After finding his shot in the bubble, the Milwaukee Bucks will depend on Brook Lopez to pair his late season shooting spark with his All-Defense caliber defending.
It was officially a tale of two seasons for the Milwaukee Bucks and more specifically, Brook Lopez.
No Bucks player served up a more lopsided season than Lopez prior to the season suspension. Defensively, Lopez’s work was excellent enough to eventually land on the league’s All-Defensive Second Team this season and served as an overdue vindication in an area where he had long been derided earlier in his career.
On the offensive side of the ball, though, it took until the Bucks reached the bubble for Lopez to sport the long-awaited shooting reversion that all Bucks fans had been waiting for after he had struggled all year to that point.
In the 17 appearances he had in the bubble, both seeding games and postseason combined, Lopez averaged 17.7 points on .509/.414/.862 shooting splits.
That’s a small sample size, obviously, but the lid clearly came off the hoop and then some for Lopez and it was an overdue sight. The irony is that right as Lopez had figured his season-long slump, the Bucks’ deep underlying problems that eventually precipitated their demise in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat came to the fore.
Perhaps the biggest key to Lopez’s 3-point shooting uptick was setting up shop from either corner, where he went 13-for-29 (44.8 percent) on such shots over the course of the Bucks’ all-too-brief playoff run.
Now as the Bucks embark on an offseason that will be centered around their foundation and trying to capitalize on this title-contending window, Lopez’s two-way consistency will obviously be key throughout next season.
For as much as he’s fortified the Bucks’ foundation and has provided them with a long-term solution at the center position, the combination of Lopez’s brilliant rim protection and his heat check-like sharpshooting from deep has shined together in fits and starts.
Of course, most of that lies with Lopez’s extended shooting slumps and that speaks to his defensive greatness and ability to block of the rim to opponents that he still remained a net-positive contributor throughout the highs of the Bucks’ regular season run. And we only have to go back to the Bucks’ struggles to protect the rim without Lopez on the floor during the playoffs to see how critical he is to their overall defensive resistance.
But when it comes down to it, Lopez’s function as the Bucks’ premier stretch-5 and long range bomber does so much to lift the Bucks offensively and their overall spacing on the floor. We all know the driving lanes that open up for superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo or Eric Bledsoe or being able to spot up and launch up shots quickly following hot potato-like passes from teammates, which he can corral with his seven-foot frame.
When Lopez’s shots are falling from downtown, it only raises the Bucks’ offensive firepower that much more. While the veteran big man won’t shoot 41.4 percent from three over the course of an 82-game season and playoff run next year, the sharp uptick shows that indicates his shooting touch is not permanently broken after having struggled for over a year in that regard, whether it be with the Bucks or playing for Team USA.
Aside from that, Lopez being able to sustain his late season offensive spark beyond just hitting threes may come down to the Bucks’ offensive structure.
After having made a big point of trying to invert the Bucks’ offense and using Lopez as a weapon down in the post throughout the regular season to great success, seeing that excised from their playoff plans and against the Heat was discouraging to say the least. All while the Bucks’ offense endured through painful scoring droughts, as exemplified by their Game 3 meltdown in the fourth quarter.
On that same line of thought, it would be help if the Bucks had a player capable of dishing up some solid post entry passes to get Lopez the ball in those situations and perhaps their search for a playmaking upgrade would help in that department. Either way, I digress.
What Lopez showed in the bubble with his offensive reawakening proved to be one of the silver linings in the Bucks’ latest playoff flameout. Without knowing when or even where the 2020-21 season takes place, a lot is riding on that being the case for Lopez and the Bucks next year.