Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries: Among the NBA's Best Front Line Combos?

Argun Ulgen@@Brooklyn_BeatAnalyst ISeptember 18, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21:  Brook Lopez #11 of the New Jersey Nets in action against the New York Knicks during their pre season game  at Madison Square Garden on December 21, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Quite simply put, near the bottom, which is a woefully ironic assessment considering that center Brook Lopez and power forward Kris Humphries will earn a combined $27 million next year.   

At first blush, the Nets front line looks stellar.  Lopez is a center who should average around 18 points per game (2010-11 numbers: 20 PPG in 82 games), and Humphries is one of the best board crashers in the league at around 11 rebounds per game.

However, both players have deficiencies that are glaringly exploitable.  Lopez is a poor rebounder at his position; in 2010-11, he averaged only six rebounds a game. 

He is allergic to playing in the low post on both ends of the floor and is not a physical man-on-man defender.

To be sure, Kris Humphries is a physical player in the low post.  But his offensive skill set is limited and he's not a strong man-on-man defender.  

Granted, every player has his flaws.  However, the very best front lines in the Eastern Conference alone have significant advantage over the Nets' tandem of Lopez and Humphries. 

The Miami Heat

Starting from the top of the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat can play LeBron James at power forward and Chris Bosh at center against the Nets. 

Granted, the 6'9" Humphries and 7'0" Lopez have a height advantage over Bosh and James.  However, height advantages can only take a front line so far.  

Whether it be scoring, man-on-man defense, rebounding or shooting range, Bosh and James have asignificant edge over the Nets front line at just about every other facet of the game.

Both Bosh and James can stretch the floor against the Nets interior defense or muscle up against them in the low post. 

The Philadelphia 76ers

Andrew Bynum, who averaged 12 rebounds a game in his breakthrough 2011-12 season, should thwart the physically weaker Lopez on the boards. He also has a litany of low-post offensive maneuvers that will give Brook Lopez headaches. 

The 7'0" Spencer Hawes is slated to play power forward for the 76ers with Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen as primary backups.   Both players are strong rebounders and shot blockers; they will offset Humphries' efforts at both ends of the floor.

The New York Knicks

Life for Brook Lopez won't get any easier in the Atlantic Division against the Knicks.  During four contests next year, he will have to jostle in the paint against Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. 

Particularly, Chandler is a capable stretch defender who will keep up with Lopez when the Nets' center chooses to take mid-range jumpers.  Don't expect Lopez to have an offensive comfort zone against Chandler. 

Kris Humphries will have the task of playing against the potentially explosive Amare Stoudemire and, at times, Carmelo Anthony at the power forward position. 

Anthony loves to take long jumpers from the baseline or attack the basket for free-throw opportunities.  Humphries will struggle to address both of Anthony's favorite scoring weapons. 

The Boston Celtics

The Nets should have a marginal advantage against the Celtics smaller front line. The 6'11" Kevin Garnett's natural position is power forward, but he will see a lot of time at center next year. 

Brandon Bass is a serviceable power forward on the offense end of the floor (12.5 PPG in 2011-12), but at 6'8" is undersized at his position. 

Given their size issues down low, the Celtics will struggle to find a legitimate defensive answer to the 7'0" Lopez.  Lopez has the size and length to shoot over the aging Kevin Garnett. Humphries should dominate the boards against Bass. 

However, Kevin Garnett is one of the best "stretch" offensive players of all time with terrific range.  And point guard Rajon Rondo is one of the best in the league at splitting perimeter defenses and then either scoring or distributing the ball from the paint.

Lopez and Humphries' man-on-man defense will have to be particularly aware of all areas of the court when covering the Celtics. Garnett in particular will provide the Nets frontcourt with unique match-up issues, and it will be interesting, if not concerning, to see how Lopez and Humphries respond.

The Atlanta Hawks

Together, Josh Smith and Al Horford constitute one of the most physical and versatile defensive frontcourts in the league.  Both are All-NBA quality defenders who are long overdue for some individual postseason honors. 

Smith can defend both small and power forwards anywhere across the baseline.  His interior presence is menacing; he averaged 10 rebounds and two blocked shots last season. Horford is a reliable defender who also averaged a solid nine rebounds per game during the 2010-11 season. 

Both players are excellent low post and mid-range scorers.  Smith also had a career offensive year at 19 points a game.  Horford averaged 15 points a game on 56 percent shooting in 2010-11.

More troubling for the Nets interior defense is that Horford can score efficiently from anywhere on the floor.  In 2010-11, Horford averaged 53 percent shooting from 16-23 feet away from the basket. 

The Indiana Pacers

On paper, the Nets would seem to have an advantage over the Pacers front line of Roy Hibbert and David West. 

Hibbert put up solid numbers last season, posting 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots a game en route to his first all-star selection.  However, by the numbers, Lopez is a by far more prolific scorer. 

David West's numbers at power forward are mediocre;  he averaged only 12 points and six rebounds a game on 48 percent shooting.  Once again, these numbers don't compare well to "double-double" machine Kris Humphries. 

However, Hibbert and West's statistics are deceiving.  Indiana is an extremely deep team that relies on outstanding intrinsic play to win its games. 

The Pacers front line may not put up big numbers, but that is in part because ten Pacers have an active role in the offense.  However, in addition to being efficient scorers, they are both fundamentally sound, physical players who will effectively set picks and screens, and box out against both Humphries and Lopez. 

The Western Conference

The Nets won't have to see Western Conference teams regularly, and they are most likely not going to make the NBA Finals.  However, when they do have a match-up against a quality Western Conference team, front line concerns will loom heavily for Brooklyn.

Whether its against the Lakers (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol), Memphis Grizzlies (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol) or the Oklahoma City Thunder (Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins), the Nets will be at a disadvantage on a nightly basis.

Strategic Outlook for 2011-12

When all is said and done, the Nets front line will rely heavily on help defense from small forward Gerald Wallace, who is a strong rebounder and elite defender at his position.  That won't be enough to quell the Nets woes, and will also give opponents opportunities to hit open shots from the baseline. 

The Nets must force a fast paced game that relies on perimeter play a good percentage of the time.  All-star guards Joe Johnson and Deron Williams must push the ball on the offensive end of the floor, and play very aggressive perimeter defense.

However, in games where playoff quality opponents force the Nets to grind out wins through a slow pace, the new kids in Brooklyn could be in a lot of trouble. 



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