This column first appeared in our NBA Click & Roll newsletter, which was delivered to inboxes on Wednesday. Want more exclusive content like this early and delivered directly each week? Then sign up for NBA Click & Roll, which also features the biggest moments, quotes and news you may have missed from throughout the Association.
Roy Hibbert is the cautionary tale.
Brook Lopez is the shining example.
For Hibbert, the game zoomed right by him. There wasn’t much need for a 7-footer who couldn’t stretch the floor.
The 7-foot Lopez adapted, adding a 3-point shot to his game and making himself valuable to teams who wanted a big man who could shoot and defend.
Hibbert is no longer in the league, and Lopez, an 11-year veteran, is thriving in his first season with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Lopez is shooting 37.9 percent on 3-pointers, and he’s a volume shooter, taking 6.6 per game (tied for 16th among all NBA players) and making 2.5 (tied for 14th). There is a push to get Lopez into the three-point contest during All-Star weekend in Charlotte, which would make Lopez one of the rare 7-footers to participate in the contest.
“The vision was that he was going to give us great spacing, and he was going to have a green light and have the ability to get, make and take a lot of threes,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “The way the offense has evolved is a work in progress, but certainly the spacing he gives and what he did starting with Kenny (Atkinson) in Brooklyn a few years ago was the blueprint, and I thought maybe we could push that envelope a little more.”
He’s on pace to shoot more than 500 3-pointers this season and make about 200 – which would be the most threes attempted and made by a 7-footer in a season.
“Wow, that’s insane,” Lopez said. “It’s so wild to think. Here we are somehow.”
Yes, here we are – in the enlightened age of the 3-pointer.
“It’s been continuing to get more comfortable shooting it,” Lopez said. “It’s my third season doing it, and it’s now becoming the norm, just getting used to it more and more.”
Add Lopez’s ability to defend, and the Bucks have one of the best teams in the league when he’s on the court.
Consider this: In Lopez’s first eight seasons in the NBA, he attempted 31 3-pointers and made just three. He went several seasons taking no more than two.
Then Atkinson, who was an assistant for Budenholzer in Atlanta, became coach of the Nets and wanted to run an offense with five players spaced around the perimeter.
“The way it worked being in Brooklyn with the offense, Kenny Atkinson wanted to run five-out, and it turned out to be what he wanted to do and obviously the league trending that way as a whole,” Lopez said.
It was survive or get left behind. Lopez shot 387 threes in 2016-17 with the Nets and 325 last season when he wasn’t the right fit (or wasn’t used right) with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Budenholzer and the Bucks’ front office envisioned what it could look like when used properly. Lopez, who signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee in the offseason, had been working on 3-pointers before that, but he needed to incorporate them into actual games.
“I shot it a lot in the summer,” Lopez said. “There was some comfort level before actually getting ready to shoot it in games. It was just a lot of reps, honestly, in the offseason. I had confidence. What helped me was my teammates and coaches put all the support on me. No matter how much I miss, they told me to keep shooting.”
It has opened other parts of his game, too. Lopez is such a threat now that he can fake the 3-pointer as a defender is closing out and drive to the basket for a shot or pass.
“I did have coaches who believed I would be shooting a lot of threes later in (my) career, and (they) told me, ‘You’re capable of it,’ ” Lopez said. “It just took some time, you know?”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt