The center position in the NBA is still a sacred thing.
People want big men to dominate like they did in the old days. In the old days, the rules were different. There was no cheating over from the weak side. The rules simply didn't allow it. You had to either be near the man you were guarding or hightailing it to the player you were attempting to double team. Anything else was a violation, and it was a huge advantage for the big man.
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Aside from incredible skill and agility for walking giants, the rules helped make it easier for big men to work on their craft of imposing their physical prowess on their defender and going mano y mano. It doesn't cheapen anything big men did back in the old days; it's just the lay of the land they had to navigate at their position.
In today's NBA, you don't get that advantage of space. Space is taken away if you're a player who plays on the low block. Defenses cheat over. Defenses have a count of three to bother you and take away the spot you want to get to next, and really that's more like a count of five for a lot of players. The rules are designed to take away the offensive game of the post player to open up higher scoring from the perimeter.
That's what makes the Brooklyn Nets' reliance on Brook Lopez so extraordinary. The game has evolved into trying to phase him out, either directly or indirectly. And yet he finds a way to anchor the offense of this team while trying to help them continue taking steps toward being a title contender. They're not a title contender yet. In fact, they're not even favored to win their first-round series against the Chicago Bulls right now.
The Nets are down 3-2 in the series after pulling out a victory at the Barclays Center to push the snooze button on their playoff dreams. While it's a total team effort for them to pull out the victory, Lopez remains the guy keeping it all together on offense. He had his series high of 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field in the 19-point victory over Chicago. Nine of his made baskets happened in the paint, where the Bulls typically turn opponents away.
The Bulls are designed to funnel the ball to the baseline while cutting off the lane and daring you to pass back out to the perimeter for a bad perimeter shot. They're also very good at dominating the boards in the process because they typically own the paint. But with Lopez in this series, they haven't been able to stop him. They haven't been able to stop him, even though they have two of the best interior defenders with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson (even when they're hurt).
Lopez has plodded along, using awkward upfakes and incredible touch around the basket, to continue to work for points against one of the best interiors in the league. He's averaged 23 points and eight rebounds in this series, giving the Nets a great safety valve around the basket that's supposed to be phased out by the laws of the league.
When he signed a max contract to remain with the Nets this past offseason, he pushed the team well past the luxury-tax apron and into very restrictive limits of how they can retool their roster moving forward. At the time, it was about Lopez's health and play when people questioned whether or not it was a good deal. He was a great scorer around the hoop, but he had bad feet and didn't rebound enough to satiate the stat-hungry center observers.
He's no longer a concern with his All-Star-level play this season and his existence as one of the best offensive safety valves in the league. Instead, he's a concern for the team that's using the rules before them to shut off the lane and take away a zone he's supposed to dominate. As the Bulls try to close out the series at home and avoid a Game 7 in Brooklyn, they'll have to find a way to take the Nets' center away.
Even with the rules against him, Lopez is still finding a way to keep the torch of scoring centers blazing.