That's the word that keeps popping to mind throughout the season when I think about Brook Lopez, when I watch him abuse a Roy Hibbert or Zeller brother or anyone else in the post, when I see him get free in the middle of the lane for baby hooks and layups, when I watch him score through contact, hit his free throws, show an instinctual understanding of offensive spacing, play passable defense, block shots at a career-high rate, and hit the glass just enough to slowly, game by game, pull himself further and further from the wisecracks.
It's true; Lopez has vindicated himself, silenced his critics who bemoaned the Brooklyn Nets for giving him a four-year deal worth $61.8 million, put himself in the league's top five players in Player Efficiency Rating, and been the team's unequivocal best player night in and night out. He'll credit the passing ability of Deron Williams, or the spacing provided by Joe Johnson, or the hustle and defensive wherewithal brought to the floor by Gerald Wallace, or Reggie Evans's ability to buoy the team's rebounding, and damn near anything else before he credits himself. It's fine, it's part of what makes the goofy Lopez twin what he is. But what he is is a deserved All-Star, arguably the best center in the Eastern Conference this season, one of the league's premier post scorers.
I've watched Brook Lopez evolve as a player over the last four years. Watching him struggle through the last two has been painful; it was clear he wasn't at full strength in his third season after battling mononucleosis, and he sat all but five injury-plagued games in last year's lockout-shortened affair. This is the Lopez we've been waiting for for four seasons.
He's not perfect, and far from it. In a league that's constantly shifting towards smaller athleticism, Lopez represents the antithesis; big, long, lumbering post play that seems born out of the mid-90s rather than today's NBA. He's wavered towards defending the pick-and-roll poorly more often than not these days. He's improved his passing and ability to navigate double-teams, but not significantly so. He'll never be the type of rebounder Dwight Howard or Anderson Varejao or Reggie Evans is on a night-to-night basis.
But after all the talk of what Lopez can't do over the past two seasons, I'm just glad that we're finally witnessing what, when fully healthy, he can. I'm sure he doesn't feel vindication -- frankly, I'm sure he doesn't care. But I do, for whatever silly reason we choose to hold onto our sports narratives and arguments and otherwise irrelevant points we can't shake about the pituitary cases we watch throw a ball in a ring night after night, I do. And I hope we see it for a long, long time.
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Andray Blatche | Keith Bogans | MarShon Brooks | P.J. Carlesimo | Reggie Evans | Kris Humphries | Joe Johnson | Brook Lopez | Tornike Shengelia | Jerry Stackhouse | Tyshawn Taylor | Mirza Teletovic | Gerald Wallace | C.J. Watson | Deron Williams