Assessing early positives from Brook Lopez’s return for Milwaukee Bucks

Mar 19, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports /

I don’t know about you all, but I’m thoroughly surprised at how well Brook Lopez has looked in his first few games back for the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s only been three games, but Lopez looks just as spry and mobile as he did pre-injury.

There was a lot of concern after Lopez had his back surgery earlier this year that he a) wouldn’t be back in time for the playoffs or b) would come back in time, but look nothing like the player we saw in last year’s playoffs.

Well, the small sample so far suggests that those fears should be quelled for the moment. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played in the regular season (and, of course, the playoffs), but Lopez looking this good so far changes some things for the Bucks.

Evaluating Brook Lopez’s first few games in return for the Milwaukee Bucks

Let’s get his modest stat line out of the way. Lopez has averaged 8.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks in 16.8 minutes per game as well as shooting 25 percent from 3 on 2.7 attempts.

But, as any Bucks fan knows, Lopez’s value goes behind his per-game averages. Starting with what is most important to the defending champs, his defense. Sure, he’s averaging less than a block per game, but he’s still making it very hard for opposing players to score on him.

This season, opponents are shooting 32.3 percent on 2-point shots (34 attempts). On shots at the rim, opponents are shooting 54.8 percent against Lopez which is nearly four percent lower than what they shot against him in that area last season.

Lopez has spoken recently that he actually feels better than he did before his surgery, which you can see on the court. He’s been very fluid in his movements and doesn’t look… well, like how Serge Ibaka did when he first returned from his back surgery.

The biggest positive sign was not only that head coach Mike Budenholzer felt comfortable giving him the starting nod in the last game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but also that he played over 20 minutes and looked damn good offensively.

On his first bucket, he pumped and drove past Patrick Beverley then shot around the contesting Jarred Vanderbilt. It was a miss that he put back in, but watch that and tell me that looks like someone coming off of back surgery.

I mean, this dude sprinted down the court and caught a one-handed alley-oop layup. He looks so much better than I could have anticipated this early in his return. The Bucks clearly seems to feel the same way with how they’ve handled his minutes.

They’ve notoriously been cautious with guys coming off of injuries and not wanting to push them. I didn’t think we’d see him at the 20-plus minute mark in only his third game. Sure, some of it was that Giannis Antetokounmpo was out, but Ibaka’s there! He could have easily stepped in alongside Bobby Portis in the starting five.

But they have trusted in their medical staff and Lopez’s recovery that he’s ready for these minutes. We may see him (and others) get rested down the stretch, though they only have one back-to-back.

I’ve said that it will be very hard to repeat as champs not only without Lopez but without him looking something close to what we saw last season. If his first three games are any indication, he’s pretty darn close to that and is rested for a playoff run.

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Hopefully, we continue to see Lopez in the starting lineup down the stretch when Antetokounmpo returns so they can resume dominating around the rim and in the paint.