The Problem with Brook

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As any long time Wolves fan can tell you, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the Wolves inability to move up in the draft lotto. Because of this fact (which I'm hoping and praying against), most fans have begun to resign themselves to coming to grips with who the Wolves will select between the 3rd and 6th picks.

At this point in time, there appears to be two players who are mentioned more than the others: OJ Mayo and Brook Lopez. Throughout the year it has become almost common wisdom that one of the Wolves' biggest problems is that Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes constantly play out of position at the 4 and 5. The logical extension of this point of view is that the Wolves need to acquire a legit big man to allow Big Al to move back to the 4 (where he is dominant) and Gomes to the 3 (where he is more than serviceable). As a quick side-note, it is surprising that no one thought to do a quick overview/study of how Big Al played along legit big Kendrick Perkins during his time in Beantown. Another post for another day I suppose.

The Big Man opinion rests on a couple of assumptions: first, it places a greater importance on position rather than function. The problem with this stance is that Al Jefferson is a below average defensive player at any position and the Wolves struggle with perimeter defense, thus putting additional defensive pressure on sub-par defensive bigs. Because of this, it's somewhat hard to gauge whether or not Al Jefferson is a terrible defensive center or if he's just a slightly below average defensive center who has to clean up the scraps left behind by terrible defensive perimeter players. Functionally, do the Wolves need to stop players on the perimeter or do they need someone to clean up the mess? For all of you calling for a Marcus Camby-esque defensive center, perhaps you can take it up with him over a round of golf after his Nuggets were bounced in four by the Lakers.

Second, it assumes (albeit in a round-a-bout way) that the Wolves should place a greater importance on need rather than best player available in the draft. Is a functional defensive center worth more than a potential scoring stud at the 3? Again, the idea of position dominates the discussion here rather than function or, in this case, ability. This assumption becomes even more problematic when you start associating names with the position. Not to pick on anyone in particular, here's the latest example I could find on the subject:

Minnesota at the number three spot would have a hard time passing up on Lopez. Pairing him alongside Al Jefferson in the paint would form a formidable duo inside that would be the first big step in the right direction for Minnesota competing again in the Western Conference. If the Timberwolves decide to pass on Lopez, don't expect Memphis to do the same. Their most glaring need even when they had Pau Gasol was a true center, and Lopez would certainly provide that.

Again, the big thing missing from any discussion about Lopez and the Wolves is a discussion about function and actual performance. This is somewhat understandable as the basic Big Man argument goes like this: Big Al sucks at center and the Wolves suck, therefore the Wolves need a center so that Al Jefferson (and the Wolves) won't suck. Does this argument hold up with the name of Brook Lopez attached to the position? Let's take a look at the numbers.

Brook Lopez does a number of things quite well. He's a nice scorer, he has legit size, and he is a disruptive presence on the defensive end of the court.  For all of these positives, there is one big one vis-a-vis the Wolves: he is a free throw machine. Every 40 minutes on the floor, Brook averages 9.3 FTA and 7.4 FTM. As I have mentioned many, many, many times before, the single biggest problem the Wolves have is a horrendous free throw discrepancy. However, this positive comes with a caveat. Should Lopez make his way to the Wolves, he will not be the focal point of the offense. How many of his FTAs came during plays run for him and how many came in the flow of the game? I don't know the answer to this question but it is one that the Wolves should seriously investigate should they think about selecting Lopez. How many touches does he need in order to bring his biggest asset to the table? How many FTAs does he get when plays are not run for him? Again, the free throws are nice, but he will play a specific role for the Wolves and can he perform this task within said role?

OK, let's move on to the bad: Lopez is a poor shooting big with a moderate rebound rate who doesn't block nearly as many shots as he should and who didn't exactly shine when paired up against legit NBA prospects.  Let's go through these one-by-one:

First, Lopez is a legit seven footer who shot under 50% from the floor for the season.  This can mean one of two things: he is simply a terrible shooter or he is a moderate shooter who shot more mid-range jumpers than your average 7 footer.  In Brook's case, it's the later.  He is not your typical back-to-the-basket big and he relied on his jump shot; specifically, a little turn to the left/fade away ditty that was prominently featured in Stanford's big win against Marquette.  I suppose this attribute could be worked into a positive with the Wolves: Big Al is the back-to-the basket guy and if he is going to be paired with another big, his partner shouldn't clog up the lane.  However, I'm of the opinion that college 7 footers should be able to hit over 50% from the floor as they have the size to dominate.  This opinion is backed up by years and years of college-to-the-NBA examples.  It's a fairly significant red flag. 

