When the Los Angeles Lakers traded away former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell after just two years with the organization, the blow was supposed to softened by the fact that the Lakers were trading away a lumbering, old school center in Timofey Mozgov for a more modern NBA center in Brook Lopez.
After making only three three-pointers his entire career, Lopez added the three-ball to his game last season, draining a career-best 134 triples on 387 attempts to lead all centers in three-point makes. At long last, the Lakers finally had their stretch big.
Sorry, Yi Jianlian.
Lopez also gave the Lakers the rim protector they’ve desperately needed since he-who-must-not-be-named left in 2013. For the eighth time in his nine-year career, Lopez averaged at least 1.7 blocks per game last season, the ninth-most by players that averaged more than 29 minutes per game last season. Few players today offer this. Very few.
This season, Lopez is one of four players shooting 30 percent from behind the arc on four-or-more attempts while averaging at least 1.7 blocks per game. The others? Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner and Kevin Durant.
Lopez also became one of two active players to record at least 10,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, 1,000 blocks, and 150 three-pointers in their career, the other being future first-ballot Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitkzi.
However, after making a huge impact to start the season, Lopez’s recent fall from grace has been everything but graceful. While Lopez remains a steady force around the rim, his shooting numbers have taken a dramatic hit as of late.
After posting double figures in nine of the first 10 games to start the month of November, Lopez has struggled to make an impact offensively, averaging eight points on 39.5 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent shooting from behind the arc.
It’s possible this has just been a rough stretch of games for the former Stanford product, but when you take a look at his shot chart from last season, he’s struggling from virtually the same spots, only with a slight digression in certain areas this season.
He’s remained effective from the corners, draining nearly half of his 17 attempts so far, but his shots from outside 23’ still aren’t falling. This is especially concerning considering how often the Lakers run high screen-and-rolls for Lopez, sometimes resulting in shots like this:
... but more often resulting in shots like this:
If the Lakers are going to use Lopez as a stretch five, they’re going to have to give him the ball in spots they know he can make shots, which from what we can see is in the corners. In order to do so, the Lakers will have to drive-and-kick the ball more than they do currently.
Lonzo Ball averages 8.2 drives per game, the fourth-least by a starting point guard, only ahead of Steph Curry, George Hill and Darren Collison. The Lakers as a team, however, are 13th in the league in drives per game, with Brandon Ingram leading the team with 10.8 drives per game.
In the play below, Ingram drives to the rim and draws three defenders, including DeAndre Jordan, who was expecting to meet Ingram at the rim, but Ingram instead kicks it out to Lopez for a wide-open three from his favorite spot on the floor.
Ingram can initiate these types of plays better than anyone on the team because of the type of attention he draws from defenders when attacking the rim with his 7’3 wingspan. Luckily, Ingram also possesses the playmaking instincts required to make the smart pass.
In this next play, Ingram again draws three defenders and kicks it out to Ball on the outside, but Ball sees Lopez alone in the corner and makes a beautiful touch pass to Lopez for the triple.
As he gets stronger and his handle tightens up (hopefully), Ball will be able to make these types of plays more frequently, but as of now, the only time he can really get passed his defender is if he’s going down hill, like this play against the Brooklyn Nets:
Brook Lopez isn’t a bad player. In fact, he’s one of the most valuable players on this team when his shot is falling, but when it’s not, it’s easy to forget he’s on the floor.
If the Lakers want to survive the tough stretch of games they have coming up, they’re going to need a lot more out of Lopez offensively. If Lopez continues to struggle at this rate, Luke Walton has no shortage of centers at his disposal, with guys like Andrew Bogut, Thomas Bryant, Ivica Zubac and even Julius Randle waiting on the bench.
For both the team’s sake and his own, let’s hope this is nothing more than a shooting slump Lopez can break out of sooner rather than later.
All stats, shot charts and videos are courtesy of stats.nba.com, unless otherwise noted.