Brook Lopez’s Los Angeles Lakers debut finally came to fruition Sunday night in Las Vegas. After years of his name being floated in Lakers rumors, just as it seemed that boat had finally sailed, he finds himself home in Southern California.
The Lakers acquired a career 18.6 point per game scorer who just re-discovered himself as a stretch big man, and in a vacuum (Dyson, thanks), it makes plenty of sense they’d want to modernize their offense with actual floor spacing. The problem is that Lopez is on an expiring contract, and while he may have All-Star talent, he’s hardly viewed as a piece of the Lakers’ future larger superstar puzzle.
Sunday in T-Mobile Arena was a reminder to Laker fans what it means to have a versatile, skilled big man anchoring their favorite team. Not since Pau Gasol have the Lakers had such a talented frontcourt player to orchestrate their offense, and it was a sight for burning retinas that watched Roy Hibbert and Timofey Mozgov.
The impact was immediate, with the Lakers offense running almost exclusively through Lopez as he went through his first run with the team. The first points of the game came from Lopez, with Brook sealing a mismatched Zach Randolph on the block in transition. Then, the Lakers kept going back to him:
Lopez is a respected scorer from everywhere on the court at this point. He can put in work in the low post, hit the 15-footer, and step all the way out to the three-point line. Considering how rudimentary the Lakers’ offense is once half-court sets come into play — something head coach Luke Walton has been clear about all preseason — having a player like Brook to feed possessions to is going to become a comfortable option.
That means defenses will likely send doubles at Lopez, or at least have a help defender digging into the paint to be slide-or-two away when he has the ball in the post. The Lakers need to take advantage of how much attention Brook should command from opposing defenses.
Whether it’s actions like Ingram diving back door, shooters rotating away from their defenders, or some good ole’ fashioned off-ball screening, the Lakers will have to identify effective ways to score once defense’s commit extra help to Brook. Lopez is good enough to score in traffic, but over-relying on him beating the defense is something they need to avoid:
Moments later from the play above, the Lakers run a similar possession for Lopez, but this time Brook anticipates the double and the guards swing around the perimeter to allow for a kick-out and re-post. The result? An easier shot attempt, and another basket for the purple and gold:
Re-posting has been something Lakers fans should be familiar with after shouting at Andrew Bynum for years, who used his footwork and touch to score regardless of kicking it out for a cleaner entry and seal. Brook looks more than willing to pass to keep the offense running smoothly.
But beyond what we saw Lopez in the post in his first game, we witnessed perhaps the biggest reason he’s such an interesting player. He’s a legitimate three-point shooter.
Big man defenders typically try to get back to the rim in transition. Lopez can stop at the three-point line and make them pay every time. See: Randolph getting burned for back-to-back triples:
Plays like the two above are exactly why pairing a point guard like Lonzo Ball with a center like Lopez was a desirable experiment for the Lakers. He’ll be a safety blanket for the entire team in half-court sets, but in transition as a trailer big he can alter how teams defend the Lakers entirely. The Lakers putting pressure on the rim with their wings and guards when they’re on the run, and the threat of Lopez pulling up for a three, go hand-in-hand.
Brook will be leaned on heavily while Ingram and Ball find their ways as scorers at the NBA level. Lopez should be eating plenty on his way to what could be a career year, and you could see how much impact he’ll have on the offense once the preseason training wheels come off.