Saturday 24th February 2024,
The Hoop Doctors

Forget about ‘Big Cactus’, Shaq should be called ‘Mr. Intangible’!

Shaquille O'Neal - Phoenix Suns

Superman, The Diesel, The Big Aristotle, Shaq Daddy, M.D.E. (Most Dominant Ever), Wilt Chamberneazy, The Big Deporter, Shaq-Fu, and most recently his self-imposed nickname – “The Big Cactus”. Not only Mr. O’Neal himself, but fans and critics alike, have failed to mention one more possible nickname, “Mr. Intangible”. Shaq is like a magnet for the championship trophy. Ever since he entered the league in 1992, his name has been synonymous with winning. This guy has won four titles and taken 3 different franchises to the big dance, and I wouldn’t bet against the Phoenix Suns this year as being his 4th franchise.

I am getting so sick and tired of the statistic junkies pointing out the statistical decline of Shaq’s scoring numbers as some sort of measure of his value. You would think after the Miami Heat won the title in 2006 while Shaq averaged lower than ever scoring outputs, that the knuckleheads would understand that Shaq’s value to a team is not solely his scoring prowess (for those that are going to argue Dwayne Wade as the reason for winning the title, please check the 2004-2006 Miami Heat record with Shaq out of line-up and compare to Shaq in the line-up). The need for Shaq to score to be dominant is about as important as the need for Steve Nash to score to be dominant. That is why they should call Shaq “Mr. Intangible”.

What are the intangibles?

On offense makes everyone better: Regardless of how many or how few points Shaq scores, because of his continued ability to score at a high percentage (58% for his career, 60% for 2007-2008), opponents have to make a decision from the start of every contest whether or not they will double team Shaq when he gets the ball in the low-post. If they do not double team him, he will score at an even greater rate than 60% of his attempts, and generally Shaq’s coaches will recognize this and increase his touches. If they do decide to double team Shaq he has become one of the best passing big men in the game. Shaq’s perimeter teammates benefit from kick outs to produce unbelievably wide open looks, and Shaq’s forward teammates benefit from backdoor passes for easy dunks, or flip/drop passes while slashing to the lane for uncontested dunks (often making highlight reels). Recipients such as Horace Grant, Rick Fox, Udonis Haslem, and Amare Stoudemire should be able to attest to this.

Defensive Presence: We all know Shaq has the size, length, and timing to block shots. Heck, he still has the record for most blocks in an NCAA game when at LSU with 17. And although his number of blocks is still a respectable 1.5 bpg, it is well below his career average of 2.4 bpg. SO WHAT, WHO CARES? I never thought Shaq’s ability to block shots was his defensive strength anyway. Anyone who has actually played competitive basketball knows that running or slashing to the lane at full speed then trying to stop on a dime and get a quality jump shot off is extremely difficult due to weight and energy transference (ever try driving 90 miles an hour and slamming on the brakes?). The situation I just described is what Shaq forces guards all across the league into doing when they see a 7’1”, 325lb mammoth in the lane as they drive the ball to the hoop. It’s off-balance jumper, after off-balance jumper hitting the back iron. Shaq’s effect in the defensive paint isn’t just felt by the guards however, his presence clogs up the middle for the opposing forwards and centers too. Why do you think opposing Coaches spend countless hours trying to figure out ways to draw Shaquille out of the defensive paint in their offense (most times trying to get him to defend a pick and roll or guard the perimeter).

Rebounding on both ends: Shaq is still a huge asset on the glass. His season average of just over 9 boards a game (btw it’s 10.4 for the Suns thus far) is just slightly down from his 11 career average. I don’t see much of a drop off here in production, if anything this may just be a result of playing fewer minutes per game than his earlier years in the league.

Team Chemistry: C’mon, how can you not love Shaq? The guy is absolutely hilarious (take a look at this video), but serious when the time is right. I bet virtually every player in the league would love to be his team-mate and have this funny dude in their locker room. Not to mention the confidence it would give a player to have a 325lb powerhouse watchin’ your back. If you don’t think team chemistry has anything to do with winning, ask Isiah Thomas about his $89 million dollar player payroll for the bottom dwelling New York Knicks. Loads of talent, brutal team.

The above are just a few examples of the intangibles Shaq brings to a team. Others include Star power, confidence, accountability, toughness. All of which don’t show up on the box score at the end of the night. And it doesn’t hurt ownership that he puts butts in seats on a nightly basis.

So how many uniforms does Shaq need to be wearing as he hoists his numerous championship trophies, before critics stop looking at the damn box score and start looking at what matters, wins and losses? Shaq is a winner, a difference maker, plain and simple.

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