Knicks 2015 Free Agency Round Table: Robin Lopez

Should we be concerned with the lack of defensive rebounds from Lopez?
Kurylo: He’s pulling down only 4.7 dreb/36 over his career and only 4.5 dreb/36 last year []. Someone call the stat guy for basketball-reference, because that’s got to be a typo! Seriously, those are swingman numbers.

On the other hand Portland was 7th last year in dreb%, and 13th the year before. New Orleans was 8th in Lopez’ year there. Meanwhile, 82games has the Trailblazers neutral to slightly better on defensive rebounds (+0.8) with the Boy Wonder on the floor.

Given all that information, I’m going to be brave enough and say “I don’t know.”

Fisher-Cohen: If David Lee’s rebounding was inflated because he left his defensive assignment to steal rebounds, then surely there’s a reverse scenario where a guy’s rebounding numbers are depressed because he boxes out and focuses on getting stops before rebounding. The fact that the Blazers’ rebounding was better on both ends of the floor when RoLo played offers a bit of support for that idea.

But in terms of fit, Melo is no Aldridge when it comes to rebounding, so even if Lopez is a bigger rebounding contributor than the box score suggests, he’s still not a good rebounder at his position, which means there’s reason to be concerned that the Knicks are going to struggle on the boards — that Lopez isn’t an ideal fit.

Gibberman: No, I’m not concerned about Lopez’s rebounding at all. During his career teams have rebounded on the defensive glass 2.1% better with him on the floor versus off. He’s excellent at boxing out and creating room for his teammates to grab boards. Lopez has been on the Trail Blazers the last two seasons and they’re the only two years of LaMarcus Aldridge’s career he’s averaged over 10 rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s not a coincidence.

Cronin: It’s weird. I wouldn’t say “concerned,” but it seems to be a consistent thing with him, so I guess it is at least something to keep track of. But no, I wouldn’t say I was concerned about it.

How much does Lopez help the Knicks defense?
Kurylo: Good question, but I’ll answer with another question: how worse would the Knicks defense with Monroe or Aldridge instead of him? If there is one aspect I really like about the Lopez signing, is that it’s a defensive minded acquisition. Since I started covering the Knicks, it seems that they play lip service to defense. Lots of defense first guys have been on the roster that have been basically ignored: Aldrich, Balkman, Gadzuric, Matt Barnes, etc. Not all of them were worthy of an NBA spot (Jerome James and Jared Jeffries come to mind), but plenty were never even given the opportunity. This seems odd for a team that had two successfully periods in their history (70s & 90s) that were centered around defense.

Gibberman: I’m a big fan of how Mike complimented his own question. I think all the questions I ask are awesome too. [Editor’s note: yes I wrote the question. But I was being highly objective when I complemented it.] Another simple answer: Nope. Lopez is a solid defender that understands how to play on that end. He might not have the best physical tools from an athletic perspective, but he has good core strength, understands angles and is competent in all areas (defending PnR, Iso, post ups and team defensive in general on that end).

Fisher-Cohen: Here are the defensive tracking stats for Lopez, Chandler (in 13/14), Amundson and Aldrich. Here’s Deandre Jordan and Bizzy Biyombo as well. Lopez seems capable of causing problems for opponents inside the three point line, but he lacks to mobility (unlike Bizzy and DJ) to switch onto quicker players. The Knicks’ had the worst three point defense in the league last year, and it could get even worse if Calderon stays healthy, Melo plays more small forward, and Afflalo’s defense is a repeat of last year.

Lopez is a big improvement compared to Amundson and Aldridge, so the defense will improve with him, but it still should be bad. I mean, Portland featured two plus wing defenders in Batum and Matthews and Aldridge, whom Zach Lowe argues was highly underrated on defense, yet Portland only hovered around the league average defensively over the last few years.

Cronin: I think an additional defender who can actually play strong defense in the post will definitely help, but yeah, I envision a lot of the same problems we saw with Tyson Chandler, where the guy in the middle is going to have to run around a lot to try to cover up everyone else’s awful defense, except Lopez is likely not quite as fast as Chandler, so he might have even more of a problem with having to run after all the mistakes.

