Deron Williams may be the biggest name on the Brooklyn Nets, but it's clear that Brook Lopez is the team's most valuable player.
When Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com reported that Williams was staying with the new Brooklyn franchise, it was a major coup. New York's newest franchise would have some star power attached to it, ready to contend both in the new market and in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, it barely moved the dial when CBS Sports' Ken Berger confirmed that Lopez would resign with the Nets. That is, Lopez's presence was a non-issue; it mattered only for the fact that it marked Brooklyn's exit from the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.
When Howard joined the Los Angeles Lakers, it seemed like Brooklyn had ended up with the lesser center. We've now passed the midway point in the 2012-13 season, and it has not played out that way.
The Lakers' offseason catch has struggled both with injuries and with his fit in the team's system, while Brooklyn's main signing has not played up to his star label.
That's made it easier for Brook Lopez to outperform them both, but that's not the whole story.
Neither Williams' lackadaisical streak nor Howard's Los Angeles woes have made Lopez the league's best center and Brooklyn's best player. He's made some major strides, and he deserves recognition for his breakout play this season.
Even though his 29.7 minutes per game are actually the fewest Lopez has ever played in a season, he is still averaging 18.9 points and 7.3 rebounds on 52 percent shooting from the field.
Efficiency has been the key for Lopez. He leads all centers with a 25.36 PER (ESPN Insider required), and he trails only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul in general.
Yet the biggest area in which Lopez improved doesn't show up in any of those stats: Defense.
When you watch his ball-swatting performance against the New York Knicks, it might not seem that impressive. After all, shouldn't we expect an athletic seven-footer to be a superb shot-blocker?
You'd think so, though certainly not every physical freak has the instincts, timing and technique to block shots. Once upon a time, neither did Lopez.
He's averaging 2.2 blocks per game this season, which is good for seventh in the NBA, and is the first time in his career that he has turned away at least two shots per.
So what has changed for Brook?
Watching his play against the Knicks, the major difference in Lopez's approach is how well he has moved his feet this season.
When a guy has a sense of when to go up for a block but can't get himself to the right spot on the floor, that's when he starts swiping for the ball and that's when he starts fouling. This season, Lopez has lowered his fouls per game from three a game to 2.2.
So instead of giving Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire and-one attempts on their drives to the rim, he nails his positioning and turns them away cleanly. That's the difference between a player who has smarts and one who knows how to use them.
On the offensive end, Lopez has been as effective as ever, maintaining his claim as one of the league's best scoring big men.
These two plays do more than just make the Oklahoma City Thunder look silly on defense. They also showcase Lopez's dangerous offensive arsenal.
When Kendrick Perkins mans up on Lopez just inside the right corner, he has the strength to keep Lopez out of the low post. What he lacks is the agility.
Rather than let Lopez explode past him, Perkins cedes the back-down, hoping that his strength advantage will pay greater dividends closer to the basket. But Lopez still gets around him, using a nifty left-handed scoop to create space with his craft rather than his muscle.
On the next sequence shown, Lopez receives the ball with a foot behind the arc, but with plenty of room in front of him. With Serge Ibaka out of position and Kevin Durant slow to help, the big man gets to the basket in one dribble, draws contact and hits a difficult layup for the three-point play.
He'll beat you with his low-post technique if you let him in or burst to the rim if you give him space. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Of course, Deron Williams has been a major addition for Lopez, in spite of the point guard's struggles.
It's hard to believe, since Williams first became a Net in the 2010-11 season, but he and Lopez have barely played together. Williams played just 12 games for the Nets that season, while Brook was limited to just five games in 2011-12 due to injuries to his right foot and ankle.
Even at his current level of performance, opposing defenses still must respect Williams when the Nets run the pick-and-roll. That gives Lopez enough of a cushion to get whatever high-percentage look he desires.
It's hardly fair that the man dunking on the Minnesota Timberwolves off the Williams feed is the same guy we just saw punk Kendrick Perkins.
The combination of that sort of driving power with Lopez's unparalleled post finesse is a nightmare for defenses to scheme against. Add in the issue of Williams manipulating the action to get him open looks, and the endeavor becomes just about impossible.
Between that offensive prowess and his defensive development, Brook Lopez is as talented and as complete a player as he has ever been.
Even if Deron Williams were playing star-caliber basketball this season, it'd be tough to argue against Lopez as the Brooklyn Nets' MVP.
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