It all started in the preseason when Shaquille O’Neal made the bold statement that Brook Lopez and Andrew Bynum are “the last true” centers in the league and both are only 24 years old. This caused quite a stir when O’Neal did not put Dwight Howard in that category of centers.
“Listen to what I’m saying,” O’Neal said. “I’m not talking about dunking — I’m talking about playing like a big man with the moves. My man, before he had the foot injury, was putting up nice, solid big-man numbers.”
Lopez has been making O’Neal look like a prophet with his play through the first ten games of this season and his teammates and coaches see the difference this year as opposed to previous years.
“Historically, his tendency has been not to get off the ground and to contest the shot more horizontal than vertical,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “So those are things that we’ve been working with him on. Now, he’s getting more confidence. And his body’s in better shape. So he’s getting off the ground a little bit more. I think he’s having fun with it, because he’s trying to do something that we haven’t seen from him on a consistent basis.”
Johnson wants Lopez to be a more aggressive rebounder and a more imposing defensive presence every single game and not take nights off like previous years.
After the win over the Los Angeles Clippers recently, Johnson gushed about Lopez who led all scorers with 26 points on 13-of-24 shooting, pulled down five rebounds and blocked three shots, “Brook is a skilled big man. Maybe the rebounds aren’t where they should be, but he’s blocking shots. There are very few centers in the N.B.A. that can do what he can do on the floor, especially offensively,”
Johnson continued. “He can pass, he can score inside, he’s got a good jump shot, finishes inside, runs the break.” and even compared Lopez to Rik Smits but with much better defense and that is a great comparison now that Lopez has new found aggressiveness and the reality he can now overpower centers in this league.
Deron Williams has spoken highly of Lopez ever since he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets over a year and a half ago and although they have played limited games together due to injuries to both, Williams thinks this year is different with how much muscle and time Lopez has put into his game.
“He’s been on bad teams, and he was hurt all of last year,” Williams said. “When those things happen, people forget about you, people write you off, people start labeling you as a certain type of player.”
“Brook’s been great for us all year,” said Williams. “We’ve been able to count on him every game. He was being aggressive on both ends of the court, which is what we wanted to see. Lopez anchored us in the back, had some big blocks for us. We had a game plan on certain guys and we stuck to that, made it tough for a lot of their guys to get going. Brook was a monster tonight.”
Lopez still has his defensive flaws with his lack of speed, but he has been much more aggressive then any other time as a Net and right now he ranks fourth in the league with 2.55 blocks per game and that is huge for Lopez and it looks like something has finally clicked with this big man.
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