Brook Lopez’s defensive rebounding has always been deceptively impactful, and the Milwaukee Bucks will benefit immensely from that impact.
There must be something in the Lopez genes. Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez are enormous people, each listed at no less than seven feet and 255 pounds. Yet neither has ever exceeded a defensive rebounding average of 5.4 per game or defensive rebound percentage of 21.2 percent.
By every individual metric, these hulking men cower whenever a ball bounces off a basketball hoop. Nonetheless, they’re two of the most valuable defensive rebounders in the league.
Brook and Robin Lopez have played 20 NBA seasons between them. Their teams have cleaned the defensive glass better with them off the floor than on only once.
The Lopez twins’ teams aren’t just slightly better on the defensive boards with them on, they’re consistently, massively better. In the last three years, Robin’s on/off defensive rebounding differentials have ranked in the 84th, 79th, and 93rd percentiles among all players. Brook’s have landed in the 98th, 91st, and 76th percentiles.
The Lopez brothers and their hulking frames don’t cower from bouncing basketballs, they actively and intentionally avoid them to improve their teams. Where typical centers, the Hassan Whitesides of the world (who has been a dominant individual defensive rebounder with inconsistent team impact), leaps at every ball, desperate to add another tally to the box score, the Lopez brothers defer.
They box out, have sound fundamentals, are uniquely aware of how they function as a part of one rather than one of five, and their teams are better for it.
For a Milwaukee Bucks team finally looking to build a coherent one, Brook Lopez couldn’t be a better fit.
In 2017-18, just one team had a lower defensive rebound percentage than the Bucks, the tanktastic Orlando Magic. In John Henson, Thon Maker and Tyler Zeller, the Bucks’ center rotation comprised three of the worst individual positional defensive rebounders in the NBA.
In walks Brook Lopez, his hulking frame and oddly imposing fundamentals, a complete and welcome departure from what the Bucks had last year. As always, his impact on team basketball should be considerable.
Undoubtedly, Lopez will improve Milwaukee’s defensive rebounding. The following domino should have a more apparent connection to winning basketball games. In 2017-18, the Bucks had the NBA’s 17th-ranked defense by defensive rating. With Milwaukee’s athletic and lengthy personnel, that was unacceptable.
Lopez’s defensive rebounding impact alone should improve that (in addition to modern and sensible defensive schemes courtesy of anyone not named Jason Kidd). Every time Lopez boxes out his man, freeing Giannis Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton to grab an uncontested board, he’ll be ending possessions and fortifying the defense.
When the Bucks signed Brook Lopez, the first subject of discussion was offense, which made sense (I wrote extensively on Lopez’s offensive impact here). It’s the obvious angle to discuss when a team signs a seven-footer who launches 3s and lumbers around on defense while his Basketball-Reference page spits out embarrassing individual rebounding totals.
There is so much more to Lopez than spacing, though. Chief among those qualities is his seemingly genetic disposition on the boards. When Lopez is on the floor for spacing purposes, you’re not surrendering any traditional center attributes. In fact, your team is almost definitely improving in those respects.
Lopez’s ability to bridge the new and old of the center position will prove invaluable for a Bucks team that has struggled so mightily to pair Antetokounmpo with a suitable frontcourt partner. While that impact might not manifest itself in the box score, it’ll make itself known in impact stats and in the win column.