Milwaukee Bucks: Grading the offseason acquisitions after 23 games

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 16: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 16: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – NOVEMBER 28: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – NOVEMBER 28: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez signed a one-year deal worth $3.8 million with the Bucks during free agency. The move was roundly applauded by Bucks fans and NBA experts alike.

The Bucks had a need at center, with only John Henson and Thon Maker on the roster after last season, and Lopez added a veteran presence who had shown in recent years an ability to step out and hit outside shots.

The previous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lopez averaged a career-low in minutes played per game, (excluding seasons cut-short by injury), but averaged over four three-point attempts per game and hit them at a 34 percent clip.

The fit and money made sense, and the Bucks seemingly got good value in Lopez. Not only was Lopez a bargain, but he’s probably proved to be the steal of free agency over the course of the season so far.

The argument can be made that Lopez is one of the most important players to the Bucks racing out to a 16-7 start to begin the season and positioning themselves as a legitimate NBA Finals contender.

Lopez has fit Budenholzer’s offensive and defensive schemes to a T, as his shooting has opened up the floor to allow Giannis to dominate the paint, and his defense is a prime reason why the Bucks have jumped from one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA to one of the best.

When you look at Lopez’s traditional box score stats, they don’t immediately jump out at you. He’s currently averaging a little over 11 points along with four rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, but Lopez’s impact goes beyond the box score.

Lopez is spacing the floor by averaging a career-high 6.7 three-point attempts per game (over 11 per 100 possessions) and is knocking them down at a career-high 36 percent rate. He’s forcing opposing big men to come out and guard him at the three-point line, which is giving Giannis, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe more space than ever on the interior and more lanes for penetration.

On those times the opposing center holds back to try and protect the rim, Lopez is burning them enough with his shooting to force an adjustment. It may seem like a sound strategy to think let’s let Lopez beat us with his shooting instead of Giannis with his dunking, but Lopez has proven very capable of making teams pay for that thinking.

Lopez has hit at least one three-pointer in every game but one, has made more than one in 16 games, and made five or more in four different games already this season, including his explosion in Denver. If you let him get going, he will bury you.

As of right now, Lopez is on pace to pass 200 made three-pointers this season, which would crush his previous career-best of 134 in a season.

He’s also having his most efficient season in years, with a career-best effective field goal percentage and his best offensive rating per 100 possessions since the 2014-15, despite a career-low usage percentage.

The Bucks currently score the most points per game of any team in the NBA and have the best offensive rating, and Lopez is a huge reason why.

And we haven’t even gotten to his defense.

Throughout his career, Lopez has been a vastly underrated defensive center, using his size to protect the rim without fouling better than most centers. This season, playing under Budenholzer who lets Lopez mostly hang in the paint to protect the rim, Lopez is having his best defensive season yet.

He isn’t stuffing the box score with swats and steals, but he’s protecting the paint for the Bucks as good as any center in the league. His current defensive rating per 100 possessions is the best since the 2014-2015 season and Lopez currently has a career-high in defensive box plus/minus (essentially how much better a player is than an average player defensively).

The Bucks’ defense went from a 110.1 rating in 2017-2018, to 105.8 as of right now, and not all of that is Lopez, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good without him roaming the paint.

Perhaps the best way he’s helped the Bucks’ defense is when it comes to rebounding. Last season (and the season before that, and the season before that, and the season before that…), the Bucks were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. This year, they’re the best.

Lopez doesn’t gobble up rebounds, but he’s one of the best centers in the league at boxing out and keeping the opponent’s big men off the boards. As they say, the possession isn’t over until you grab the rebound.

All in all, Lopez has been tremendous value for the Bucks so far, contributing in all facets of the game and helping propel the Bucks to their historic start to the season. Considering the price tag for Lopez, it’s safe to say that Horst hit a home run with this one so far.

Grade: A