Second, his rebound rate raises a few eyebrows.  With only 8.2 TREB, Lopez truly lacks a rebounding presence that fits his size.  Of all the centers listed by Draft Express, Lopez is the 13th best offense rebounder and the 10th best rebounder (2.9/8.2).  His Pac10 counterpart Kevin Love ranks in the top 4 in both categories: netting 3.6 OREB and 10.6 TREB/game.  Jason Thompson of Rider, who is widely thought to be a late first/early 2nd pick, comes in at 3.6/12.1. 

Overall, Lopez grabs about 20% of his team's offensive and defensive rebounds.  With a 7 foot power forward (his brother) sharing the floor, this low of a number for a 7 footer is somewhat expected (Kevin Love grabs nearly 30% of his team's boards), but it is still rather troubling, as 7 foot college centers should dominate the glass. 

Third, against NBA prospect big men, Lopez has been less than impressive.  The Cardinal is 0-3 vs. Kevin Love's Bruins with Lopez going for just over 12 ppg and 7 rpg and Love getting over 14 and almost 8. 

Against Cal's Devon Hardin, he fared a bit better; going for 23/4 and 15/9 on a combined 12-23 shooting while holding Hardin to 17/4 and 5/5. 

Down the stretch, Lopez managed 2 50% shooting games against Washington State and Marquette, but he also put up 10-22 against Texas, 5-14 and 8-22 in losses to UCLA, 9-24 against Arizona, and 4-13 against USC.  In these games he averaged 1.88 blocks and 9.5 boards per game...hardly the type of dominant numbers that would make up for a poor shooting big man. 

Perhaps the biggest strike against Lopez is his relative worth in the draft compared to players that will likely be available at the top of the 2nd round.  As you can see by clicking here , college bigs like Trent Plaisted, Devon Hardin, Jason Thompson, David Padgett, and Robin Lopez all compare favorably to Brook in one way or another.  At least one of these players will surely be available at the top of the 2nd round.  This doesn't even take into account international players like Omer Asik, Nikola Pekovic, and Nathan Jawai, or smaller college centers like Joey Dorsey.  The bottom line here is that (Danilo Gallinari + Devon Hardin) > (Brook Lopez + Shaun Foster) and (OJ Mayo + Jason Thompson) > (Brook Lopez + JR Giddens). 

Wrapping things up, I would be remiss if I did not make it perfectly clear that the Wolves could do a number of things that would make Brook Lopez a decent selection with the #3-6 pick.  If they could move up in the draft to grab a big perimeter proficient 2/3 like Chris Douglas-Roberts or Chase Budinger, Lopez would make a whole lot more sense than he would should the Wolves hold on to their 2nd rounders and take a 2nd tier perimeter player like Foster or Giddens. 

The Wolves lose games mostly because they are a terrible perimeter shooting squad that plays terrible perimeter defense while amassing a tremendous free throw shooting disparity.  While the Big Al/Big Man argument makes a lot of sense at first glance, once you start plugging names into picks, it becomes clear that simply picking a big man to have one on the squad isn't as simple or preferable as it first seemed.  The Wolves have functional, not positional, needs and there are a few other options besides Brook Lopez (or with Mr. Lopez) that make a whole lot more sense for this rebuilding club.

UPDATE: Check out Ken Pomeroy's Stanford stats page .  Of special notice is Brook's %Poss and %Shots line.  He ranks 10th in the nation by touching the ball on 32.3% of his team's possessions while ranking 16th in the nation of percentage of team shots taken, with 34.4%.  I'm sure this will work out swimmingly with Big Al and Foye.  A modest jump shooting 7 footer who requires the ball 1/3 of the time in order to put up not-all-that-impressive numbers...where can I sign up? 

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