Tag Archives: Shaquille O’Neal

We frequently hear that basketball is evolving to a position-less game.  We hear about “combo guards,” “stretch 4’s,” and “modern centers.”  Well, I’m here to tell you that the game isn’t changing as much as popular opinion would have you believe.  Yup, me, the guy with three readers and no credentials, here to tell you that those folks with credentials and large audiences are wrong.

To examine whether the positions are changing, we should start by defining what the positions have historically been.  We often take for granted the idea that a starting 5 includes a PG, SG, SF, PF, and C, but it’s harder to define each of those positions than many would think.  I, the guy with three readers and no credentials, will try…

Traditionally, point guards did more passing than scoring.  They were asked to control the tempo of the game, and maximize the talents of their teammates, more than they were asked to score.  At the other end of the spectrum, centers had most of their impact near the basket – on offense, scoring from the low post, and on defense leading their teams in blocked shots and rebounds.  Some of them could shoot capably from the perimeter, but they only very rarely ventured far away from the rim.

In between, the roles were less clear.  As I’ve blogged previously, I’ve been watching hoops for many years, and I have no idea why anyone acts as if there’s a major distinction between a shooting guard and a small forward. I also don’t see a major distinction between a power forward and a center.  To the extent I can explain it, the best power forwards are generally more versatile than the best centers, but the best centers are more dominant.  Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Dirk Nowitzki were all excellent players, whom nobody thought of as centers. (Apologies, Dirk, for referring to you in the past tense, but anyone who’s seen you try to run up and down the court recently knows that it’s appropriate.) Shaq, David Robinson, Hakeem, and Ewing were also excellent players, whom nobody thought of as PFs. The guys who are both versatile and dominant are sometimes thought of as PFs and sometimes as Cs (Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis).

Even accepting that the lines between some positions are not always clear, I think most basketball fans would stipulate that the following players fit the mold of their respective positions, and played those positions at a high level:

Point Guard: Isiah Thomas (the one from the ’80s), John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker.  (I’d include Magic Johnson, but he fits into no molds for anything.)

Shooting Guard: Reggie Miller, Joe Dumars, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili

Small Forward: Scottie Pippen, Dominique Wilkins, Paul Pierce

Power Forward: Pau Gasol, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Webber

Center: Shaq, Dwight Howard, Ben Wallace, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo

I haven’t classified LeBron (I guess he’s a 3?), MJ (a 2?), or Tim Duncan (a 4?), which starts to lead me to believe that if you reach a certain level of performance you don’t have a position.

Get to the point, Kraver.

Ok, will do…

The point is that traditional positions aren’t gone at all.

Mike Conley, Chris Paul, Goran Dragic, and Kyle Lowry are traditional point guards.  Patrick Beverly, Lonzo Ball, and Ben Simmons – all starters on teams currently heading for the playoffs – might not be traditional point guards, but they sure ain’t shooting guards.

Klay Thompson, JJ Redick, Khris Middleton, CJ McCollum, and Danny Green are among the shootingest shooting guards we’ve ever seen – all heading for the playoffs.

Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Tyson Chandler, and Clint Capela are all traditional centers on teams heading for the playoffs.  Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic are centers playing meaningful minutes on arguably the most surprising team in the league. Marc Gasol is holding down the middle for a surprisingly competitive Memphis team.  And, there’s Joel Embiid, who shoots more 3’s than we’re used to seeing centers shoot, but is grabbing 13 boards and blocking 2 shots per game, while shooting 48% from the field.  He’s a center.

I still can’t articulate how small forwards are different from shooting guards, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Kawhi, Giannis, Paul George, Danilo Galinari, and Jayson Tatum fit the mold of traditional small forwards – to the extent there ever was a mold.

Certainly, there has been some evolution.  We have centers who shoot 3’s, and we have guards like Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry, who not only average double-digit assists, but who do it while taking 20+ shots per game.  But, that’s what it is – an evolution, not a revolution.  The best teams still balance their lineups, with a guy who creates for others, a guy who protects the paint, a guy who attacks the rim, a guy whose primary skill is outside shooting, and a guy who… uh… specializes in whatever it is that power forwards specialized in.

