Brook Lopez was never the Milwaukee Bucks' defensive problem

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The spotlight has never been brighter on the Milwaukee Bucks than it has been this season. After making the big trade to acquire Damian Lillard in the offseason and firing two coaches in the span of eight months, there is a plethora of things to analyze and criticize with the team.

One of the topics that fans have had varying opinions on this season has been the play of Brook Lopez. After playing in 78 of 82 games last season and finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, the Bucks re-signed Lopez on a two-year, $48 million contract to keep him in Milwaukee.

Playing for a new coach in Adrian Griffin and in a different defensive scheme, people questioned just how well Lopez would still fit in on the defensive end. And in the first half of the season, there seemed to be some mixed results.

Lopez still averaged nearly three blocks per game and was great when he defended shots at the rim, but overall, opponents were shooting 48 percent on shots defended by Lopez after shooting just 44 percent against him in the Budenholzer era, per Opponents just seemed to be scoring on him more often, and the Bucks as a team were 21st in defensive rating.

For five seasons under Budenholzer, the Bucks always did a great job preventing shots around the rim with a defense anchored by Lopez, ranking third in fewest rim attempts allowed per game from 2018-2023, per PBP stats. However, under Adrian Griffin, the Bucks fell all the way to 19th in fewest rim attempts allowed per game.

Griffin's defensive scheme involved guards pressuring out very far from the basket, and everyone was pulled out further from the rim than before, including Lopez. Brook has never thrived as a defender when he is away from the basket, so there were times he really struggled with the scheme and was scored on more often as a result. Fans immediately starting questioning whether Lopez was still a good fit for this defense and if he possibly needed to be moved.

But the problem was not Brook Lopez, it was the scheme that was making him and everyone else look worse because it did not play to the players' strengths.

The Bucks did not have the perimeter defenders needed to run the aggressive scheme they were running with Griffin. Their guards were constantly blown by on the perimeter, forcing Lopez to come out further than he wanted to in order to cover the midrange area, and thus leaving the rim exposed more than before. Bucks defenders also stuck to perimeter shooters a lot on drives rather than sliding over to help, so Lopez would be the one forced to come over to help on those drives, once again leaving his ideal spot near the basket and putting the Bucks in poor position.

Essentially, Lopez all of a sudden had to come out and cover a lot more ground than before, and although there were quite a few times he looked as though he was being exposed defensively, it was really just a scheme that was not putting him in position to succeed. And Lopez himself seemed to not be too fond of the scheme.

Still, despite not always being put in the best position, Lopez's defensive impact was very underrated with Griffin. The Bucks had a 113.9 defensive rating under Griffin when Lopez was on the court, which would rank 12th in the NBA this season, and a 118.3 defensive rating with Lopez off the court, which would rank 25th. He was one of the few things keeping their defense afloat.

Since Griffin was fired and the scheme changed, those numbers have become even better. In 15 games post-Griffin, Milwaukee has a ridiculous 102.0 defensive rating with Lopez on the court (by far the best of any Bucks player), and he has been thriving again on the defensive end.

Lopez is back to allowing just a 43.7 field goal percentage on shots against him post-Griffin (compared to 48 percent before), in large part due to him remaining around the basket and keeping everything in front of him, the way he was meant to defend.

The Bucks went from allowing the sixth most paint points per game under Adrian Griffin to allowing the seventh fewest post-Griffin. This has largely been due to them applying less pressure on the perimeter, limiting drives, and allowing Lopez to stay back near the rim. There are far fewer defensive breakdowns as the scheme has been adapted to better fit the players' strengths.

With Griffin


Paint points allowed per game

54.0 (25th)

48.0 (7th)

Lopez FG% allowed



Lopez defensive rating



Rim attempts allowed per game

27.1 (19th)

25.3 (6th)

FG% allowed at rim

66.1% (15th)

62.8% (5th)

When Lopez is able to remain near the rim, he is one of the fiercest defenders in the entire league and deters opponents from even attempting shots near the rim. Backed by their defensive anchor in Lopez, Milwaukee has returned to protecting the rim at an elite level, allowing the sixth fewest rim attempts per game and the fifth lowest percentage at the rim post-Griffin. On the season, Bucks opponents are shooting 5.2 percent worse at the rim when Lopez is on the court compared to when he is off, ranking him in the 91st percentile in that category.

And if you think that Giannis has been more important to the defense than Brook, think again. The Bucks have a stellar 111.7 defensive rating with both Giannis and Brook on the court together... when Brook is on the court without Giannis, that number is still decent at 116.5, but when Giannis is on the court without Brook, that rating becomes a horrible 122.8. To put it simply, the Bucks have been a very bad defensive team when Brook Lopez has been off the court and a good defensive team when he has been on the court.

Brook Lopez was not the problem with Milwaukee's defense, and it's good that the Bucks realized that and got a coach that could help this defense play more to the strengths of their defensive anchor. There will sometimes still be teams who are able to exploit has lack of quickness and force the Bucks to play him less, but he is still one of the best interior defenders in the league and a game changer with his ability to protect the rim.

Milwaukee now has the sixth best defensive rating since firing Adrian Griffin and are definitely trending in the right direction on that end of the court. If they can continue to be near that level consistently, they will be one of the toughest teams to beat come playoff time.