Can Stoudemire and Shaq work in Cleveland?

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stoudemire.jpgIf you are the Cavaliers — the best team in basketball through 50 games and the frontrunner for the NBA title — making a move to shake things up is a risk. Any move. Even if it does make LeBron James happy.

The ongoing efforts to bring Amare Stoudemire to Cleveland raise the question of if Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal can mesh together in Mike Brown’s offense. Well, LeBron’s offense, really. Amare thinks so and tweeted as much.

I play very well
w/Shaq. I averaged more pts last year WITH him & played better D.
You guys can stop saying we don’t play well together.

ESPN’s JA Adande backed him up with statistics.

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.

Adande goes on to say that both Nash and Stoudemire struggled in Porter’s “feed the post first” system with Shaq, but when the Suns abandoned Steve Kerr’s experiment, put Alvin Gentry in as coach and started running again Shaq and Amare were just fine.

Adande is right about that. But he leaves out a couple not-so-little details.

First, the Cavaliers don’t play Mike D’Antoni’s system, either. The Cavaliers are a slow-it-down team, playing at the 25th fastest pace in the league right now. They do not run Porter’s offense (although the Cavs do feed Shaq in the post plenty if they like the matchup), but this is a half-court team and that is where Amare struggled was finding room with Shaq. That will be an adjustment again.

Second, it’s the other side of the court that may be the bigger concern. While the Suns offense was fine with Amare and Shaq, their defense (both shooting percentage allowed and points per possession allowed) got worse. How did Orlando defeat Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals last year? Pick-and-rolled them to death. If this trade goes through the Cavaliers have two of the worst pick-and-roll defending bigs in the game. Both Boston with Rajon Rondo and Orlando with Jameer Nelson will run that play every time down until Cleveland figures out how to stop it.

Stoudemire and Shaq may work together in Cleveland, ensuring a title for a title-starved city. But it is a risk. And don’t assume the offensive stats under D’Antoni tell the entire story.