NBA Stats Notebook: Lauding Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brook Lopez's offense

NBA Stats Notebook: Lauding Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brook Lopez's offense

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:

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%
2018-19 59.6 2.8 65.3% 1.8 75.5%
2019-20 57.5 5.2 61.7% 2.5 66.9%
2020-21 49.4 7.0 70.3% 2.7 74.4%
2021-22* 51.3 9.7 62.8% 3.4 77.3%
2022-23 54.2 9.1 71.2% 3.6 74.7%

*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.

Lopez is making teams pay for how they defend guys like Holiday and Antetokounmpo. His buckets still mostly come via assists. Jackson, meanwhile, is stepping up as a self-creator. 

The 23-year-old has cleared the 60% True Shooting mark for the first time in his five-year career. Yet, he's not shooting threes particularly well (34.4%) and his volume of attempts is down (4.5 per game). Jackson has instead boosted his two-point percentage to a career-best 58.5%. He can attribute that spike to a consistent assertion of getting to the basket. 

According to PBP Stats, more than 40% of Jackson's total shots this year have been self-created twos within 10 feet of the basket. His 53.2% conversion rate on those looks is a whopping nine percentage points better than last season. Jackson's overall 67% clip at the rim is a serious bounce-back from a dreadful 2021-22, and his 47% mark in the short-mid-range area is another career high.

In his monster 40-point outing, Jackson showed off how he's leveraging his length and strength with confidence. He posted up Larry Nance Jr. twice for scores, and was unfazed even when plowing into Nance on the above drive. Jackson still had the balance to turn the moment into a floater. There are also these Giannis-esque moments with Jackson where he uses his long strides and length to glide past defenders. The overall quick decision-making has elevated his attacks.

The lanky forward has traded in some perimeter looks for more aggressive attacks. In fact, Jackson ranks third in points per drive (0.94) among 180 high-volume drivers this season. He's scoring at a decent 50.5% clip and drawing fouls on 18% of his drives, which also ranks third.

Jackson didn't shoot particularly well (13-for-28) en route to his 40-burger on Wednesday, but did draw nine fouls and made 11 of 12 free throws.

Perhaps the most surprising stat: Jackson is one of 100 NBA players who have logged 50 or more isolation possessions this season, per Synergy. He's drawn shooting fouls on a whopping 32.1% of those possessions; that is the highest in the eight-year history of Synergy's play-type tracking.

With his foul-drawing and reliable free-throw shooting, Jackson has created a floor-raiser with his length and athleticism against opposing bigs. As his scoring efficiency comes along, he's looking more and more like a matchup nightmare.

THE OUTLIERS (a.k.a. other random interesting numbers I found in the void):

  • Two extremely important concepts in today's NBA: Creating and preventing advantages. From SIS Hoops:
  • Post-NCAA men's tournament reflection. FAU baby!
  • A few league-wide notes I saw as this season is wrapping up:
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