What can we really expect from Shaq this year?

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shaqdunk.jpgShaquille O’Neal is still looking for a team. August has arrived, and the FMD (Former Most Dominant) is unemployed.

It seems reasonable that Shaq would be towards the end of the free agent acquisitions. He’s in the awkward cross-section of expensive and old, both of which are in the short list of words that make GMs run screaming from negotiating rooms, bursting through walls like Roger Rabbit.

But we’re still talking Shaq. Diesel. The Big Aristotle. Superm… let’s not go down that road.

So let’s take a look at what a player of Shaq’s age, 38, can be expected to produce.

Last season, Shaq averaged 12 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks at age 37 (he turned 38 in March while recovering from the infamous thumb injury). Those aren’t exactly stunning numbers. But when you look at his production in comparison to that of other players his age, he looks pretty good. The average for a 37 year-old center is 5.4 points and 3.67 rebounds per game with .65 blocks. By that comparison, Shaq was beasting, even in limited games and minutes.

And that minutes part is pretty relevant. Obviously, any 37 year old player you’re going to expect to play limited minutes. You’re not really looking for great per-game numbers because his role is going to be limited. So how does Shaq compare based on per-minute numbers?

We’ll use per-36, since that’s the Basketball-Reference average, and if you were going to exhaust a player at that age, that’s the limit you could probably expect them to play. The average per-36 for a 37 player is much more favorable, coming in at 10.8 points and 8.97 rebounds. Shaq averaged 18.5 and 10.3 per-36 last year. So his scoring percentage is in the elite of all 37 year-old centers historically, coming at 3rd on that list. His rebounds, on the other hand, were 7th among all 37 year-old centers.

It’s at 38 that things get interesting. Centers at 38 averaged 14.5 minutes per game, compared to 16.7 minutes at age 37. The average for 38 year-old centers per36 minutes was 11.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per 36. Not astounding numbers, but at least fairly consistent and pretty decent for what you’re likely paying for a 38 year-old big. What I was surprised to find is that for centers that played at both 37 and 38, their production didn’t drop. They played 90% of the minutes they did at age 37, and actually produced at a higher per-minute clip (the per-36 rebounds for 37 year-olds were higher due to several players retiring after that season).

In Shaq, we’re not talking about a bottom-feeder, either. We’re talking about one of the most dominant players in NBA history. So what does he have to measure himself against, in terms of 38 year-old outstanding centers?

Bullets? Yes, bullets.

  • The standard bearer is, unsurprisingly, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who at age 38 averaged 25.3 points and 6.8 rebounds at 56% shooting in 33 minutes per game. That’s just absurd. A 38 year-old man playing basketball averaging 25 points a game. I don’t care if a cyborg was the one throwing him the passes, that’s pretty incredible (Note: We actually think Magic Johnson would have a better assist rate than the cyborg.)
  • How about Robert Parish? The Chief averaged 14.1 points and 8.9 rebounds for Boston at age 38, for a 17.6-11.1 double-double per 36 minutes. That’s greatness, right there.
  • Hakeem Olajuwon is the center Shaq is most often compared to, as Olajuwon was the greatest center in the league in the era before Shaq, with Olajuwon sliding out just as O’Neal hit his prime. Amazingly, all of Olajuwon’s numbers went up at age 38 from age 37, as he played 26.6 minutes per game at 38 after playing only 23.4 as a 37-year-old. Olajuwon’s production went up with the minutes increase, averaging 11.9 points per game at 38 compared to 10.3 at 37, and grabbing 7.4 rebounds per game compared to 6.2 at 37. His per 36 numbers were of course similarly improved. Olajuwon averaged 103% of his age-37 points at age 38 (16.1), and 106% of his age-37 rebounds at age 38 (If10.0) for another double-double performer per 36 minutes. That’s why he’s the dream.
  • If Olajuwon is the optimistic concept for Shaq to reach for, Patrick Ewing is, sadly, the warning sign. (I’m sorry for the reminder, Knicks fans.) At age 38, Ewing was actually with the Sonics, and saw his per-minute production and minutes plummet. He played 26.7 minutes compared to 32.8 the year before, and while his rebounding stayed solid, only dropping .7 per-36, his points dropped from a respectable 16.4 to 13.0 per-36. His 9.6-7.4 performance was still good enough to land him fourth in points per game and tied for second in rebounds per game with Olajuwon. His per-36 numbers slid to 8th in points and ninth in rebounding per-36 from 7th and 6th respectively at 37. Ewing really is the concern if you’re a team looking to evaluate Shaq.

But really, considering O’Neal’s particular game, it’s hard to get an idea of him. He averaged 23.4 minutes per game last year, so at the 90% production rate of the average 38-year old center, that puts him at 21 minutes next season. Is a 21-minute-per-game player worth the kind of money O’Neal is asking for? Obviously not, which is why there has still not been a team rushing to take him on. But on the flip side, Parish, Olajuwon, Ewing, none had the physical dominance of Shaq’s sheer size, and these were no slight players in their own rights. Shaq will always have massive potential to influence a game because he is just that much to load. Then again, his work ethic and conditioning are always called into question…

Do you see the paradox? It’s likely not the production teams are worried about, it’s instead the built-in risks that have kept the bull market away from O’Neal.

