Shaquille O’Neal – Colossal Legacy


I’m reading a lot of remembrances of the antics and personae of Shaq and his various alter-egos.  That’s nice, but here at Double Dribble we’re concerned with the sport, not the ESPYs.  Well maybe Paul’s in it for the sport and the fashion of the ESPYs, but mostly the sport.

That said let me get the personal stuff out of the way first.  Paul’s not a fan of Shaq’s because of the backstabbing the big fellah liked to give on his way out of his various stops in his career (he took shots at Penny, Kobe, coach Van Gundy, and stole a TV show premise from Steve Nash).  For some reason that stuff never bothered me.  When he decided to leave Orlando for LA, that bothered me.  It would be different if he did it for basketball reasons, but the Magic were poised to be a dynasty with the team they had (and to have an all-time great rivalry with the aging Bulls).  Shaq abandoned a team built around him and built to win multiple titles so that his music and acting careers would be easier to pursue.  That bugged me, but it happened a long time ago, and once he discarded that horrible Lakers golden rod and lavender, I was over it.

I’ve been watching NBA basketball for almost 25 years now.  Shaquille O’Neal has been the best center in the league over that span and arguably may be the second best player in that span.  The statisticians may argue for David Robinson, but if they bother to look at playoff stats, they’ll change their mind.  DRob’s numbers drop off a ledge in the playoffs.  Shaq remains right up with the best of the best.  The game watchers may call for Hakeem Olajuwon as the best center since Kareem got old and robotic.  There’s an argument for Dream.  Defensively he was better.  Defensively he’s the best player I’ve seen over that 25 or so year span.  Offensively he seemed just as unstoppable (though his percentages don’t back that up at all), AND he could make free throws.  Good argument.

BUT, Shaq made the bigger impact on opposing defenses.  At his best he was completely unstoppable in the low post.  The entire defense had to skew over to the Shaq side of the floor to try to deny him the ball or throw an instantaneous double team at him, or it was dunk city.  Doubling from the top was fruitless because O’Neal was a great passer and would locate the open man.  From 1995-2005 no single player drew more defensive attention than Shaq did (and that’s another reason Shaq should outrank Hakeem – length of prime).  There’s a reason every team he was on before he got old and broken down made the NBA Finals and every perimeter player he played with took a huge leap forward.  He changed the game for both his team and the opposing team and totally devastated the league while healthy.

Looking at Hakeem and Shaq Statistically

(I capped it at age 33, Shaq’s last title and the year after Hakeem’s last title)

Reg Season PER:

Shaq 27.8  Hakeem 24.5

Reg Season WS/48

Shaq 0.224  Hakeem 0.189

Playoff PER:

Shaq 26.7  Hakeem 26.2

Playoff WS/48

Shaq 0.192  Hakeem 0.194

Basically Shaq was more impactful over the regular season, and they were even in the playoffs.  Actually this is all off topic.  Does it even matter if Shaq is definitively better than Hakeem?  Let’s just say that at worst Shaq can’t be considered any worse than the second best center the league has seen since 1986, and I think he’s got to be considered a top 5 player in that span as well.  Who’s better than Shaq?  Jordan.  Anyone else for sure?  I think we just showed that O’Neal has an argument over Hakeem, enough to say that it’s not clear one way or the other.  Duncan?  Another argument to be had, but no way can anyone say objectively that Duncan was indisputably better than Shaq.  Kobe?  No.  I know in hindsight it seems like Kobe must be better because Shaq hasn’t been great in 7 years, and Kobe won Finals MVP in 2010 and 2011, but Shaq had a higher peak and was more important in their shared titles.  LeBron?  I’d like him to get a title before I give that to him.

Here’s another way of looking at it.  If you’re picking All-Time teams and have to select players drafted from 1984 or later, who would you take ahead of Shaq?  Jordan, Hakeem, LeBron, and Duncan are the only players that are even in the conversation in my opinion.  Disagree?  There’s a comments section right down there buddy.

The knocks on O’Neal were the free throw shooting, the injuries, the poor conditioning habits, and the pick and roll defense.  People like to point out that he never reached his full potential as a basketball player.  No arguing any of that, but how great does he have to be?  Find me a better season than his 2000.  Find me better NBA Finals performances than Shaq in 2000, 2001, and 2002.  At some point you have to accept the strengths and weaknesses as reality and just focus on the results.  Only 4 players in NBA history accrued 3 Finals MVPs.  Magic (3), Jordan (6), Shaq (3), and Duncan (3).  Whether he was all he could be or not, Shaq was Shaq, and he’s right there in the argument with anyone.

3 Responses to “Shaquille O’Neal – Colossal Legacy”

  1. Shirley Says:

    Nice commentary. Always enjoyed watching Shaq do the impossible.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      Good call! One thing I didn’t mention was how different the game was when watching Shaq. He carved out space and held position so well he could capture almost any lob or entry pass and then get wherever he wanted on muscle alone. Only LeBron compares.

      Jason Palumbo

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. pmadavi Says:

    I actually kind of liked the big fella when he was in Orlando. I just couldn’t root for him because he kind of shoved Pat around. Still, 3 NBA Finals MVPs in a row says it all, I think. They had to redesign the basketball stanchion for the love of Diesel!!!

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