Should we be concerned with Lopez’ offense, or lack thereof?
Kurylo: Nope. I’m quite tired of arguing against every single player being an offensive magician for an NBA team to score points. Teams can, and do, have robust offenses with one player that isn’t a wizard with the ball in his hands. I’m not a shot creation denier, but I don’t worship at its altar either.

And if such a thing were true, why the heck did the Knicks get Carmelo Anthony? How does that make sense if the offense, with one of the league’s highest usage rates, is still so fragile it needs every player to help take on the scoring load? If that is true (and it’s not) we should have stuck with Gallinari.

Gibberman: Let me think on this for a second…..NOPE. Say it with me — the Knicks got an effective starting center that gets the job done on both ends of the court. I know, I’m shocked too. Lopez isn’t outstanding from a scoring perspective and that doesn’t mean he’s useless! He can finish with both hands around the rim, has the ability to make an open mid range jumper, sets good screens and is an adequate passer. Lopez is an excellent piece to place next to Carmelo Anthony much like Tyson Chandler was. What he lacks as an elite PnR finisher, he makes up for with variety. His work on the offensive glass will also be helpful getting New York some extra possessions.

Fisher-Cohen: Fisher had the audacity to give Dalembert and Aldrich post catches last year, so if he does that again with Lopez, there’s reason to worry. However, Lopez is a pick and roll player who sets strong screens and knows how to use his mass to bully his way to the rim. As long as the Fisher/Jackson braintrust is willing to adapt to Lopez’s strengths, Lopez should be an effective player on offense.

Cronin: I agree that he will fit right in on offense. No worries there at all.

By the end of Lopez’s contract, Knick fans will feel ___?
Kurylo: Sad. My bet is they’ll want the guy back.

New Yorkers tend to obsess over scorers on other teams. They love the Carmelo Anthonys, Greg Monroes, and even the Eddy Currys, when they are Knicks in rumors only. But once said player ends up in orange and blue, Gothamites can’t help to turn on them. Meanwhile any defender considering New York is a bum that’s going to ruin the finely tuned offense. Yet once said player sets a hard pick, takes a charge, blocks a shot, and dives for a ball, the stands swoon.

Want proof? Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, and Kurt Thomas.

Gibberman: Wondering if his health will hold up to be able to pay him another decent size contract. Knicks fans who grasp basketball things outside of box score statistics are going to fall in love with Lopez and not just for beating up mascots and his awesome hair.

Fisher-Cohen: Narrative has a much larger impact on fans’ perspective than reality. Jackson spent the last year focusing almost exclusively on clearing cap space, so this free agency period has taken on enormous weight to those fans who cared enough to follow the team this year. Lopez was the premiere signing, so he has a lot of pressure on him, and as a result, he’ll receive a disproportionate amount of blame or praise, depending on how the Knicks do. I expect that reputation to be hard to shake for his entire time in NYC.

Cronin: The guy is crazy likeable, so I think Knick fans will really love the guy by the time his tenure is up.

Last year, the Clippers won 56 games and the Mavericks won 50. Considering Dallas took Jordan from L.A., how many wins for each team in 2016?
Kurylo: Dallas: 60. Clippers: 46.

Fisher-Cohen: Matthews is a concern for Dallas as who knows if or when he’ll be fully recovered. Achilles injuries have altered the trajectory of other players’ careers. But I have a whole lot more doubts about the Clippers who are an older team, ripe to be abused by Mr. Injury Bug and his bucket of fun. They had no depth last year and lucked into relatively good health. With little money this year to fix the issue, I wouldn’t bet on that luck holding up. I’ll say 55 wins for Dallas and 40 for the Clippers. The West is rough.

Gibberman: 52 for the Clippers and 46 for the Mavericks. Los Angeles still has two of the top 10 basketball players in the entire world. Dallas has no depth, no point guard, plus needs a declining Dirk Nowitizki and Wes Matthews coming off an Achilles tendon tear to play huge roles.

Cronin: The Clippers lost Chris Paul for a bunch of games last year and adapted. I think even with two star players, they’ll do pretty well (I guess it also depends on who they get to play center). I am going to predict 49 wins for the Clippers. As for the Mavericks, there are still so many question marks with that team that I don’t think I can predict more than 48 wins for them at this point. They don’t even have a point guard at the moment!

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