The Most Dominant Big Man Ever. True or not, that’s how Shaq describes himself. And he might actually have a point. In his prime, Shaq was a wrecking ball of brute force and astonishingly nimble finesse. Back in 1999 and 2000, Shaq averaged more than 3o points and 15 boards for two straight playoffs. In case you weren’t sure, that’s pretty good. Maybe not “Most Dominant Big Man Ever” good but, if not, Shaq in his prime was still pretty damn close to his self-proclaimed title.
Alas, none of that really matters to the 2010-2011 Boston Celtics. Because they aren’t getting “Most Dominant Big Man Ever” Shaq. They’re getting something more like “Serviceable” Shaq, or “Halfway Decent” Shaq, or “We Hope He Won’t Fuck Up Team Chemistry Too Badly” Shaq. At this point in his career, Shaq is no longer a dominant force. He’s still huge and he’s still monstrously strong, but the paint is no longer his personal domain. Which is fine. The Celtics don’t need him to be the Most Dominant Big Man Ever. They don’t need him to hang 30 and 15 every night. They don’t even need him to produce half of that. All they need is run-of-the-mill center stuff – bang some bodies, set some picks, grab some rebounds, make some layups, and once in a while command a double team. That’s it. But is Shaq willing to do that? Is he able?
The Diesel has never come off the bench. Not once during his entire career. Actually, that’s a lie. He’s come off the bench in nine separate games during his career, but not a single time since 2006-2007. And even back then I assume he only came off the bench due to injury or something like that. His ego is approximately four times the size of my entire body. From what we see and hear, he still wants touches and believes he can carry an offense. In Boston, that ain’t happening. No chance.
On top of all the questions about Shaq’s ego and ability to fit in character-wise, there’s also the whole “his game has a lot of flaws” thing. His defense has been a running joke for years, as Shaq seems to believe “hedge the pick and roll” means “fall back into the paint and take up space, giving up wide open jumpers in the process.” In addition, he clogs the paint offensively, slowing the game down and getting in the way of penetrators. (Although, to be fair, it’s not like Kendrick Perkins spent too much time floating around the three-point line. And it’s not like Perk Usain-Bolts down the floor, either. Shaq probably won’t clog Boston’s offense as much as he did, say, Phoenix’s.) There’s also this very disturbing stat, unearthed by Kelly Dwyer in a largely pessimistic view of Shaq all Celtics fans should read: The Cavs were +3.4 points per 100 possessions (I’m assuming they weren’t really +3.4 points better than their opponents per possession) with Shaq on the floor and +15.7 when he was on the bench. Not exactly a small difference.
On a team that defines itself by Ubuntu and defense, Shaq could potentially stand out like a 7’1″, 370-pound sore thumb. Even though the Celtics desperately needed another big man, Shaq isn’t quite the classic fit. I mean, what, exactly, will the Celtics do when Perk comes back and the O’Neal brothers are both coming off the bench? Play the O’Neals together? Shift Big Baby or Kevin Garnett to small forward? Umm, neither of those options really work. Tell Shaq he’s going to have to be on the inactive list for a little while? Good luck with that, Doc. See what I mean? The Celtics might need Shaq while Perk is down, but what in the world is going to happen when Perk returns?
Perk’s return in January or February (or whenever) presents a playing time dilemma, but the Celtics need some of what Shaq has to offer. In case you don’t remember, the C’s were (depending on the amount of your optimism) somewhere between miserable and non-existent when it came to rebounding. Shaq helps that. He’ll instantly be the Celtics best rebounder, even at 38 years old. He still draws double teams, at least occasionally. He can still pass from the post with the best of them. He’s still a mammoth in the paint, someone guys think twice about driving to the rim against. And he decided to play for a contender for the veteran’s minimum, showing that he’s still driven by hopes of winning another ring. So there’s that.
In a somewhat boring conclusion, I guess I’m just confused. I really have no idea what to expect from the Shaq era. He could help out, learn his role, finally be taught how to hedge a pick and roll, and bring a lot of things to the table. Or he could do what he did last year, which was when he silently made a team play worse while he was on the floor. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that signing Shaq for the veteran’s minimum is worth it. But I’m still not sure whether that $1.4 million Boston dished out will pay big dividends. Maybe it will, but that maybe is nowhere near a definite.
(Mandatory Shaq reading: Celtics Hub)