 2018 protected first-round pick for Brook Lopez.  I hope this is true, because I see this is as a far more desirable outcome than betting on Okafor’s potential.  This article will attempt to outline what the Pelicans would look like should they land Lopez.

What Lopez Brings

The biggest thing that Lopez brings is uncanny skill for a guy his size. Lopez, a legit 7’1 center with a 7’5.5 wingspan and a 9’5 standing reach, can post, step out to 3, and pass as well.  The Pelicans guards struggle to get to the rim, and adding Lopez’s post play is a way to circumnavigate that issue; basically, the Pels would be best suited for an offense that relies on its bigs for creation and its guards and wings for shooting and secondary/tertiary creation.  Lopez and AD are giving you 13-14 free throws a game, which helps get the defense set and stabilizes our offensive production.  Right now, our offense is far too dependent on outside shots because most of our players can’t score anywhere else.

I expect that adding Lopez to the offense would improve it a great deal, and Lopez’s 25 points per 36 minutes on 57.7% true shooting corroborates that theory.  He is a special offensive player, particularly given his size.  And because AD and Lopez are so good at drawing/converting free throws, it makes it difficult for opponents to counter with small-ball.

Defense would have some issues, as Lopez cannot step out to the perimeter to defend.  And as much as Davis is mobile for a big, he has a high center of gravity and struggles to get through traffic sometimes, which would make it hard for the Pels to guard smaller lineups with a capable shooting 4.  But because Lopez is a solid rim protector and AD is a shot-blocker, you grab a few quick/long perimeter guys and tell them to funnel offensive players into our giant frontcourt.  Asking the AD/Lopez pairing to produce a top 5 defense is asking for too much.. but a top 15 defense with Jrue, Moore, and another good defender? Why not?

Why I Don’t Care About His Contract

I’ve been tweeting on and off about Lopez, and naturally, the two most obvious issues with Lopez are his injury history and his contract, which is for almost $23 million and expires in the summer of 2018.  While these are reasonable concerns, they do nothing to address our current franchise state — we simply aren’t getting marquee free agents and draft picks are a crapshoot.  This team is in dire need of offensive help and you overpay for points in FA anyway.  We have Jrue’s Bird Rights, so going over the cap to keep him is not an issue.

Here is a list of the forward-centers and centers in the NBA, sorted by points per 100 possessions.  You’ll notice there’s a drop off in PTS/100 after AD, with Lopez headlining the next tier.  Add in shot-blocking criteria and this list gets really, really small.  Further restrict this to natural centers and it gets even smaller.

Here’s the truth: paying Jrue near max or max money and taking on Lopez kills a lot of our financial flexibility, and it’s highly unlikely that an AD/Lopez/Jrue core is a championship team.  But what better moves are out there? With the new Designated Player provision, which elite player are we getting via FA?  What confidence should we have that a 2018 pick will pay dividends at all, much less contributions in his first few years?

I believe in setting the bar at a reasonable level and I’m hoping for a 50 win team in the future, not a championship-level one.  I think that adding Brook Lopez gives us a solid offensive foundation, shields AD from playing center, helps put other (lesser) offensive players in more natural usage roles, stabilizes our offense via FTs, and gives us more second chance opportunities.  For me, this is enough to pull the trigger on any deal for Lopez that doesn’t involve Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, or a loosely protected first round pick this year.

6 Comments

  1. ben_alterman

    February 13, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Hey Mike.
    This is ben_alterman from Twitter. I see what you are saying regarding Brook. i just still feel that given his age and injury history that it is too much of a risk. I believe the 2018 pick should be traded but not for Lopez. Lopez not only makes us better this year–destroying the value of the 2017 pick and an opportunity at blue chip prospect in a loaded top 10, he also also almost certainly guarantees AD’s departure in 3 years. This is honestly the very last chance to tank and have a player become useful before AD has to make a decision about his future. 
    Trading for Okafor would accomplish 2 things. He would make us worse this year, improving the value of our pick. He is also still only 21 with the ability to grow. Will he ever be as good as Brook is now, almost certainly not. But that is irrelevant. The sole goal of this front office should be to improve this roster for the next 5 years, not next 2. The Pelicans will likely never win a championship as McNamara has said many times. Trading for Lopez would almost certainly eliminate any possibility of us ever even competing for one or much less even being a very good team (Grizzlies/Clippers level).

  2. ben_alterman

    February 13, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    I was also discussing the trade for Lopez vs Okafor with one of my best friends this morning and I did a little research.
    “The following is a list of players drafted 15 and 16 from 2012-2016 (Since AD):
    2012-Mo Harkless and Royce White
    2013-Giannis and Lucas Noguiera
    2014-Adriene Payne and Jusuf Nurkic
    2015-Kelly Oubre and Terry Rozief
    2016-Juan Hernangomez and Guershon Yabusele
    Giannis is the only starter caliber player on this list and an obvious outlier. The others are either complete busts or end of bench players. Okafor is likely far better than any player we could possibly get there because our front office isn’t taking an unknown 18 year old from Europe with essentially no NBA skill and getting absurdly lucky. And even if they did that player wouldn’t even contribute until his 3rd season at which point AD has already decided whether he will resign or demand a trade.”

  3. MikePellissier

    February 13, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    ben_alterman It’s hard to refute because I don’t know the protections for the Okafor pick. I suspect they would be a little looser than just lottery protected, perhaps like top 5 protected. I’m pretty sure it’s the 2018 pick.  I can see why someone would want Okafor should our future not be so urgent, I just don’t think he’ll be a positive player for at least 2-3 years, even if he starts hitting his stride.  That’s why I’d much prefer to get Lopez

  4. MikePellissier

    February 13, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    ben_alterman I think Lopez makes it easier to find gems in the draft, as we’d have enough offense to give minutes to perimeter players who have some issues now on offense.  For me, it simply comes down to where we are most likely to find some points while appeasing AD’s need for a center next to him.  Lopez fits all of those things, albeit with injury risk and a huge contract. I think there’s urgency to put a good product next to AD, so not worried about 4-5 years from now, because if we don’t improve things soon, I think he’s gone.

  5. mvpmb10

    February 14, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Lopez been my #1 hope
    But the 2 1st round picks was a blocking point for me.
    I was hoping 4 Maybe those 2 high 2nd rounders 2017 would be enough. Plus protected 2018 1st.
    But i wasnt expecting Galloway n Frazier to be connected 2 deal. Definitely Tyreke.
    If Nets Took Asik or Ajinca with Tyreke..
    I would like the trade More
    1.Lopez
    2.Millsap
    3.Okafor
    Were my Top 3 Likes

  6. New City

    February 14, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    No question Lopez is a top-tier offensive center right now. But he’s a weak rebounder and a defensive liability. Add in cost/age/injury/salary and I much prefer going after Vucevic from the Magic. For him I’d be willing to give up as much as a top 10 protected first round pick in 2018.

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