The transformation has been justifiably belabored to a fine pulp. Once a low-post scorer with defensive foibles and an aversion to long-range looks, Brook Lopez progressed into a preeminent 3-and-D center who earned an All-Defensive Second Team nod in 2019-20. The vast majority of hoop heads know he attempted only 31 triples his first eight seasons and has hoisted 2,191 in the 6.5 ensuing seasons. It’s akin to NBA canon at this juncture.
Yet the emphasis on those aspects of Lopez’s game seem to overshadow the multiplicity of his offensive contributions. He’s not relegated to the three-point line by any stretch. Early in the Milwaukee Bucks’ nail-biting, 133-130 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, Milwaukee dialed up a staggered screen for Jrue Holiday that saw Lopez flare to the left wing.
As Tyrese Maxey recovered back in front of Holiday, Joel Embiid trotted out to Lopez and skirted him off the arc. Lopez is shooting 38.3 percent from deep this season and is a 7-foot, 282-pound, mountainous big man. Coaxing a few dribbles out of him would typically be considered a win for the defense. Except, Lopez is perfectly content in these situations. He scooted past Embiid’s hasty closeout, decelerated before James Harden could step up to help and lofted in a one-legged floater. The whole sequence was entirely within his wheelhouse.
That sort of shot has sat central to the second act of Lopez’s career, especially this season. According to Synergy, he’s generating 1.09 points per possession (85th percentile) on runners in 2022-23. The delivery occurs much differently than connoisseurs like Trae Young, Jalen Brunson and Darius Garland, but he’s nonetheless fashioned a scoring ethos that involves the floater.
Throughout much of Saturday’s dynamite affair, the Sixers loaded up to contain Milwaukee’s primary actions, which often required helping off of Lopez. Whether it was Embiid shading a second body toward Giannis Antetokounmpo, given Embiid’s overwhelmingly the team’s lone rim protector out there, or Philadelphia conceding switches against Lopez, the former Stanford Cardinal repeatedly found himself in advantageous spots.
That’s emblematic of his season-wide standing. Opponents prioritize slowing Antetokounmpo and Holiday, along with Khris Middleton, when he’s been available. Lopez is a multifaceted release valve whose services span well beyond three-pointers. Rigidity is a death knell for role players in the postseason. Solely being a spot-up threat becomes an increasingly tenuous means of offensive sustenance.
Lopez avoids that narrow label. He lumbers himself inside the arc, brandishing that hulking frame and applying his chest and torso to chisel through defenders. He’s shooting 61.2 percent on two-pointers, the second-best mark of his career, including 74 percent at the rim (66th percentile among bigs, per Cleaning The Glass) and 47 percent from midrange (64th percentile). He seems to move in slow-motion by choice rather than necessity, but nonetheless successfully arrives at his destination.
Lopez doesn’t have to wait for the action to directly flow his direction either. Whether it’s cutting from the perimeter or floating around the dunker spot to broaden passing windows, he’s a shrewd off-ball nomad who exploits when teams deem him an afterthought. Outside of floor-spacing, most bigs tend to provide scant off-ball value, though there are exceptions, of course. The 34-year-old falls into that group of outliers.
Periodically, the Bucks elect to involve Lopez in more straightforward manners and he’s equipped for the responsibilities. According to Synergy, he ranks in the 74th percentile as a roll man (1.263 PPP) and 77th percentile on post-ups (1.068 PPP). As a roll man, he patiently paces his dives, while aptly blending force and finesse. He’ll commit all the way to the rim and cram home lobs. He can saunter alongside ball-handlers and toss in floaters to utilize his deft touch. He powers through oncoming rim protectors for finishes. That sort of diversity for an ancillary option’s secondary scoring tendency is distinct and welcomed.
Lopez hasn’t completely extinguished the approach from his Brooklyn Nets days when he nabbed an All-Star berth by burying defenses on the block with the cadence of a snail and consistency of a metronome. Holiday may serve as Milwaukee’s foremost post threat these days, plowing through or around ill-equipped defenders for hoops. But Lopez remains someone who can expose the opposition for stashing little dudes on him by shooting right over the top from areas he’s comfortable.
While he operates outside-in, he certainly hasn’t abandoned the inside. The Bucks are a jumbo frontcourt. As teams laser in on Antetokounmpo and all the complications he presents, Lopez ensures they cannot forget about the second member of that towering offensive tandem.
Since Middleton rejoined the rotation again on Jan. 23, the Bucks are 17-1 with the league’s fifth-ranked offense. He, Holiday and Antetokounmpo are the driving factors behind that potency. Joe Ingles regaining a rhythm following a slow start in his return from ACL surgery has been vital as well. Lopez’s background efforts can’t be negated, though.
Over that timeframe, he’s averaging 15.8 points on 62.9 percent true shooting. For the year, he’s averaging 14.9 points on 61.6 percent true shooting, much of which is not the product of merely launching and hitting three after three. The veteran is a versatile weapon who intently recognizes how to thrive alongside Milwaukee’s offensive pillars.
His importance to this Bucks team will always be bookended by defense and shooting, but so many of those middle chapters guide the story elsewhere. Don’t bypass them in the telling of Lopez’s fascinating and admirable development. Doing so paints an incomplete portrait of the player he’s become.
All stats are accurate prior to games on March 7.