WASHINGTON – Forgive Brook Lopez if he doesn’t know how the selection process for the NBA’s three-point contest works. As someone who spent the first eight years of his career almost totally inside the arc, the 7-foot Milwaukee Bucks center hasn’t really ever had to think about that event.
Times have changed.
Lopez has become one of the NBA’s most prolific bombers, ranking 10th in three-pointers made through Wednesday’s games as the Bucks prepare for a 6 p.m. matchup with the Washington Wizards on Friday at Capital One Arena. His development and big numbers have made him a worthy candidate for the sharpshooting showcase to be held Feb. 16 during all-star weekend in Charlotte.
Comparing Lopez’s numbers to those of shooters who participated in last year’s three-point contest, Lopez has more three-pointers than Bradley Beal, Tobias Harris and winner Devin Booker had at this point last season. His percentage (37.4) is also higher than what Beal and Eric Gordon had through 40 games.
“Of course, I’d put my money on it, yeah,” said Tony Snell, who is Lopez’s shooting partner in post-practice three-point shooting games, when asked if Lopez deserved a spot in the competition. “That would put the icing on the cake, man.”
The one thing that’s stayed static over Lopez’s transformation into an outside shooter is his willful lack of awareness regarding the event selection procedure itself.
A campaign definitely isn’t coming from Lopez. He made that clear in the visiting locker room at the Pepsi Center in Denver after connecting on a career-high 8 three-pointers Nov. 11 – the night he began to be called by the nickname “Splash Mountain.”
The last time he campaigned for something was for a student government position in high school and he finished last. That was enough for him to decide he isn’t a very good politician or campaigner.
“That would be pretty wild, it would be fun,” Lopez said of potentially being included in the contest. “I’m just going to go out and do what I do on the court and if it happens that would be great.”
What Lopez has done on the court has been plenty impressive enough to earn him an invitation. In fact, it’s possible he could go to Charlotte as an all-star, though those odds are longer.
But as a three-point shooter, particularly as a center, Lopez is setting a new precedent. Only two 7-footers have appeared in the three-point contest — Dirk Nowitzki five times and Channing Frye in 2010. Nowitzki became the only power forward or center to win the contest in 2006.
Lopez, who has made 102 triples at a 37.4 percent clip, is on pace to make more threes than either of them. Frye holds the record for three-pointers by a center in a season at 172, set in the 2009-’10 season when he was invited to participate in the three-point contest.
What’s especially impressive about Lopez is the way he’s spacing the floor on offense while still providing elite rim protection at the other end. Usually, centers do one or the other. But as was apparent in Wednesday’s win over the Houston Rockets, Lopez remains a defensive force in the paint as he collected four blocks, two steals and affected numerous passes and shots.
“He was terrific,” Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon said of Lopez’s defense Wednesday. “I think he was our best defender tonight for four quarters.”
His floor spacing has been a core element of the Bucks’ offense, uncluttering passing lanes for players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Brogdon. That only works if Lopez puts up and makes a high volume of three-pointers, which he has no problem doing.
Lopez has made seven or more three-pointers in three games this season, something only Stephen Curry (six), James Harden (six) and Kemba Walker (four) have done more often. Only Harden and Lopez have recorded back-to-back games of seven or more three-pointers.
Adding to the Bucks’ spacing is the fact Lopez is proficient from super deep, ranking third in the NBA on threes from beyond 30 feet at 36 percent, trailing only Lou Williams and Damian Lillard.
“One of the best shooters in the league, right?” Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse asked rhetorically before a recent game. “Without a doubt, the way he’s shooting them and where he’s shooting them from and how quick he’s releasing them.”