Brook Lopez’s stock is fading fast
Heading into the season, the Bucks were surrounded by questions. How would Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo mesh? How would the Bucks replace Jrue Holiday’s defense? Had Giannis lost a step? Was Khris Middleton healthy? Would the Bucks regret investing so many roster spots in rookie and second-year players?
The question they weren’t supposed to have to ask was whether Brook Lopez was suddenly bad at defense. That’s an unfair question, of course, but after he finished as a Defensive Player of the Year finalist last season, Lopez is struggling to find his place defensively to start the 2023-24 season.
Looking out of sorts in the Bucks’ new aggressive scheme, Lopez was caught out in space too often and not able to rotate to the rim fast enough. At 35 years old, it’s without question that Lopez does his work in a drop coverage walling off the paint, but the pull of new head coach Adrian Griffin to play a pressure scheme pulled Lopez out of his comfort zone. They have shifted more back to drop coverage in recent games, and that is helping Lopez to stabilize his impact. Even so, he has a negative Defensive Box Plus-Minus for the season.
Where it gets even worse is on offense, however. Lopez is shooting just 39.4 percent from the field, making a measly 45.2 percent of his 2-pointers, and paired with decreased volume and decreased minutes has Lopez averaging just 9.5 points per game, by far a career-low. What’s more, the Bucks’ offense has ground to a halt when he is on the court. Per Cleaning the Glass, when Lopez takes the court the Bucks’ offense gets 26 points per 100 possessions worse; that’s the worst impact of any rotation player in the league.
Overall, then, Lopez is uncomfortable on defense and disastrous on offense, and he is a cumulative -67 on the season; not only is that the worst number on the Bucks, it’s the 11th-worst number in the league. Has Lopez lost a step, lost some touch, lost something that is irretrievable? Or has the combination of adding a new perimeter star two weeks before the season and a new coach clearly unsure of how to best deploy this team prevented Lopez (and others) from finding their place?
Bucks fans hope it’s the latter, and that time will allow things to settle in and this team to get back on track. If Middleton slowly increases his minutes, Lopez finds his touch and Griffin finds the way to fit the pieces together, this team could still be a top-tier title contender. The early signs, however, are not encouraging, and the play of Lopez in particular headlines what has been a painful start to the year.