Tom Haberstroh (Insider) notices that in limited minutes, Shaquille O'Neal has quietly become, by some measures, the most efficient player in the NBA. He was nowhere close last year. What's the difference?
Here's a big one:
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.