Brook to Shaq: Thanks, big guy

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brook Lopez was very appreciative that Shaquille O’Neal said he was better than Dwight Howard. O’Neal also regarded the Nets’ 7-footer as one of the best “true” centers in the NBA along with Andrew Bynum.

“That’s definitely a huge compliment from one of the most dominant big men of all-time,” Lopez Thursday. “So it’s a great compliment. I definitely think Dwight’s a great center ... Bynum as well is one of the best centers in the league. They’re all great challenges for me.”

Said Nets coach Avery Johnson: “I think it’s great. Brook is a skilled center. There are very few centers in this league that can do what he can do on the floor -- especially offensively. He can pass; he can score inside; he’s got a good jumpshot; he runs the break.

“I think for Brook to take that next step, there has to be more of a defensive presence in the paint, he has to increase his rebound attempt percentage; hard foul when he needs to hard foul; and then at the end of games -- when we go to him against mismatches -- to get us buckets and if not make the correct pass.

“But I understand what Shaq is saying. Brook is a very talented player. We are hoping it all comes together this year, but it’s not gonna come together by him trying to do it on his own.”

Nets GM Billy King made several attempts -- albeit unsuccessfully -- to acquire Howard from the Orlando Magic. His last and final offer would’ve sent Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and four first-round picks to Orlando in exchange for D12, who ultimately ended up a Laker.

King was hoping to pair Howard and Deron Williams, but ended up settling on giving Lopez a four-year, $60 million extension.

“I like Brook. Brook is a great center. He’s gonna be a great for us this year,” Williams said.

“Like I said, he’s been on bad teams and he was hurt all of last year. When those things happen, people forget about you and write you off. People start labeling you as a certain type of player. Brook’s been playing pretty strong, he’s been going after every rebound in practice, I expect a big year from him.”

Lopez, 24, has a ton of talent and potential. Still, he’s been criticized throughout his career the things he can’t do: rebound and play defense. Lopez averaged a career-low 5.9 boards per game in 2010-11, and couldn’t improve on it last season because he played in just five contests due to a foot injury.

“Honestly, (the criticism about my rebounding) been happening for about two years now,” Lopez said. “It was really a focus last year, making an effort to 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 working on it since I got hurt.”

Lopez, when asked what he needs to improve on, responded, “Defensive rebounding. Getting back in transition defense. Getting to the basket. Talking to my guys. Being there to contest every shot.”

Johnson says he has specific numbers he wants Lopez to reach -- especially in terms of “rebound attempts” -- though he wouldn’t divulge them.

“I mean I’m just excited to be back,” Lopez said. “There’s supposedly tons of pressure on this team already when you look at everything. We’re just excited to be out there playing and playing 5-on-5 basketball.”