Center of attention: Bucks’ Brook Lopez lights out from 3
“Splash Mountain .” How appropriate for a self-described Disney aficionado who is quickly developing a reputation as one of the best-shooting big men in the NBA.
“I’m pretty partial to that honestly,” Lopez said with a laugh about the moniker this week. “I’m a pretty big Disney geek … I wear it with pride on my sleeve.”
Keep shooting the way he did on Sunday against the Nuggets and he might challenge the “Splash Brothers” in Golden State for 3-point supremacy.
Lopez hit a career-best eight 3s and scored 28 points to help the Bucks beat Denver to split a four-game Western Conference road trip.
This wasn’t just a one-night-only performance, either.
Entering the Bucks’ game on Wednesday night against Memphis, Lopez was tied for seventh in the league in made 3s (39) and was 14th in attempts (93), shooting 41.9 percent from behind the arc.
A career 34 3-pooint shooter, Lopez said he had hoped coming into his first season in Milwaukee was to eclipse 40 percent.
“Not necessarily that I’m going in worrying about makes or misses, but that’s a personal goal,” Lopez said. “You have to go in with a mindset, just if you’re open you’re going to shoot your shot.”
It’s a remarkable goal when considering just how far Lopez has come along as a 3-point shooter in such a short period of time.
The 11-year veteran spent his first nine NBA seasons with the Nets after being drafted 10th overall in the first round out of Stanford in the 2008 draft. But he didn’t hit his first 3 until Jan. 10, 2015 , when he was 1 for 2 in a 98-93 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
It was the only 3 he would hit that season. He made just two the following season.
The transformation happened before the 2016-17 season, when Kenny Atkinson became head coach after serving as assistant under then-Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.
“At the time, it was kind of the system that we ran in Brooklyn,” Lopez recounted in explaining why he took up the 3. “It was something he wanted to implement, and he had great confidence that I could do it.”
Lopez said he was already comfortable hitting mid-range and long jumpers in game situations. Spotting up from behind the arc was something he did in pickup games with friends growing up, but he didn’t have the confidence to shoot 3s in games.
So he put in a lot of work on his shot before the 2016-17 season, working out in team drills where they would practice five-out looks. Personal workouts were devoted to shooting 3s.
“It was a step just from shooting them, and my practice and workouts, and shooting them in games,” Lopez said. “You just have to confidence to shoot them in games.”
Lopez was 3 of 31 combined from 3-point territory over his first eight seasons. He was 134 for 387 (34.6 percent) in 2016-17.
Lopez moved on to the Lakers last season, when he was 112 of 325 from 3 (34.5 percent). He’s well on pace to shatter that his career bests in just 13 games with the Bucks .
Milwaukee is undergoing its own transformation with Budenholzer now coaching of the team. He has instituted a similar system Taking Milwaukee that stresses proper spacing and taking good shots. If a 3 isn’t there, All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo can be unstoppable driving to the lane.
If defenses collapse on Antetokounmpo, he can find open shooters on the perimeter like Lopez.
“You talk to old coaches, old teammates, front-office people that have been around Brook, you almost have to ask him to get off the court” in practice, Budenholzer said.
“So the way that he’s grown his game and become just a really effective 3-point shooter, a really effective player, that takes work,” Budenholzer said. “And I think we’re all reaping the benefit of that.”