It’s easy to think that Shaq is only productive because of his size. It’s easy to believe that he was once so dominant only because of his unrivaled physical tools. But if you did that, you would also be overlooking Shaq’s knowledge of the game.
When you think about smart players, you normally don’t think about 7’1″ man-mountains who score almost exclusively via dunks and layups. Intelligence isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you see Shaq play basketball. You think, “Damn, that motherfucker’s huge.” Or, “Holy shit, I think he might eat Nate Robinson.” Or, “Dear God, when did the Celtics sign Mount Everest?”
Then you see Shaq score, and you still probably wouldn’t give him credit. Almost every point Shaq has scored this year has been an open layup or dunk. His teammates find him underneath the basket, and Shaq simply lays it in the hoop. Two points, that easy. It looks like Shaq is just the recipient of great passing, which he normally is. But to think that would be to ignore the fact: Shaq’s the one who moves himself into such great position.
You wouldn’t be alone in deflecting Shaq’s credit to the people passing him the ball. Hell, Shaq’s doing it himself.
“The buckets I got tonight, the rest of my career I’ll be able to get buckets like that,” the monster told the Boston Globe. “I’m not trying to back down, back down, back down. I’m too old for that. So Rondo penetrates, his man comes, lob, boom, bam, basket. If I can get 10 of those every game, I can get you 18 points a game.’’
Lob, boom, bam, basket. But Shaq still has to be in the right place. In the first quarter last night, Shaq scored three times, all dunks. Every dunk was assisted, so it wasn’t like Shaq was creating the offense himself. The game must be easy when you’re nine feet tall and 450 pounds, right? Well, yeah, probably. But Shaq also knows what he’s doing. The first dunk came after Ray Allen curled a screen and caught a pass in the middle of the lane. Shaq’s defender, Marc Gasol, helped on Ray for a second. Shaq spaced himself perfectly so a) Ray had an angle to pass to him and b) Gasol wouldn’t be able to defend his dunk. Then he caught the pass and, shortly thereafter, slammed it home.
I actually took the liberty of watching each of Shaq’s buckets, and his points were easy. Very easy. Catch it, turn and put it in the hoop easy. Each of his seven field goals were assisted. Each of them was at the rim. Even the two times Shaq got fouled, he was in great position to score. So yes, things come a little bit easier when you’re the size of the TD Garden. But Shaq has a talent for moving off the ball, for getting open. On every play I discussed, Shaq found himself in the perfect spot. That doesn’t happen by accident.
“I’m still learning the other four guys,” O’Neal told ESPN Boston. “Once we hit 30, 40. 50 games out here, we’ll be,” kissing his fingers for effect, “Mamma Mia!”
For now, it’s pretty close to Mamma Mia. Shaq is already making an impact on both ends of the court. Even during games when he doesn’t score 18 points, like he did last night.
“Even if he’s not [producing] in some capacity, just being on the floor, is intimidating,” Ray Allen told ESPN Boston. “People won’t come down [the lane].”
“People know I’m a physical presence,’’ O’Neal said. “I take pride in not getting dunked on.’’
Shaq added, “No [expletive] layups.”
Shaq’s doing his part to keep the Celtics winning games. The C’s are a better rebounding team, and they’re now more powerful down low.
“I told him after the Miami game, when you see him on the floor it changes our team,’’ Rivers said. “It makes us bigger. It makes us better.’’
Shaq makes the Celtics better. When they first signed him, I wasn’t sure that would be the case.