Milwaukee Bucks: Getting the most out of Brook Lopez after a down year with the Lakers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 22: (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 22: (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

After something of a down year with the Los Angeles Lakers, how can the Milwaukee Bucks get the most out of Brook Lopez in the upcoming season?

As the Milwaukee Bucks reportedly came to terms on a one-year deal with Brook Lopez on Sunday, the value of the deal was widely praised by analysts and fans around the NBA.

Seeing a player of Lopez’s caliber and consistent production take a deal at bi-annual exception for just $3.4 million may have been a little surprising for some, but a strange year with the Lakers may go some way to explaining how that came about.

Lopez was somewhat miscast on a young and rebuilding team in Los Angeles last season, as the team’s priorities were far from ensuring that the veteran center was a featured piece of their play. In developing a roster full of young prospects, Lopez didn’t necessarily get the kind of spotlight he’d previously received during his career with the Nets, and perhaps that played into his availability at such a low cost.

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Even more tellingly, it likely left Lopez with the motivation to get to a situation that much better suited him, even if that was accompanied by a short term pay cut.

The Bucks fit that bill perfectly, offering a clear path to a significant role on a team with aspirations to be among the best teams in the Eastern Conference. With that in mind, the question for the Bucks will be how to get the best out of Lopez, and potentially avoid some of the mistakes the Lakers may have made with him.

Let’s look at some of Brook Lopez’s stats first

In terms of counting stats per 100 possessions, the drops compared to Lopez’s last season in Brooklyn weren’t that huge in L.A., except for the drop in points (from 31.8 to 25.7) and turnovers (from 3.8 to 2.6) which can be attributed to lower usage (from 29.2 percent to 23.5 percent).

His free throw percentage also dropped off, but as a consistent shooter from the line over the course of his career that may just be a single season blip. His shooting percentages from two and three-point range, assist numbers and rebounding, block and steal numbers were still almost identical.

Looking at some advanced stats, Lopez’s Box Plus Minus (BPM) went down from 1.5 to 0.5. Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) dropped from 2.0 to 1.1. win shares per 48 stayed the same though at 0.105.

What does all of this mean? Essentially, Brook Lopez did not change that much in terms of what he can produce on the floor, however, he contributed less to winning basketball for the Lakers than he did for the Nets. In other words, it seems fair to see he was a bit misused, while also failing to fit that well with what the Lakers were trying to do.

Let’s look into how Brook Lopez can fit defensively

Defensively, Lopez is slow and his rebounding impact does not seem that good on the surface but he does have a big body and can box out other big centers, meaning other rebounders (like Giannis Antetokounmpo) should benefit from his presence.

After all, neither the 2016-17 Nets (18th in defensive rebounding percentage) nor the 2017-18 Lakers (12th in defensive rebounding percentage) had a big defensive rebounding problem despite Brook Lopez having low individual rebounding numbers. Lopez definitely won’t be asked to switch on the perimeter though and will not be the first guy back in transition.

So when the 30-year-old is on the floor, the Bucks’ defensive scheme will have to be more passive with less switching, allowing him to stay in the paint as much as possible.

The good news is the Bucks have been one of the best teams in the league at preventing transition possessions by getting back on defense and not prioritizing offensive rebounds. They gave up the least shots in the league in the 22-18 seconds range and the second least in the 18-15 seconds range last season.

It remains to be seen whether new head coach Mike Budenholzer will fully adopt that same strategy, but it would be a good idea for the minutes when Brook Lopez is on the floor at the very least. Lopez is not a good offensive rebounder anyway so the risk of giving up easier transition possessions by gambling for the offensive board is probably not worth it during his minutes.

Getting your hopes up for any kind of defensive improvement because of the addition of Brook Lopez is probably not the best bet, as he had the worst defensive rating on the Lakers last year.

However, his big body could help prevent easy post-ups. Good post-up bigs have been the Bucks’ worst nightmare, which was most evident when the Bucks were dominated by Nikola Jokic back in February. Even more mediocre post-up bigs are often the cause of huge problems for the Bucks, so Lopez’s size alone may help the Bucks to improve somewhat in that area.

Lopez’s offensive abilities are the great attraction

Back in 2016-17, the Nets decided to bump up their transition frequency and pace under Kenny Atkinson, former assistant of Mike Budenholzer. For a classic post-up big like Lopez that wasn’t ideal, but he adapted by expanding his game to beyond the three-point line.

In the time since, Lopez had a three-point attempt rate of 33 percent on his last season on the Nets and 41 percent on the Lakers. Lopez will never be a rim-runner, but he can hit threes from the corner or the top of the arc from trailing behind the play. The Bucks are closer to the Lakers in that regard, as the Bucks and Lakers were the teams that got out in transition most frequently last year.

Perhaps that fast offensive pace is still out of his comfort zone but the more transition the better. It’s on Lopez to adapt to it, not on the Bucks to adapt to Lopez, and he’s at least shown a willingness to shape is game to a more modern approach in recent years.

The problem is, at times, Lopez perhaps falls a bit too much in love with the three and settles for spot-up corner attempts even in halfcourt situations. Pick-and-pop and spot-ups are of course very good to stretch the floor but post-ups still have their value if used the right way to take advantage of mismatches, force doubles and find open shots. Lopez is both a very good scorer and passer out of the post, so it should remain a feature of his game.

Out of bigs that average more than five post-ups per game, Lopez averaged a pretty healthy 49.1 percent from the field, while passing out of his post-ups 32.3 percent of the time. For the standards of halfcourt offense, this is efficient. If you can’t get a transition basket, trying to get Lopez a good touch down low is a very good option.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: Grades for Brook Lopez’s one-year, $3.4 million deal

The coming season should provide Lopez with chance to prove he can contribute in a more modern offense, but this time on a playoff team, with next free agency looming again for him next summer. He has all the tools to do it if he is used correctly, and in the process, the Bucks get an above average starting center for one year at a great value price.