Milwaukee Bucks: Brook Lopez’s Case for Defensive Player of the Year

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 07: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 07: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Though his three point shooting has earned him most of the plaudits this season, Milwaukee Bucks Center Brook Lopez has an underrated case for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year

It’s been a dream season for Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez.

After managing to land just a one-year contract at the bi-annual exception last summer, Lopez has seen a major resurgence on the league’s best regular season team.

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While much of the praise he’s gotten has focused on the elite three-point shooting that’s earned him the nickname “Splash Mountain,” Lopez has had an even greater effect on the other side of the court with his defense.

Though significant attention has been given to his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has a legitimate chance to become just the third player in NBA history to win the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season, as The Ringer’s Danny Chau discussed earlier this week, Lopez deserves consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year award too.

Lopez has given the Bucks something they’ve only had in fits and spurts over the past several years: a legitimate shot blocker who prevents teams from being able to score in the paint.

Lopez is having his best career season in blocks, averaging 2.2 per game. Only four players have blocked as many or more shots per game than him this season.

His great positioning, anticipation, and reading of the game allow him to roam the interior and help out whenever an opposing player tries to drive. This often forces the driving player to kick the ball out to a teammate for a lower percentage jump shot, or results in an extremely difficult shot that’s highly contested at the rim.

The Bucks are allowing just 42.1 points in the paint per game this year, just one tenth of a point off the best team, and third best overall. This represents a radical shift from last season, where the Bucks finished 23rd and gave up 47.3 points per game in the paint. Lopez is a major reason why that’s changed.

A deeper dig into the advanced stats paints Lopez in an even better light, and show just how far reaching his defensive impact is.

Lopez has blocked 6.4 percent of the shot attempts against him this season. That’s fourth best in the NBA, just behind Myles Turner, JaVale McGee, and Hassan Whiteside.

Opponents are shooting just 51.8 percent at the rim against him when he’s the closest defender, putting him in the top-10 in the league. Zach Kram of The Ringer highlighted that here. That total puts him on par with one of the league’s most highly regarded defensive big men, Rudy Gobert.

The Milwaukee Bucks hold the best defensive rating in the NBA at 104.3, over a half point better than the second placed Utah Jazz.

When Lopez is on the floor, the Bucks defensive rating is two points better than their already league best rating, at 102.3. That puts him sixth among all NBA players who’ve played at least 60 games and logged at least 24 minutes per game. Only Antetokounmpo has a better defensive rating on the Bucks.

What makes Lopez such an effective force on defense, however, is not just that he’s able to hassle players at the rim. He’s been able to rotate on to and effectively stay in front of quicker players too.

One of the chief concerns coming into this season was whether Lopez’s lack of lateral quickness would leave the Bucks vulnerable defensively in pick-and-roll situations. Teams often target players of his ilk in that way because they don’t have the lateral speed to stay in front of a guard or athletic forward. Lopez has largely been able to to hold his own in these situations.

Perhaps the biggest effect Lopez has had on the Bucks is his superior rim protection and ability to hold his own on switches has allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to play a  “one man zone” that “takes advantage of Antetokounmpo’s length and ability to cover a remarkable amount of ground with just one step.”

Antetokounmpo has posted more gaudy defensive numbers than Lopez. However, without the things that Lopez provides, Antetokounmpo wouldn’t be able to play as the kind of secondary roaming rim-protector where his defensive talent is maximized.

Though his odds remain long, Lopez at least deserves to be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. His contributions should be talked about, and he certainly should be in the mix for the All-Defensive teams.

The Bucks’ defense has risen from the ashes of the Jason Kidd years to become the menacing force that many thought they were capable of being when they first broke on to the scene five years ago. Lopez has arguably been the biggest reason why that resurgence has happened.

His elite rim protection, effective help defense, and ability to hold his own on switches has assisted the Bucks in reaching their lofty potential.

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That’s why Brook Lopez deserves serious consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year award.