Brook Lopez entered the 2016-2017 season as one of the most versatile offensive big men in the league. His accurate jump shot, fluid post moves, and solid free throw shooting made him difficult for opposing defenses to guard. His offensive versatility led me to call him Brooklyn's centerpiece this offseason. There was only one area of the floor from which he did not shoot above league-average last season: behind the three-point line. Prior to this season, Brook had shot 3-of-21 from behind the arc; his 2-of-14 mark in the 2014-2015 season marked his career highs in both attempts and makes. Despite his great shooting from mid-range, Lopez had never made the three-pointer a part of his offensive arsenal.
Then, Kenny Atkinson entered the picture. Atkinson mentioned that he would try to get Brook Lopez to expand his range to behind the three-point line early on; in his pre-season press conference with Sean Marks, Atkinson said that Lopez could improve his game by "mixing in some three-point shots to balance [his] game."
The results so far have been spectacular. Lopez has already more than tripled his career three-point attempt totals and has shot 38-of-102 from deep this year, a 37.3% clip. His shot chart from this season shows just how drastically this has impacted his offensive game:
Lopez has shot more above-the-break and wing three-pointers than any other shot type so far this season. Instead of spotting up in the corner, Lopez is able to set screens behind the three-point line and either roll to the rim or pop out to the three-point line for a spot-up jumper. He has cut a lot of mid-range jumpers from his game and turned those shots into looks from beyond the arc.
Brook isn't only taking an extra step out of the mid-range area and behind the three-point line. He's been shooting three-pointers from what would normally be considered Steph Curry range, and he's been hitting those too. Lopez has shot 58 of his 102 threes from 25-29 feet out and made a respectable (from that range) 32.8% of them according to the NBA's shot tracking data. These extra few feet of space serve to create bigger driving lanes for other players and forces defenses to choose between sending someone out far beyond the arc to guard him or live with plays like this:
Karl-Anthony Towns hesitates for just a moment too long as he decides whether to close out on Lopez and potentially surrender a drive to the hoop or dare Brook to take a three from a few feet beyond the three-point line. This season, Lopez has opted for the three-pointer often enough that big men need to commit to him behind the arc on pick plays. That gives Lopez more room to roll to the rim on pick plays after freezing defenders like Towns. Lopez is in the 87th percentile in the NBA as the roll man in pick-and-roll plays according to Synergy. He is also in the 66th percentile on spot-up plays; defenders have to play him tight to avoid him firing away from deep.
Brook's commitment to shooting threes has been remarkable, especially given that this is the first season that the three-point shot has been a part of his game. Even in clutch situations, Brook has shown that he isn't afraid of pulling up from way beyond the line:
Not afraid at all:
Brook Lopez was a crucial player for the Nets coming into the season, and that has been exacerbated by the injury to Jeremy Lin. Despite the huge offensive load he has to carry for this team, he is scoring 25.2 points per 36 minutes—a number that would top his scoring from his All-Star season in 2013-2014 and his best number for his career barring his 2011-2012 year when he played in five games. His True Shooting Percentage of 57% would be his career high barring his 17 games in the 2013-2014 season, despite being dragged down by his 3-of-17 performance in their last game against Milwaukee.
The big man shooting revolution has been a huge story so far this season. After just six centers shot more than two three-point attempts per game last season, there are 14 such centers thus far in 2016-2017. Brook Lopez, after attempting only 31 three-point attempts in his entire career before this season (a point that needs re-emphasizing) is now leading all centers with six three-point attempts per game.
When Jeremy Lin returns to the starting line-up, Lopez will become even more dangerous on offense. Lin is much more of a threat in the pick-and-roll than Isaiah Whitehead, and that will lead to more defenses committing to drives to the basket and more open shots for Lopez. Furthermore, defenses will have to send someone to guard Lopez behind the three-point line. If they send their center out, there is no-one at the rim to prevent Lin from getting an easy lay-up. If they keep the big man back to guard the rim, Lopez can shoot over any guard unfortunate enough to be switched onto him or post up and take advantage of the size mismatch.
Brook Lopez was already a difficult cover for any defense hoping to stop him, and his new three-point weapon makes life even tougher for his opponents. Playing alongside Jeremy Lin has the potential to make Brook even more deadly on offense, and their play together may be the driving force for the rest of the Nets' season.