Alright, so we’re not yet a week into the “I am seriously worried about this Shaq thing working” out period of the season. Others from around the league have done little to assuage me-remember how I said last time that Jamario Moon is like a crazy chick who all your friends shoot knowing glances to each other about? Well, Shaq seems to be treated like the evil ex-wife who eventually took their money and left them bitter and miserable. So yeah, I’m still worried about this. But here are a few quick thoughts before I give the reigns over to my colleague Michael Schwartz from Valley of The Suns, who I asked to help me figure out how to make a pick-and-roll based offense work while integrating Shaq, which Phoenix, for all its defensive woes, did do last year.
-Remember this: that Suns offense was ridiculously good at the end of last season.
-That said, they played significantly worse defense with Shaq on the floor. And this was a horrifyingly bad defensive team.
-Offensively, Shaq’s best lineup had Matt Barnes at the four, not Amare. Considering how amazing of an offensive player Amare is, that should tell us something about how important having shooters around Shaq is, especially since Amare has become a pretty good mid-range shooter; a guy who can truly stretch the D to the 3-point line is a major asset. (By the way, I feel majorly uneasy about talking myself and the 4 readers who take my opinions seriously into Jamario Moon over Matt Barnes. I am reserving the right to flip-flop on this. Not doing it yet, but reserving the right.)
-Right now, I’m of the opinion that Shaq will grow into the offense and vice versa, but still have major misgivings about whether the Cavs can remain an elite defensive team with Shaq holding down the center position, but this is what MB does best and there is a long way to go.
-Alright without further ado here’s Michael’s e-mail, which of course I sincerely thank him for. I’m hoping this will be less of a piece judging Shaq one way or another and more of the beginning of an open exchange between all of us on how to use Shaq correctly on a team that want to win a championship, and I don’t expect we’ll know these answers for a while. Here’s Michael:
The Suns’ offense was a mess the first couple months of the season. Steve Nash wasn’t Steve Nash anymore, and you can find a quote in the archives from our own Kevin Arnovitz comparing him to “a hummingbird trapped inside a paper bag.” Nash lost much of his freedom, as Shaq became more of a focal point. As the season went on, Porter loosened the reins a bit, and then under Gentry they went balls out fast and then if that wasn’t there they slowed it down and pounded it down low to the Big Fella quite often. Before I go on, I’d like to give you a quote from Suns assistant GM of basketball ops David Griffin (found here –http://valleyofthesuns.com/2009/10/24/griffin-explains-it-all/):
At one point I almost felt like the Suns would be better off staggering their rotations and having Nash and Shaq play together as little as possible. Their games couldn’t be further apart, and I thought it would do the team well to have Nash play his pace when he was in there and then Shaq’s when he was in there. As you might have imagined, Shaq’s presence affected Amare Stoudemire quite a bit as well. Shaq had to be down low, so that left Amare out on the perimeter shooting jumpers quite a bit more, whereas he’s most effective on the block, From what I’ve read, your bigs are having similar issues.
I would say not to freak out too much about two games since it’s such a small sample size, but Cleveland fans better get used to Shaq saying, “I’ve shot 60 percent down there since I was in eighth grade,” and “I’ve been doing that for 17 years,” every time he has a big game. He still thinks he’s that guy. From observing him closely, I don’t think he’s come to terms with the fact that he’s getting older and he’s not The Most Dominant Ever anymore. He thirsts for the spotlight, and I can’t wait to see how that dynamic plays out with LeBron. He’s almost like Michael Scott, rushing in to take kudos whenever one of his teammates does something great.
I would say this as well: think about the trade. The Cavs got this guy for free, as the Suns’ didn’t receive a single basketball asset in this deal. I know Sarver’s cheap, but do you think the Suns do this if it weren’t a case of addition by subtraction on top of the cash? There seemed to be a sense of relief at Suns Media Day that he’s now in Cleveland.