Shaquille O'Neal gives Nets center Brook Lopez major props

Brook Lopez signs Nets merchandise during the first

Brook Lopez signs Nets merchandise during the first Nets media day at The Barclays Center in Brooklyn. (Oct. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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Brook Lopez flashed a 50,000-watt smile, grinning as Shaquille O'Neal's stunning statement was relayed to him.

O'Neal, now an analyst for TNT, said recently that he believes the Nets' fourth-year center is a better all-around player at his position than Dwight Howard, the very guy the Nets were after before he was finally shipped by Orlando to the Lakers in August. In O'Neal's eyes, Lopez ranks second only to the 76ers' Andrew Bynum.

"That's definitely a huge compliment from one of the most dominant big men of all-time," Lopez said after Thursday's practice at the PNY Center in East Rutherford, N.J. "I definitely think Dwight's a great center. There's Bynum. There's loads of great centers in the league right now and they're all great challenges for me."

O'Neal has never been a big Howard fan, and in a roundtable discussion with his fellow TNT analysts posted on, he made it clear that he's riding with Lopez.

"When I came in," O'Neal said, "it was Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon -- guys who played like true centers who played inside. What we have now are centers that are going to the European style, which is a lot of pick-and-roll. Dwight Howard, who's a pick-and-roll player, some people say he's the best center in the league. But me being an old-school center, I'm going to go with Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum because they play with their back to the basket."

O'Neal later clarified he didn't mean Lopez's twin brother, Robin, and instead was talking about Brook.

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"Brook is a skilled center. There are very few centers in the NBA that can do what he can do on the floor, especially offensively," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "He can pass, he can score inside, he's got a good jump shot, finishes inside, runs the break.

" . . . I understand what Shaq is saying. Brook is a very talented player. We are hoping that it's all going to come together this year, but it's not going to come together by him trying to do it on his own."

Lopez averaged only 3.5 defensive rebounds per game in 2010-11, a number he couldn't improve on last season when he was injured and played in just five games. It's a criticism he's ready to silence.

"Honestly, it's been happening for about two years now," Lopez said. "Last year, I was really focused in preseason on just making an effort to get inside and get to the glass more. Unfortunately I got hurt, so I didn't get to test that out too much. So, I've still been constantly working on it since I got hurt."

Deron Williams is sure Lopez can bounce back.

"He's been on bad teams and he was hurt all last year," Williams said. "So when those things happen, people forget about you, people write you off, people start labeling you a certain type of player. Brook's been playing really well. He's going after every rebound in practice. I expect a big year from him."

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