SPORTS
03/12/2013 11:51 am ET

Brooklyn's Brook Lopez And His Path To Stardom

"He has a great, soft touch in the paint. He probably has the softest touch of centers in the league. He really doesn't have a weakness."

That is how Brooklyn Nets' six-time All-Star Joe Johnson described teammate Brook Lopez to The Huffington Post.

At 24, Lopez is the leading scorer in the NBA from the center position, averaging 18.6 points. He just recently made his first All-Star game and is converting nearly 52 percent of his field attempts, which isn't an elite clip, but is still higher than fellow All-Star big men Kevin Garnett, Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan, David Lee and Marc Gasol.

After inking a four-year, $60 million max deal with the Nets last summer, the 7-footer has become Brooklyn's best and most consistent player this season, one-upping his higher priced teammates, Deron Williams and Johnson. And he had his foot surgically repaired in the off-season.

A former lottery pick, Lopez has always been immensely skilled, but also was labeled equal parts soft defender and lackluster rebounder. His career average of 7.4 rebounds and his total rebounding rate this year (which measures the percentage of total rebounds grabbed), is a mere 13.9 percent, per Hoopdata.com.

The tremendous offensive efficiency he provides on an otherwise poor half-court team, however, significantly outweighs his limitations. Very few pivot men, if any, possess Lopez's basketball acumen and touch.

"He's been so poised," Johnson added. "He's very relaxed in the post. He's never in a rush and that's one thing that I love about him. And he's a great pick-and-pop guy."

brook lopez
Lopez currently has the sixth highest PER in the NBA at 24.30, which ranks ahead of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Lopez is converting 51 percent of his attempts in the half-court, and scoring more than one point per possession, putting him in the 90th percentile of the league. He is equally proficient in post-up opportunities and, perhaps more impressively, converts 54 percent in pick-and-roll, per Synergy.

But despite a wealth of talents, Lopez still is not a true No. 1 option, at least not on a roster full of ball-stoppers. Complaints about him being a meager rebounder will persist, though defensively there is tangible improvement.

His 2.14 blocks-per-game average is also a career high and ranks an impressive seventh in the NBA. Perhaps more importantly, he is blocking a career high 5.5 percent of all shot attempts per game. According to Synergy, he's also only allowing opponents to shoot 34 percent in isolation situations. While he may never be a lockdown paint protector, his progress is evident. He's not merely straight up and down defensively, and the results show progress.

But clearly, his best attribute is his offensive game and diverse skill set. This season, his best as a pro, Lopez is shooting a career high 70.7 percent at the rim, per Hoopdata, beating his previous high by nearly 5 percentage points. His Player Efficiency Rating has also risen dramatically, to a healthy 24.30, good enough for sixth best in the NBA.

To equate that number, consider that slots him ahead of guys like Kobe, Carmelo and Kyrie Irving. And then, there's this: According to STATS LLC's SportVU, a recently unveiled statistical metric, Lopez is averaging 0.434 points per touch, which ranks better than both LeBron and Chris Paul.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report.

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