It’s hard to pin down which definitive thing it is about Brook Lopez that has made him such a revelation and an entertaining player to watch this season. There are so many variables to consider. It could be that he has been given the brilliant nickname ‘Splash Mountain’, which sounds like the final boss one must face in an NBA themed arcade game after fighting off the ‘Splash Brothers’. It could be that Lopez’s jump shot looks something in between Dirk’s graceful fade-away and being punched in the stomach by a tiny Ty Lawson. It could be that his shot map after some games, particularly against my beloved Denver, looks like it has been mixed up with Reggie Miller’s against the ’95 Knicks (slight exaggeration, but that is how it felt.)
One thing we know for sure however, is these reasons are all a product of the three-point shot and the complete re-design of Lopez’s offensive game.
A quick look over Lopez’s career stats will show you that the so called ‘Splash Mountain’ had not taken a three pointer for the first seven years of his NBA career. And it wasn’t until his ninth season, his final season for the Brooklyn Nets, that he attempted more than one three-point shot per game. In fact, (per Basketball Reference) he went from attempting 0.2 three-pointers per game (with a .147% percentage) in 2015-16, to attempting 5.2 three-pointers per game (with a .346% percentage) in 2016-17.
Brook’s final campaign as a Brooklyn Net was in fact his second highest scoring season, per 36 minutes, since 2011-12. In terms of points per 36, he averaged 24.9 in 2016-17, 19.9 in 2017-18 and is currently averaging 15.7. This is definitely not an improvement scoring-wise, hence why this is a ‘curious case’.
No one found the seven-footer’s last two seasons more interesting than the Bucks front office. Due to the incomprehensible change to Lopez’s offensive game, i.e. his development of the three-point shot, ‘Splash Mountain’ became very attractive to Bucks GM John Horst. Having hired Coach Budenholzer in the summer, Horst added Lopez to his roster signing him to a 1 year $3.3 million contract. The front office believed his development into becoming a stretch-five was essential to the core of the former Coach of the Year’s principles. Lo and behold, Lopez has essentially become the Al Horford of the Bucks. Stretching the floor and getting players good looks from three is crucial to Coach Bud’s philosophy, and by utilising Brook’s skills, the Milwaukee Bucks have executed this perfectly; which has led to the best record in the NBA (48-16). The 7-ft three-point machine has been essential to this success, which therein lies the potential case for Brook Lopez win this season’s Most Improved Player award (MIP).
Too often, the end of season awards such as Rookie of the year, MVP and MIP are dictated by which player from each category has scored the most points, or put up the craziest stats. That is why Brook most likely won’t win MIP. However, his 15.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, a career high 2.7 blocks, and a respectable .370% three-point percentage (also a career high) have led the Bucks to being the most winningest NBA team this season.
Last season on a big market team, people were forgetting Brook Lopez. Now with the Bucks, he's one of the league leaders in 3PT and blocks. Winning changes everything. pic.twitter.com/twFq7pK8Sb
— Bucks Nation (@MILBucksNation) March 5, 2019
His numbers are reliable and steady and are often overlooked, but damn they are impressive. Much like his playstyle. Lopez has been one of the most fun players to watch this season. It is honestly astonishing how a 7-ft rock can just become invisible to defenses. Teams forget he is there until they crane their neck up to see him shooting over them. When opposition defenses do notice him, which is more as the season has progressed, it allows him to space the floor significantly, alongside Ersan Ilyasova and, very recently, Nikola Mirotic. His ability to space the floor and protect the rim at an elite level has been quintessential in allowing his team mates to score, and in allowing Giannis Antetokounmpo acres of space to gallop in to. Giannis has accumulated countless buckets in his MVP level season because all four of his team mates can stretch the floor, with the looming threat of a three-pointer. Lopez’s influence on “The Greak Freak” is the most important, however, and cannot be overlooked. When Giannis is on the floor with Brook, Giannis’ offensive rating improves from 102.1 to a whopping 114.0.
Brook Lopez is a 10-year NBA player, with the skills and IQ to re-invent his game from the ground up to cater to the changing style of the NBA. For $3.3 million dollars, the ‘Splash Mountain’ this season has become one of the most underrated players in the league and has improved his game tenfold. He currently has more 3-point field goals than any other big in the league, with 143, and the third most blocks in the NBA (124), behind only the 2017-18 Defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert and the one man block party, Myles Turner. Despite the lack of recognition, Brook Lopez is having a historical season, currently standing as the only player in NBA history to average over 2 three-pointers per game, and 2 blocks per game.
He may not have the highest stats, and he may have decreased in overall scoring, but Lopez has become a vital cog in an outstandingly efficient machine, doing whatever is necessary to keep the machine well-oiled and functioning at its most effective output. Will he be the Most Improved Player? Unlikely. Does he deserve the recognition for the improvement he has made to both his own and his teammates game this season? Absolutely he does.
Feature photo – USAToday Sports / Getty Images / AP / performgroup / Double Clutch illustration