Someone’s going to sign the big fella. And considering how he ranks with the greatest players at his position at his age, it’s going too far to say he doesn’t have the potential to be an impact player. How his 38th year ends will be up to him, just as it always has been.

Report: Lakers would trade No. 1 pick if they get it

Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott smiles as the studio begins to fill before the NBA basketball draft lottery, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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The Lakers might not even have a first-round pick this year.

Thanks to the ill-fated Steve Nash sign-and-trade, the Lakers owe the 76ers (via the Suns) a top-three-protected first-rounder. As the No. 2 seed in the lottery, the Lakers have just better than a coin-flip chance of landing in the top three and keeping the pick.

But if the Lakers land the top selection, they might not engage in the Ben Simmons-or-Brandon Ingram debate.

Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports:

Is this a good idea? The answer, as usual, is it depends on what they could get.

There’s a logic to adding another young player whose peak would align with Lakers’ core. D'Angelo Russell (20), Julius Randle (21) and Jordan Clarkson (23) aren’t ready to win. It might be better to add someone who will enter his prime when they do.

But the Lakers’ market and prestige make them a popular free-agent destination, and free agents value winning. Moderate improvements that would stick many teams on the mediocrity treadmill could open the door for the Lakers signing a star.

The Lakers should weigh these factors and trade offers logically and decide what to do if they get a top pick.

Of course, there are other factors. Jim Buss faces a somewhat-self-imposed deadline for contending. To the person in charge, what’s best for the franchise’s long-term outlook might not matter as much as a potential quick fix.

Kevin Durant: ‘When I’m talking to women, I’m 7 feet. In basketball circles, I’m 6-9’

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) pumps his fist in reaction to a foul call on Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Oklahoma City won 112-101. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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How tall is Kevin Durant?

He’s listed at 6-foot-9, but his teammates have guessed everything from 6-foot-10 to 7-foot-3.

Durant, via Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

“For me, when I’m talking to women, I’m 7 feet,” he said. “In basketball circles, I’m 6-9.”

“But really, I’ve always thought it was cool to say I’m a 6-9 small forward,” he said. “Really, that’s the prototypical size for a small forward. Anything taller than that, and they’ll start saying, ‘Ah, he’s a power forward.’ ”

This mirrors Kevin Garnett, who Flip Saunders once called “6-foot-13” because Garnett didn’t want to get pigeonholed as a center.

But most height fudging in the NBA has players trying to be listed as taller. Read Herring’s piece for a fun look at the hijinks.

LeBron James wants to face Dwyane Wade, Heat in conference finals

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) greet each other before an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Heat haven’t gotten past the Raptors. The Cavaliers haven’t toppled the Hawks, for that matter.

But can you imagine a Cleveland-Miami conference finals?

LeBron James can.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“I think naturally of course. That’s since I’ve came back,” James said. “It’d be great to play against those guys in the postseason. Throughout my whole career, I’ve always wanted to go against (Dwyane) Wade in a playoff series. We’ve always talked about it even before we became teammates in ’10. It’s not been heavy on my mind but it’s crossed my mind throughout my whole career.”

LeBron doesn’t realize how bad of an idea this is, which is what makes it such a bad idea.

It isn’t that the Heat are playing better than Toronto right now – though they are. It isn’t that the Heat are a tougher matchup for Cleveland than Toronto – though they are, routing the Cavs twice in three regular-season games (one of which LeBron didn’t play).

It’s that facing the Heat would bring a ridiculous level of drama to the series, and LeBron’s teammates are more equipped to face the Raptors and the fewer distractions that would come with that matchup.

LeBron just wants to be on the court with his friend, Dwyane Wadewith him or against him. I think LeBron can handle that, enjoy that and still produce.

But it undermines his teammate’s focus when LeBron does something like chat with Wade during halftime when they’re trying to prepare for the second half. It can bother teammates when even more attention than usual is placed on LeBron, who’d be THE storyline in a matchup with his old team.

If the Cavs had a choice – and they obviously don’t – they should avoid all that.

But the way the teams are playing, LeBron will probably get his wish.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson suggests Seattle starts a petition to bring back Sonics

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, left, signs autographs for fans during the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a dumb idea about the Sonics.

So, he posted it to Twitter:

Yes, because this is how the NBA decides where to place teams.

Seattle’s City Council voted not to sell part of a street to Chris Hansen, essentially blocking a new arena – which is probably for the best. Why build a stadium when you might not even get a team? NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league isn’t expanding anytime soon, and no franchise appears imminent to move.

But a petition could change all that do nothing – except rile up Wilson’s fans, no matter how detached the idea is from reality.