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Alas, my friends.  The time has come to put a bow on Season 2 of hoopservations.com .  Hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.

In closing, I think it’s appropriate to wrap up the LeBron conversation.  Assuming we have a basketball season to talk about in October, people’s opinions and perspectives on what we just WITNESSED are likely to change.  Now that the discussion is fresh, let’s do some year-end hoopserving about it.

My five-part rant generated a few comments about King James, disagreeing with my conclusions.  I’ll take them in turn:

COMMENT:  Did Magic play with Kareem and Worthy? Didn’t Clyde Drexler and some others team up with Hakeem to win? Also didn’t Malone and Payton team up with Shaq and Kobe to win a championship? Shaq played with Kobe (arguably both could be considered in the top 5 to ever play the game). Jordan and Pippen were nominated in the 50 best players ever and Jordan is arguably the best to ever play. For all the hate that everyone has against Lebron for choosing who he works with, it sums up to jealousy. Last night Van Gundy stated this and he made a great point.

RESPONSE:  We’ll start with Magic.  I’ve already blogged about this.  He won his first championship when Kareem was injured.  By the time he won the last one, Kareem was washed up.  Magic had won two before Worthy even joined the team.  In any event, it’s not like he spent 7 years failing to win with his own team and then ran to join a team with Kareem and Worthy.

Re Drexler, it’s true that he didn’t win until he joined Hakeem.  It’s also true that nobody talks about him as a top-15 player.  If you want to agree not to rank LeBron ahead of Drexler, I’ll agree that the situations are comparable.  The problem is that LeBron gets much more credit than Drexler, without credentials to warrant it.

Re Malone and Payton, yes they both joined the Lakers when they were old, after having spent their careers failing to reach the promised land.  It was lame of them.  And it didn’t work.  They still failed to win.  And nobody puts them in the top 15.  (Simmons ranked Malone #18, and Payton #40.  I’m assuming that Simmons would have to acknowledge that Wade and Dirk have both moved ahead of Malone since he published his book.)

Re Shaq and Kobe, now you’re just being silly.  The year before Shaq joined the Lakers was 95-96.  (Shaq’s stats here.)  Kobe wasn’t even in the league that year.  (Kobe’s stats here.)  So Shaq leaving Orlando for LA is not at all comparable to LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami: one guy quit on his team to join a team that already had an established superstar, and one guy did not.

Re Jordan and Pippen… ah, I’m not gonna go there.  Already done that.

Re “it sums up to jealousy,” now you’re not even making sense.  I’m fat, slow, and can’t jump.  As a result, I’m jealous of all the guys in the NBA.  Even Brian Cardinal.  Hell, I’m jealous of some dude named Tim whom I met at the park, because he was able to complete a reverse lay-up without twisting his ankle.  There’s a reason why LeBron is the source of my anger, and it has nothing to do with jealousy.

COMMENT:  Lebron should be applauded and emulated. Lets look at some of the positives he has done verse others in our beloved sport – he actively sought out Warren Buffet. He took the power of making his professional life more fulfilling. Don’t we all do this when we search for a new job or career?

RESPONSE:  I don’t follow the Warren Buffet thing.  Regarding the idea of “we all do this,” it’s true that we all try to make our lives as fulfilling as possible.  It’s also true that we aren’t all in the discussion for being one of the top 15 basketball players of all time.  Thus, if I go to work for an established organization, it’s probably because I want to make a few more bucks or have a bit more job security — not because I’ve taken the easy way out on the quest for greatness.

COMMENT:  He has two kids with the same woman and has never been accused of negative or illegal activities. So far he has embraced being a role model. He plays team first basketball – what he loves passing – the horror. He loves playing defense – don’t follow that habit.

RESPONSE:  I have one kid with the same woman, and have embraced being a role model.  I’m still not in the conversation for top 15 basketball players of all time.  Bruce Bowen loved playing defense.  He isn’t, either.

