Brook Lopez splashed his way to a playoff career-high 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting to power the Bucks to a come-from-behind Game 1 win over the Raptors on Wednesday. After starting 1-of-6 from three-point range in the first three quarters, Lopez shot 3-of-5 from deep in the fourth quarter alone. He did his damage from the inside out, at times looking like an aggressive two guard trapped in a seven-footer’s body. He also had four blocks, anchoring Milwaukee’s defense while providing cover fire for Giannis Antetokounmpo on the other end.
On a night where the Raptors loaded up on Antetokounmpo, walling him off on his vicious rim runs, Milwaukee’s center stepped up as the second in command. This was the Brook Lopez Game, a performance where the older Lopez brother reminded the world he’s a former All-Star, passed over an NBA that quickly forgot how valuable he was.
But Lopez isn’t just valuable. He’s a big man who remodeled his game to fit the modern NBA. He added a three-point shot while in Brooklyn, then refined it in Los Angeles. The threat of him catching fire from downtown opened other facets of his game. More importantly, it opens the floor up for the Bucks, who have a rare, legitimate floor-spacing, two-way five.
And for some reason, Milwaukee was the only team with the foresight to sign him.
So many teams passed on Brook Lopez in free agency
NBA free agency began on July 1, 2018, and the moratorium was lifted — meaning teams could officially put pen to paper and sign free agents — on July 6. The Bucks didn’t sign Lopez until July 8. Teams took two days too long to go after one of the premier big men in the NBA.
Here’s what Lopez said went into his decision choosing the Bucks in free agency, according to HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy:
When you were going through your options this summer, what made you ultimately choose the Bucks in free agency?
BL: I just tried to evaluate all of the different options that I had. When I was looking at Milwaukee, they were just such a young, hungry team that’s right on the cusp. They have continued to improve every year and I think the sky is the limit for this team. I think we’re going to grow a lot together this year and become a very formidable team.
Not only did Lopez go to Milwaukee, but he went there at an incredible discount. Lopez played the final season of a three-year, $63 million extension last season in Los Angeles. The Bucks signed him with their bi-annual exception: a one-year deal worth $3.3 million.
Sure, Lopez didn’t have his best season in Los Angeles. His scoring dropped from 20.5 points per game in his final season in Brooklyn to just 13 points per game playing on the Lakers. But last year was a role reversal for Lopez, who saw far fewer shots and a change in the quality of his opportunities. He had to spend time adjusting his game and figuring out his new spots in a league more perimeter oriented now than ever before.
Lopez has done just that, showing he can still be the dominant scorer he once was in Brooklyn. He’s the same player, revamped for the pace-and-space era of basketball. That one-year deal at a ridiculous discount will be a thing of the past in a summer where several teams not only have max cap space, but also have a need for a two-way center of Lopez’s services.
Lopez is headed for a massive pay raise
No, he’s not going to command a max contract, but he won’t be a minimum contract player either. We’ve never seen a big man reinvent his game so drastically 11 years into his career. Lopez’s play, in a way, is setting the market and paving the way for future players to do the same.
The unfortunate part is it will be tough for Milwaukee to retain him. They already signed Eric Bledsoe to a long-term contract extension, and item A on the off-season to-do list will be re-signing Khris Middleton to a max or near-max contract. Malcolm Brogdon’s restricted free agency is also approaching. It costs to keep championship contenders together, and Milwaukee does not have Lopez’s Bird Rights, meaning they can’t match any offer that’s above 120 percent of his current salary.
Lopez had such an impressive season in Milwaukee that he may have played his way right off the Bucks’ roster. That, of course, is only a possibility if teams don’t whiff on him this summer like they did last time.