Only one person in the league has been tougher to score against near the basket than Brook Lopez this season. This is what it is like to drive on Brook when you are one of the fastest-rising and most athletic 23 year-old basketball players in the world:
(Giannis is that one person)
Last season, Brook ranked just ahead of Rudy Gobert in defending shots within six feet of the rim. This season, Brook is still ahead of Gobert, but this time it is not close. The Bucks are by far the hardest team to score against near the basket.
When Brook came to Milwaukee a couple years ago, he was only a year removed from averaging nearly 20 points per game for an eight-year stretch. Now, he is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Now, he doesn’t need to score to make a massive impact.
But it helps when he does.
The Bucks have increasingly aimed to exploit mismatches with Brook in the post this season. Feeding him for even just a couple good looks per game — which is about what he has been getting this season — will feel even more welcome in the slowed halfcourt style of the playoffs. And their comfort with going to him at least gives the team something to throw at smallballers.
Nevertheless: In 2020 he is Splash Mountain at his offensive quintessence. He reminded us of that against the Mavericks over the weekend when he made 6–12 from deep.
Although the Bucks lost the game, they outscored the Mavericks when Brook was in the game, and you could feel that. He set a season-high with those six long-range hits.
In all 12 games that he has made 3+ threes this season, the Bucks have outscored their opponent when he was on the floor — by a combined 143 points. Last season, Brook made 3+ threes 30 times in the regular season. The team has not missed a beat without the surplus of Brook threes this season. But they are that much harder to beat when he is on. Over his past couple games in the Bubble, Brook is 8–16 on threes, pushing his three point percentage on the season up to 30.6 percent. It is an extremely small sample size, but he is pushing in the right direction, at the right time.
If you remember anything from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Raptors last season, it is probably Brook tipping the game with three triples in the fourth quarter. The Bucks felt almost invincible, and they largely were up to that point with a 10–1 playoff record.
The Bucks will play the Magic in the first round and they may not need a whole lot of Splash Mountain to make it through. If the Bucks get another shot at Toronto though, or at Kawhi, or at the team Brook played for before the Bucks?
Way before tip at the first home game of the season, against the Heat, assistant coach Ben Sullivan flung wicked passes at Brook.
This one was at his knees. Miss. Another one at his knees. Splash. The next one he rifled around his back and it went way high even for the seven-footer. Splash. Brook made his way around the perimeter and this time Sullivan punted the ball at Brook. There was just about no one in the stands. Splash.