Learning to love the Robin Lopez hook shot

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

As I wrote about earlier this week, losing to the Grizzlies to start the second half of the season could be a bad omen. Additionally, with a back-to-back coming up tonight and tomorrow against the Sixers and then the Bucks, respectively, things could get, well, maybe a bit bleak pretty soon for the Wizards. But hey, how about some gorgeous basketball history to cleanse the palate?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook is one of the most iconic and unstoppable moves in basketball history. For further context, I recommend this Ringer video that breaks down the history, strategy, and impact of Abdul-Jabbar’s signature move. The former Los Angeles Lakers big man eviscerated defenses with his towering hook shots from all over the interior, ultimately cementing himself and his signature shot as basketball legend.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Jack, that shot is historic, amazing, and unguardable; can you show me another, newer shot from the age of HD TVs? Maybe even one that’s technically the same shot type, even though you’d never connect them on first watch? And to that I say: oh boy, can I.

That above GIF comes from the Orlando-Washington game back on Dec. 26, 2020. The Wizards lost that game (how’d you guess?) to go 0-2 to start the season. That’s obviously quite some time ago, though, so let me explain why I’m pulling that particular video.

First, I don’t like the Magic, and I enjoy it when bad things happen to them. They’ve won six in a row against the Wizards, which, honestly, I think shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Plus, how is it acceptable that the Wizards let the Magic beat them? Shouldn’t wizards have control of magic, not the other way around?

Okay, sorry, I got off topic. Getting back to the video, the other big reason why I’m sharing it here today is because it is an objectively silly looking shot from a subjectively silly looking big man, and should be an anomaly, a statistical blip, of a Robin Lopez shot selection - but it’s not.

Lopez, now in his 13th season in the league, was an… interesting pickup in this most recent offseason. Mostly, it seemed like the Wizards front office recognized there was a big man weakness on the team, with no real backup at center for youngster Thomas Bryant. But by most measurements, Lopez was a big man on the decline.

Per Basketball Reference, in his last season in Milwaukee, Lopez had his lowest career Offensive Rating (101) and Player Efficiency Rating (10.2 - league average PER is 15). On a less numbers-based basis, Lopez also wasn’t really clearing any eye test. He loped (pun intended) around the court, and looked slow on offense and even slower on defense - something that was particularly worrying for already defensively-poor Wizards.

Since then, however, Lopez has proved surprisingly invaluable to the team. Bryant was injured back in January and subsequently ruled out for the season, so, even with the rising success of young center Moritz Wagner, Lopez was given a bigger role to play on the team. And, man, Lopez has done the most he can with those minutes. Right now, Lopez has his third best Offensive Rating ever at 121, which trails only Garrison Mathews for best ORTG for active Wizards (he’s also led by the injured Bryant and the G-League assigned Cassius Winston). Lopez also has a 14.6 PER right now; that’s still below league average (mostly dragged down by his subpar defense), and still well below his career bests, but is also sixth best on the Wizards (let’s not dig into that ranking too much, okay? I’d like to stay happy here, please).

But, okay, fine, let’s put down the stat books now for a second, and look back at that silly gif from earlier. How, you ask, is THAT player (with THAT HAIR) one of the best offensive producers on the Wizards?

Well, let’s overlook the obvious, depressing answer about whether the Wizards are bad, actually, and instead focus on what Lopez is doing well this year: hitting hook shots. Sure, most of them aren’t off-balanced and fading away, but Lopez is hitting hook shots at a 61 percent clip.

According to StatHead, for all players who have taken at least twenty hook shot attempts, that’s third in the league! Furthermore, also per StatHead, Lopez has attempted the third most hook shots in the league this year. Combined, nobody who has taken as many or more hook shots as Robin Lopez this season (77 attempts) has hit them with as high of a percentage.

Lopez is not a stranger to the hook shot, but this is his best year ever shooting it (excluding his rookie year, when he shot barely better percentage-wise, but only took thirteen attempts). The shots are rarely pretty - most of them look like this:

That clip is a couple years old, but the gist of Lopez’s movements are about the same. Typically, Lopez will receive the ball somewhere close to the paint, look for one or two kickouts if possible, and then slowly push up a hook with his hand opposite the defending player. Not pretty, but effective, and hard to defend.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this - with his lumbering physicality, lack of shooting range, and generally one-track mentality on the court, Lopez represents a kind of bygone playing style for centers, at least in the age of guys like Jokic who can do it all on the court. That playing style tracks for someone leaning on a shot selection that hasn’t been popular in decades. But ultimately, maybe that’s what the Wizards need this year.

Between Westbrook and Beal, the Wizards have a ball-dominant, individualistic backcourt, so a steady hand in the paint can prove useful. Plus, for better or worse, what could be more #Wizards than a 32 year old center with a signature hairdo and a penchant for old school basketball?

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