Milwaukee Bucks: Rim protectors

There is an impressive stat that took “NBA Twitter” by storm this week.

A list of the top rim-defenders in the league, with a minimum of 100 shots defended.

No. 3 is Brook Lopez. He’s holding opponents to a 47 percent completion percentage. No. 2 is his twin brother Robin Lopez at 45.3 percent. The top spot, with a 39.4 percent success rate, belongs to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Translation: you’re better off shooting a mid-range or three-point shot against the Milwaukee Bucks this season.

Although defensive efforts such as blocked shots and rim defenses are an individual statistic, the Bucks success on that end of the floor is immensely predicated on team communication and cohesion.

Point guard Eric Bledsoe recently explained how the perimeter defenders attempt to “funnel” opposing players towards the rim, giving the team’s big men a chance to defend from the weak side. This allows guards to press players more at the three-point line, ensuring their look from deep will be contested, instead of sagging off and giving them more of an open shot. Often players will then drive towards the paint, having to decide between a midrange pull-up or an attempt at the rim.

Bledsoe continued, saying that their goal is to force those midrange attempts, because they’re some of the toughest shots in the game.

“Shoutout to Brook, man,” he then said unprompted during an interview after the Bucks beat the San Antonio Spurs in Milwaukee. “He don’t get enough credit. He had like seven blocked shots. Not to mention all of the shots he alters. He’s just phenomenal.

“Having him down there, timing when they’re trying to throw the lob or when they’re trying shoot a floater. He’s trying to protect the basket and try to guard his man. It’s tough. So he does a hell of a job.”

Lopez has had two or more blocked shots in six of his last seven games.

Antetokounmpo, personifying what it means to be a good teammate, was asked how much Lopez’s efforts make his defensive workload easier.

“My job or the whole team’s job?” he began his reply to the question.

“He makes it way easier. But, it messes you up a little bit Because, you kind of see the guy driving the ball and you look back behind you and you see Brook, and then you don’t do your job because you think that Brook is going to block every shot.

“But, it has been amazing. He’s been amazing. Him and Robin defensively, they make everybody’s job way way easier. But we got to continue to do our job at a high level and continue to help out Brook.”

Since arriving in Milwaukee at the start of the 2018 season, Brook Lopez has averaged a career-high in blocked shots, surpassing a two per game average mark for the first time last season.

“I think we all feed off of the defense,” Lopez said. “It’s a complete team thing on the defensive end. We have our guys putting pressure on guards, making them play downhill, more uncomfortable than they normally would be and making them do stuff that they normally wouldn’t want to do.

“It makes it easier for the bigs to be easier to help. And then knowing we have a helper back there is huge.”

Milwaukee is currently third in the league, averaging 6.4 blocked shots per game. Lopez is second overall with 95 total swats.

While the Bucks were engaged in talks to re-sign Lopez this summer, his defensive skill set, complimentary to the team’s scheme, definitely played a factor in the decision making.

“He was doing a lot of this last year, but it does feel like he is getting even better,” head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Teams are driving it and testing the basket and testing things at the rim.

“He gives multiple efforts, he blocks multiple shots on the same possession. He does it disciplined, goes up vertical. We’re beyond happy that we have him back there protecting the basket.”

Antetokounmpo is a big fan of having Robin Lopez contribute off of the bench as well, saying it’s “big” to have an additional and traditional “big man” presence in the paint. Something the team didn’t necessarily have last season.

In his last 10 games, Robin is averaging nearly 17 minutes per game, producing eight points and three rebounds on 60 percent shooting.