There are times that we take greatness for granted. As far as the Milwaukee Bucks are concerned, that’s a regular occurrence when Giannis Antetokounmpo does something previously unimaginable. In this case, though, it is actually Giannis’ brilliance that is blinding us to another stretch of incredible performance from one of his teammates: Brook Lopez.
We would not recommend testing Brook at the rim. pic.twitter.com/72NrEfPgg8— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 27, 2022
BROOK LOPEZ MEETS EMBIID AT THE RIM— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) October 21, 2022
Lopez is in his fifteenth NBA season and, as of this morning, leads the league in blocks per game at 4.3. Yes, it’s extremely early in the year, and yes, it’s only been three games, but this sort of dominance is a welcome sight for Bucks fans – and the Bucks themselves – who sorely missed Lopez for most of the regular season last year.
"He's really changing the game in the paint"— NBA (@NBA) October 27, 2022
Head coach Mike Budenholzer on Brook Lopez's defensive ability after his 6 blocks in the @Bucks' win! pic.twitter.com/hIsRxMUsnF
As the anchor of the Bucks’ defense, Lopez dropping back to cover the paint allows Giannis to roam freely, a one-two defensive combination that is exceptionally difficult to counter. Combined with the point-of-attack resistance provided by Jrue Holiday, there’s no mistaking how Milwaukee has started off as a defense-first franchise this year. But it’s the shift in philosophy off-ball, the newfound insistence on staying home on shooters, that is taking the best options away from the opponent, and it puts an awful lot more pressure on Brook Lopez to hold up his end of the defensive bargain.
So far, it seems to be working. As we are starting to see, Milwaukee is daring the opposing ball-handler to drive inside the arc and create a two-point opportunity. But the rub lies in how that decision is made; do you take the open midrange jumper (knowing that it’s the least valuable shot if you’re not one of the ten humans who can make them at a high enough rate to be worthwhile), or do you try the Bucks’ bigs at the rim? The help defenders are not helping off of shooters as much, so passing out of that situation isn’t a clear solution. The on-ball defender is on his way back for a rearview contest of a midrange shot, so that has to be taken into account. Get to the rim and try to draw a foul, that’s always a good plan! ...except you have to scale Splash Mountain to do so, with the Greek Freak waiting in the wings.
35 34 years old, so this sort of performance isn’t going to last forever. Time is undefeated...but for now, Brook is holding it at bay and, in the process, opposing offenses are left without an answer.