A lot of basketball people dislike the Shaquille O’Neal signing because they think Shaq will clog the lane, shutting down driving lanes for Rajon Rondo. Rondo, after a Team USA scrimmage against China in Madison Square Garden, disagreed with that premise. (Boston Globe)
Rondo said he will have no problems getting into the paint or making passes with the presence of O’Neal.
“Shaq’s not a perimeter shooter and neither is (Kendrick Perkins),” he said Saturday from Madison Square Garden. “They’re both great finishers around the rim, very efficient, shoot a high field-goal percentage. A lot of people are saying Shaq is going to clog up the paint but Perk didn’t clog up the paint. They are two different players but at the end of the day we’ve got Paul (Pierce), Ray (Allen) and Kevin (Garnett) on the perimeter to spread the defense. There’s only so much you can do as far as clogging up the paint.”
Like Rondo, I don’t understand that line of thinking. When a guard drives, he needs at least one other player close to the hoop whom he can pass to if the defense comes over to help. How many points did Perkins get just by standing near the hoop, catching and finishing passes from a double-teamed Rondo? Shaq will receive the same benefits from Rondo’s penetration, except that he’s a much better finisher than Perkins. Perkins has a bad habit of taking an unneeded dribble, or bringing the ball down by his waist before attempting a shot. Shaq, on the other hand, is one of the elite finishers in basketball history. Despite his age and health concerns, he hasn’t lost the ability to score around the hoop.
If anything, Rondo will benefit from Shaq’s presence under the hoop because his defender will be much more reluctant to help off of Shaq than defenders were to help off of Perkins. If a center helps off of Shaq, it’s almost an automatic basket for O’Neal. If the defender doesn’t help off of Shaq, or is a step late helping, Rondo will have that extra sliver of a driving lane to make his shot even easier.
Rondo’s a smart guy. While he loves Perkins like a brother, he realizes the potential benefits of playing with superior finshers, like both of the O’Neals. Rondo’s scoring and assists will both likely spike this season because of the indecision of help defenders in the lane.
Clogging the paint only happens when a team doesn’t have shooters to surround a penetrator. For instance, when Paul Pierce drives, the lane is sometimes clogged because Rondo’s defender is able to cheat onto Pierce because Rondo is not a perimeter scoring threat. However, when Rondo drives–like he said– he’s surrounded by Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, all very good shooters. That opens up the driving lane because if you help defensively off one of those guys, they’ll make you pay.
All these “basketball experts” who are trying to discount the Shaq signing should stick to the real issue: pick-and-roll defense. On the court, it’s really the only downside of adding Shaq. The Boston Celtics of the Thibodeau era were one of the best defensive teams because of their aggressive defense of the pick-and-roll and near perfect defensive rotations. With Shaq defending the pick-and-roll an extreme amount of pressure is put on guards to get over screens, because Shaq falls back into the lane on screens, instead of hedging the ballhandler.
If the Shaq signing is to be a failure, it will be on the defensive end. Not because of some myth that the big fella will clog the lane for Rondo.