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HAVING PLAYED with an eight-time All-Star in Vince Carter and a former MVP in Dirk Nowitzki, Nets point guard Devin Harris isn't easily impressed. But there he was shaking his head and grinning during a recent scrimmage after 7-foot, 260-pound Brook Lopez made a catch in transition, ball-faked, took a dribble and knocked down a feathery 16-footer. "He has so many wrinkles to his game," says Harris. "I don't think he realizes how good he can be."

Lopez has to be good—really good—in his second season if New Jersey is going to stay out of the Eastern Conference cellar. After trading Carter (and his 20.8 points per game) to the Magic in a five-player deal that brought guards Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and reserve big man Tony Battie, the Nets enter the season without a proven scorer to play alongside Harris. But coach Lawrence Frank believes Lopez can become one. To that end, he has revamped the offense to increase Lopez's touches; in addition to playing in the low post and in pick-and-rolls, he will often initiate the offense from the high post and at the top of the key. The early results have been encouraging: In the his first four preseason games, Lopez averaged 18.8 points. "I feel very comfortable right now," says the 21-year-old Lopez. "I love guys playing off of me. I'm confident I'm going to make the right decisions."

Frank has also asked Lopez to make his presence felt in other ways. "The really good defensive teams have big men who are great talkers," says Frank. "We want Brook to act as our quarterback back there." Even Harris, seen as a stopper during his years in Dallas, says regaining that status is his top priority this season. "We talk about playing better defense every year," says Harris. "It's time to step up. Nobody believes we are going anywhere. We need to use that as motivation and go out and prove everybody wrong."

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics

Sean Williams will break your heart. For every good thing he does, he'll do two things that are bad.



BROOK LOPEZ His skills inside and out will be put to greater use.