Thursday, April 24, 2008

Shaq deconstructed

"Shaq is so bad at (defending) the two-man game. Teams don't run two-man games with him involved very often. You can get a jumper almost every time coming off the screen. Or, if Shaq comes out, you can go right by him. You can go right by him like he's not even there. I'm telling you right now, I'd like to coach one game in the NBA and I'd like to coach it against Shaq. I'd up-tempo the game, and if I didn't get a good opportunity, I would go into a two-man game every time using Shaq's man. I'm not talking about occasionally. I'm talking every time. I'd make him work his tail off every possession. I would do it all the time. (A team) would get whatever it wanted. It would be a joke. He would get in foul trouble. He would get tired and they couldn't defend it."

The above theory comes from Hall-of-Famer Rick Barry, who shared his thoughts with me on Shaq ... in 2006(!) as the Mavericks were relinquishing control of the NBA Finals that year, eventually losing to Shaq's (and Dwyane Wade's) Miami Heat. Barry's ideas, of course, aren't earth-shattering. Although, in typical Barry fashion, they are candid. The Mavericks, as you recall, lost four games in a row after being up 2-0. They didn't run enough pick-and-rolls -- despite guard Jason Terry's efficiency at, and favor for, running the play -- to make Shaq all that uncomfortable. Certainly not enough to expose the big fella's major weakness.

Why is this relevant? Well, fast-forward to the 2008 playoffs. The Suns made a bold move to acquire Shaq, hoping that his inside presence would be the missing link for a team so close to a championship. Shaq, of course, also brought with him limitations, most notably what Barry described above. At age 36 and a generously listed 325 pounds, Shaq doesn't have the lateral quickness or foot speed to show on a pick-and-roll, chase and/or re-route a guard, especially one as fleet as Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili.

It's already been established that the Spurs, led by coach Gregg Popovich, are the NBA's best at devising and carrying out strategies that give themselves the highest possible probabilities for success. It should come as no surprise then that San Antonio is precisely and ruthlessly wearing out the screen-and-roll. But the Spurs have taken it a step further. For the most part, they're not interested in open 17-footers from the initiator, or even pops and rolls from the screener. Their offense is all about getting Parker and Ginobili all the way to the rim -- to quote Barry, "every time."

This is the third time in the past four seasons that the Spurs and Suns have met in the playoffs. Including the first two games this year, they've played 13 postseason games. In those 13 games, two of Spurs' the three highest points-in-the-paint totals have come this season (72 in Game 1, 56 in Game 2).

Look for more, much more, of this offense the rest of the way, especially since this Shaq can only be found on film.