COMMENT:  I hope Lebron wins, dances, and then Miami throws a party even more out there then their intro party. When this happens you will see me in the middle of it. Don’t hate because our game is captivating and beautiful to watch.

RESPONSE:  I hope you enjoyed the party.

COMMENT:  That is definitely the most credit you’ve given LeBron that I’ve read. Almost, for a second, sounded as if you liked him- but then I kept reading. Although I always enjoy your posts, I’m going to disagree with something you wrote (surprise)- I do not think Lebrons decision to go to Miami was cowardly- at all. He did what anyone would do to get ahead in his job, further his career and achieve the ultimate goal. He has taken ridiculous amounts of abuse from every city around and has held his head high through it all. He is a leader and has not tried to steal the spotlight at all. He has his eyes on the prize as does the rest of the Miami Heat players.  If he was wearing a USA jersey for the Olympics the country would be cheering for him.

RESPONSE: When LeBron decides to play for Team USA, it’s not like he’s looking at 30 different options and choosing the one that represents the easiest path to a title.  Team USA happens to represent the easiest path to a gold medal, but it’s not like LeBron chooses to be on Team USA instead of other teams.  He’s on Team USA because he’s an American citizen.

Now, before closing out the season, let’s summarize why LeBron is so disliked:

* He came into the league with more hype than any other player.  This isn’t necessarily his fault, but he certainly added fuel to the fire.  He tattooed “Chosen 1” on his body.  He wore the number 23.  His nickname is King James.  His ad campaign says “We Are All Witnesses.” Clearly, he was trying to be something other than just an ordinary superstar.  (For some perspective, remember that other dudes near his level have nicknames like “Durantula,” and ad campaigns about falling down 7 times and getting up 8, or something like that.)  With so much hype and such an oversized personality, things were destined to come crashing down eventually if he failed to win a title.

*  For years, he fought sports gravity.  The general rule in sports is that people root for their own teams.  They sometimes become fans of guys on other teams, but rarely in mass numbers.  For the first few years of his career, LeBron was a phenom, and people generally rooted for him.  Then, about the time he stopped getting the benefit of the doubt as a result of being a phenom, his free agency was approaching. Fans of multiple teams thought they were getting him, so, instead of rooting against him like they ordinarily would, they rooted for him, almost as if he was one of their own players.  This, too, was destined to lead to a backlash, for reasons that are not necessarily LeBron’s fault.

*  “The Decision,” and the following celebration, were both obnoxious.  If these were the only reasons people had to dislike LeBron, people would have gotten over them eventually.  But they weren’t the only reasons.

*  Even if he hadn’t done the stupid tv show or celebration, the decision (lower-case letters) to go to Miami was infuriating.  At the end of the day, ignoring everything else, he had to decide where to continue his career, and he made the unprecedented choice of trying to pursue greatness while taking a backseat to a superstar who had already established himself.  Millions of people (including me) see it as an act of cowardice, and don’t want him to be rewarded for it.

All of that said, it’s true that he hasn’t committed a crime and that, by all accounts, he’s a good family man off-the-court.  So, nothing he has done is irreversible.  Reversing the negative feelings about him, though, will be very difficult, because now he’s stuck on Wade’s team.  Now that people have woken up to what he did, there might be a ceiling on the amount of credit he’ll get, even if he does everything right and the team wins.  It will be hard for him to reverse things very quickly because the team would be excellent without him.  Decisions, though, have consequences, and that is the consequence of The Decision.

As far as human dramas go, it’s really quite fascinating.  I know that I’ll be watching next year, to see how he responds (assuming there’s a season!!).

Until then, enjoy the off-season, hoopservers!!!

1 Comment:

  • Jones

    Although we will always just have to agree to disagree on LeBron, I love reading your blog- both for your opinions & for all of the great and informative stats & info. It says a lot for your writing if I am a proud Miami Heat fan yet still look forward to reading Hoopservation next season. 🙂

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