Credit must be given to the shrewd Celtics front office for recognizing that Shaq is a finisher, not a creator. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers incorporated Shaq into their offense by feeding him the ball in the post early in the shot clock. Shaq would then pound his post defender closer and closer to the basket before turning for a quick hook that would send the ball on a line drive directly at the basket. As we saw in the playoffs, this strategy rarely produced consistent buckets, now that Shaq has lost the quickness and the lift to work a high-percentage shot. More importantly, it simultaneously disjointed the offense and neutralized the powers of LeBron James.
If you’ve been paying attention this season, you’ll notice that Boston rarely runs the offense through Shaq. The Celtics still execute the same sets that are predicated on off-the-ball screens, motion and penetration. But unlike the Cavaliers last season, the Celtics feature multiple scorers — not just one really, really good one — who can penetrate to draw weakside defenders. But not only that, they have both the selfless attitude and passing ability to reward the open man. The Celtics were aware that, even at 38 years old, if Shaq can get the ball within one foot of the basket, nothing stands between him and a thunderous dunk. They just need to get him the ball there.
And they have. We’re seeing an enormous shift in Shaq’s shot types this season, thanks to the passing skills of his teammates. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 29.5 percent of Shaq’s offense has been generated off basket cuts, tripling his shot share in Cleveland last season. But post-ups essentially have been phased out. In a Cavs uniform, nearly two-thirds of Shaq’s offense came from bludgeoning opponents on the block, but that’s been cut to just 26 percent in 2010-11. Consequently, Shaq has been assisted on 76.9 percent of his field goals in Boston, drastically higher than his career norms. Even though he played a season and a half with Steve Nash in Phoenix, Shaq has never been delivered the ball as effectively as he has with his new Boston comrades.
So it turns out that force-feeding the ball to Shaq and risking a turnover on a bad entry pass, then watching Shaq settle for an awkward jump-hook outside of the paint against single-coverage as his teammates don’t have enough space to make effective cuts is a less effective strategy than moving the ball and letting a giant man catch the ball near the basket and dunk it. Everybody except for Mike Brown knew this last season. It’s informally “There’s no way Mike Brown would have let the defense get this bad” week here on the blog, but one of my defenses of Mike Brown has always been that Shannon Brown is the only player to enjoy significantly more offensive success after leaving a Mike Brown team. (LeBron included!) Now that Boston is showing the NBA how Mike Brown should have used Shaq last season, that’s a tougher argument to make. Seriously, Shaq is shooting nearly 70% from the floor. I hate everything. Have a nice day.