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Brook Lopez and the art of boxing out

Brook Lopez is a master of boxing out and allowing his team to collect the glory.

At seven feet tall and 275 pounds, Brook Lopez is supposed to be one of the elite rebounders in the NBA. His combination of strength and size should theoretically allow him to grab boards in traffic just as easily as when he’s the only one in the lane. However, it doesn’t quite work that way for Lopez.

Lopez has never been a great rebounder as far as counting stats go. The most he’s ever averaged in a season is 8.6 per game. Five times throughout his career, including this season, he’s averaged six or fewer. That’s absolutely crazy for a seven-footer who’s averaged 31.1 minutes per game throughout his career.

Throughout the years, many analysts had their theories as to why Lopez didn’t grab very many rebounds. Some pointed to his lack of athletic ability or other silly attributes he didn’t possess. However, those who pointed to his focus on boxing out were totally correct.

Thanks to the NBA’s new hustle stats they unveiled last winter, we can now see unique stats like screen assists, loose balls recovered and contested shots. Most importantly for Lopez, we can also see who boxes out the most.

So far on the season, Lopez averages the fifth most box outs per game at 9.9. That’s only behind LaMarcus Aldridge, Nikola Vucevic, Steven Adams and Draymond Green. It’s important to note Lopez also plays at least four fewer minutes per game than all four of them as well.

Here’s how he does it:

As Nicolas Batum is driving to the rim on, Lopez notices the on-ball defender is in perfect position to force a difficult shot. So instead of running over and wildly trying to block it, he focuses on his man and boxes him out into oblivion.

Even though Lopez isn’t the one who secures the rebound, it’s still an unselfish play that elevates the level of his team above his own individual accolades. As Khris Middleton grabs the rebound, he can now immediately begin to push the ball up the floor and start the fast break that much sooner.

Here’s another great example against one of the better offensive rebounders in the NBA:

When the shot goes up, Lopez doesn’t even turn to see where the ball is. Instead, he finds his man, makes contact with him and puts his and butt into him eventually driving him completely out of the play.

This is a nice display of Lopez sticking with his fundamentals in order to get Joel Embiid completely out of the play. It may not seem like the Bucks’ big man is doing a lot, but this again opens up the opportunity for Milwaukee to grab the ball and go.

The Bucks have had a drastic turnaround in their defensive rebounding numbers from last season to this. Even though part of it can be contributed to adequate coaching, it’s seemingly small things like this that can go a long way.

This year, the Bucks are grabbing 74.7 percent of all available defensive rebounds. That ranks seventh in the NBA and is a far cry from what they were doing last year. Under the combination of Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty in 2017-18, Milwaukee only corralled 70.9 percent of defensive boards which was dead last in the league.

This 180-degree about-face has been led by Lopez and his ability to put the team ahead of himself. When Lopez is on the court, the Bucks haul in 79.3 percent of all defensive rebounds. That number would be first in the NBA. Unfortunately, Milwaukee struggles when he’s off the floor, as they only grab 70.3 percent of available boards.

For a guy who only brings in three rebounds per game himself, that’s a crazy shift in team numbers when he’s on the floor compared to when he’s on the bench.

It’s safe to say Lopez has this whole boxing out thing down to a science. It’s an extremely critical aspect of the game and one of the underrated factors to the Bucks’ stunning success so far this season. Even though it may not be celebrated across the league, it’s certainly appreciated in Milwaukee.

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