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.

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