During the 2012 NBA offseason, the Dallas Mavericks and their owner, Mark Cuban, courted All-Star point guard—and Dallas native—Deron Williams with an aging superstar (34-year-old Dirk Nowitzki) as their main selling point.
Williams' 2011-12 employer, the then-soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets, countered with their own aging stars (the 31-year-old Joe Johnson and 30-year-old Gerald Wallace).
Williams ultimately opted to return to the Nets, and his decision couldn't look any better in the early goings of the 2012-13 season. The funny thing is, though, that the real genius in this decision has had less to do with the production of Johnson and Wallace and more to do with the Brooklyn's 24-year-old franchise center Brook Lopez.
A gifted scorer throughout his four-plus-year NBA career, Lopez has started to show glimpses of his ability to positively affect his team's play in more ways than just finding buckets. Nets coach Avery Johnson has credited Lopez's development to a renewed focus on the practice floor aided by Brooklyn newcomers Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche, according to USA Today Sports writer Jeff Zillgitt.
While still showing his struggles with rebounding (6.7 per game), Lopez has enjoyed his best season in terms of rebounding percentage (an estimate of the available rebounds collected while a player is on the floor) since his rookie year, according to basketball-reference.com.
And despite seeing the second-fewest minutes of his NBA career (28.7, a number that speaks more to the improved talent surrounding him than to any struggles he's encountered), he has averaged a career-best 2.3 blocks per game, the seventh-highest average in the league.
Those improved practices could be part of the reason that Lopez has enjoyed a career-high player efficiency rating (24.0), but it's certainly not the only reason.
For starters, the big man has enjoyed a clean bill of health. Following an injury-plagued 2011-12 season in which Lopez missed all but five of Brooklyn's 66 games, a healthy Brook Lopez has been as welcome a sight for Brooklyn fans as has the return of professional sports to the area.
Being surrounded by the most talented group of teammates he's ever played with has clearly played a role as well. Williams and Joe Johnson have compiled an impressive list of All-Star accolades (the duo have a combined nine All-Star game appearances), but both approach the sport with often-overlooked high basketball IQs. They simply know how to put Lopez in positions to be successful.
But perhaps the main caveat in his All-Star-caliber year is the overall calmness stemming from the four-year, $60 million he contract he signed in July. After a tumultuous stay atop the rumor mill as the centerpiece in the Dwight Howard trade offers, Lopez can finally keep his focus out of the media and on to the NBA hardwood.
Lopez may not have been the reason that Williams chose to remain with the franchise, but he continues to reaffirm that Williams made the right call.
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