Brook Lopez has been great for the Milwaukee Bucks this season, and he’s already paving a path that Thon Maker should be looking to follow.
If there was anyone out there doubting just how much value Brook Lopez could bring to the Milwaukee Bucks this season, his play on the team’s recently completed Western Conference road trip must surely have silenced them.
Lopez signed with the Milwaukee Bucks over the offseason on a one year deal worth $3.4 million. The hope was he’d provide floor spacing from the center position for new coach Mike Budenholzer’s offense, even if that was just because the threat of his shooting would keep the defense honest. As it’s turned out, he’s already giving the Bucks much more as he cashes in on the looks the offense is creating for him.
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Lopez has been phenomenal in his role, averaging 13.0 points per game on 46.4 percent from the field, and 41.9 percent on his 7.2 three-point attempts per game. On the aforementioned road trip, he knocked down 20-of-37 attempts from long range.
In short, Lopez is fulfilling the role he was brought in to play. The threat of Lopez at the three-point line is forcing teams to guard him out there, and now that he’s making those shots that attention will only increase. This gives Giannis Antetokounmpo, among others, the freedom to drive to the basket.
The only potential problem with the Bucks’ Brook Lopez experiment is that he’s only committed to a one-year contract.
The Bucks are showing signs of proving they can be contenders this season, and for years to come. With the performances Lopez is giving, it seems inevitable that he’ll have a string of suitors in the offseason. If the Bucks aren’t able to retain him, who will fill Lopez’s role next season?
There’s one player on the current roster who has the potential to do so at the very least.
Now in his third year in the NBA, Thon Maker certainly has the play style, and some of the instincts, to look to emulate Lopez in the longer term.
Maker has already shown that he has the proclivity to shoot the three ball. At the moment, though, he is receiving only 11.6 minutes per game, and has played in only five games. In other words, he’s not currently in the rotation, and may find it hard to break in considering Milwaukee’s current high standards.
Outside of the floor spacing Lopez offers, with a little more development, Maker could easily hope to replicate some of the veteran’s other contributions. He has the length to become a solid rim protector and rebounder, and perhaps like Lopez, even if he doesn’t become a dominant rebounder, he could become a box-out specialist who enables teammates to rack up boards.
If Lopez leaves next summer, the Bucks may even need Maker to step up and do those things.
One of the aspects holding the Australian back is his strength. There is an obvious strength differential between him and his veteran teammate, as can be identified just by comparing Maker and Lopez’s body types. However, Maker is much quicker than Lopez, which gives him the ability to recover on defense and switch more easily. If Maker becomes stronger, many of his other problems should be solved.
Considering the Bucks concerted effort to help him bulk up since he was drafted, it remains to be seen just how realistic that goal is for him at this point, though.
Another problem, and perhaps the most pressing one in comparing him to Lopez, is his three-point stroke. In the extremely small sample size from this season, he is shooting the three at 33 percent. A more accurate representation of his shooting percentage can be found from last season, when he appeared in 74 games and his three-point percentage was 29.8.
At this stage in Maker’s career, the Bucks do not need him to be a star. Having said that, his development is still important. He may be needed to take up Lopez’s role next season, and if he is to have any chance of doing that, Maker will have to learn a lot from playing alongside and working out with Lopez in the months ahead.
He has a lot of work to do, but considering his range of skills and style of play, it’s by no means impossible that Maker could take the necessary leap.