Can Amare + Shaq Work? The Stats back up STAT

By J.A. Adande

The tweet of the day goes to Amare Stoudemire, who got so frustrated at the misconceptions he felt compelled to write “I play very well with Shaq…You guys can stop saying we don’t play well together.”

Bad info flows like an avalanche before the trade deadline, and somehow the gathering stream of snow scooped up the notion that Amare Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t co-exist in Phoenix, so they wouldn’t work together if Stoudemire gets traded to Cleveland.

A little revision is in order. It’s not that Stoudemire couldn’t play well next to O’Neal; he didn’t play as well next to O’Neal under Terry Porter’s system.

Stoudemire did just fine with Shaq in the house while the Suns were running Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Since Shaq didn’t start playing for the Suns until the first game after the All-Star break in 2008 it’s very easy to look at life with and without the Diesel. Before the break Stoudemire averaged 23.2 points on 59% shooting. After the break, playing alongside O’Neal, Stoudemire upped his scoring average to 28 points per game while maintaining that 59% field goal percentage.

It’s not as if there was a long adjustment period. In his first game with Shaq, Stoudemire was so out of whack, so befuddled by the big man’s presence that he scored 37 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 130-124 loss to the Lakers. In the next game, against the Celtics, Stoudemire had 28 points while attempting 23 field goals to O’Neal’s five, while Shaq did the heavy lifting on the boards, with 14 rebounds to Stoudemire’s six.

The next season Porter took over and made establishing O’Neal in the low post a priority. It altered Steve Nash’s game, altered Stoudemire’s scoring, and knocked the franchise so far off-kilter that they abandoned the experiment, ditched Porter at the All-Star break, moved Alvin Gentry down the bench and reinstated Seven Seconds or Less. Stoudemire’s scoring had dropped to 21 points per game before the coaching change. But once Gentry took off the restrictor plates on the Suns’ offense Stoudemire zoomed back to top speed. He scored 23 points in 20 minutes as the Suns demolished the Clippers 140-100. Then he went for 42 points as the Suns scored 142 against the Clippers the very next night.

That was also the game in which he injured his eye, which shut him down for the rest of the season. The Suns traded O’Neal over the summer, so for now that’s the last evidence we have of their ability to co-exist. I’d say they get along nicely.

There’s risk involved for the Cavs in acquiring Stoudemire. They would be altering the chemistry of a team that produced the best record in the league so far, a group that’s riding a 13-game winning streak. Stoudemire is not a strong individual defender or defensive rebounder. But the notion that O’Neal's mere presence on the court hinders Stoudemire is erroneous. If anything, it would be even less of an issue in Cleveland since O’Neal isn’t a focal point of the offense there.

Stoudemire tweet was dead right … it just takes a little more than 140 characters to explain why.