The Milwaukee Bucks clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Wednesday, but they had to do so without Giannis Antetokounmpo on the second night of a back-to-back.
No problem — Bobby Portis exploded for 27 points and 13 rebounds, Jrue Holiday racked up 20 points and 15 assists, and Brook Lopez tossed in 26 points to handle the Chicago Bulls. One neat postgame statistic from ESPN's Kane Pitman caught my eye:
Brook Lopez now has 26 games with 20+ points this season. He had 26 games with 20+ points across his first four regular seasons in Milwaukee. He will be a DPOY finalist but his scoring has wound back the clock during his age 35 season.— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) April 6, 2023
Lopez is putting up 15.9 points per game, his highest since his All-Star days with the Brooklyn Nets, at the most efficient scoring clip of his career. He's helped the Bucks retake the top of the conference while remaining square in the middle of the Defensive Player of the Year race.
The award's front-runner, Jaren Jackson Jr., has also quietly ascended on the offensive end. Jackson is averaging a career-high 18.3 points per game (20.9 since the All-Star break) with a career-best 58.5% two-point shooting clip. He dropped 40 in Wednesday's overtime loss to the Pelicans and has helped the Grizzlies go 12-4 since March 9.
While the two bigs are duking it out for DPOY, their steps forward as scorers have put each team in the championship conversation.
Starting with Lopez, his output this season hasn't come with increased touches. A cursory glance through PBP Stats' tracking data shows the 35-year-old is hovering at similar rates in touches and volume touch time relative to his entire Milwaukee tenure. His low 16.7% usage rate follows the same trend. But Lopez has received a significant green light; his mark of 11.5 field goal attempts per game is the most in the last six years.
Those extra shots have been distributed relatively evenly across different spots on the floor, but Lopez's paint presence is perhaps the most notable change. Here's a look at his impact of scoring inside since joining the Bucks in 2018, using data from PBP Stats (scroll right to view full table on mobile):
|Year||Touches/100 poss.||Paint touches/100 poss.||Paint touches FG%
||At-Rim FGA/game||At-Rim FG%|
*Note that Lopez played just 13 games in 2021-22 due to injury.
Lopez's current paint diet builds off of his abbreviated 2021-22 campaign, and this time, he's consistently converting on his greatest volume as a Buck. In addition to the strong marks at the rim, Lopez is also hitting a blistering 56% of his short-mid-range shots, per Cleaning the Glass.
The 35-year-old scored his 26 points on Wednesday despite a quiet 0-for-2 night from distance. He made 10 of 17 attempts inside the arc. Some were confident driving layups where he powered through Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond. But this play highlights how his roll (heyo!) is changing:
With the amount of drop coverage in today's NBA, plus the different downhill playmakers Milwaukee employs, Lopez has windows available as a roller. Here he stays in the passing lane during Joe Ingles' drive, seals off Derrick Jones Jr. and finishes the layup.
This earlier bucket was the second of two near-identical makes in a row. Chicago sets its drop early in the action, but Vucevic is tighter on Holiday given the guard's threat to pull up. The window is open quicker for a short-roll pass that Holiday easily makes. Lopez then knocks down the soft-touch floater that the smaller DeMar DeRozan can't really contest.
According to play-type data from Synergy, Lopez is spending 21.2% of his possessions this season as a roll man. That's the highest frequency of his Bucks career, and it's steadily increased in each subsequent year from 14.1% in 2018-19. "Roll man" in Synergy terms can also include pick-and-pop plays, where Lopez often thrives, but he's also adding more classic rolls.
Tack on a career-high 37.4% clip from beyond the arc, and Lopez has found the pockets for him to excel within Milwaukee's offense without taking on a significantly larger workload.