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.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.

 

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).

Donovan Mitchell is not looking back on summer, says now is happiest he’s been in league

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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The New York Knicks chose not to go all-in last summer and bring Donovan Mitchell home. The kid who played his AAU games in Manhattan and grew up a Knicks fan watching games at the Garden was open to it, but the Knicks lowballed the offer and Koby Altman and the Cavaliers swooped in.

Mitchell returned to New York Sunday, but he wasn’t looking back — he’s happy where he is now in Cleveland, on one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“What’s done is done, and I’m happy as hell to be where I’m at,” he said. “At the end of the day, this decision was made and I don’t think I’ve been happier since I’ve been in the league. But I think for me it’s always going to be motivation to come back and play well in my hometown, but you could say that about anybody. But with what happened this summer, it’s over with, it happened and I’m happy to be with the Cavaliers.”

Whether Rose holding back picks — concerned about having enough ammunition to bring in the next star to New York to go with Mitchell — was a mistake will play out over time. It depends on what bold move Rose makes next with the roster. Whatever decision he makes will be compared to the “what if” of Mitchell, fair or not.

Mitchell has been better than expected in Cleveland — averaging 28.4 points a game shooting 42.1% on 3-pointers — and has fit beautifully in the backcourt with Darius Garland, as well as with the front line of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Together those four form the cornerstone of a team that could contend for a title in the coming years. Mitchell is loving every minute of it.

That group (minus Allen, who remains out with a lower back contusion) wasn’t enough on Sunday against a desperate Knicks team. New York got the 92-81 win behind 23 from Jalen Brunson (Mitchell also had 23).

 

Three things to know: Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham’s vision

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham‘s vision

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham before NBA training camps opened. 

This is what Darvin Ham envisioned.

In his last five games, Anthony Davis is averaging 35.6 points on 66.7% shooting with 13.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. He has been dominant — and his 55-point game leading the Lakers to a win over the Wizards on Sunday put him in historic company.

What Ham envisioned was more than just Davis playing the five and going back to an All-NBA — if you ask Patrick Beverley or Kristaps Porzingis after the game, MVP — level, it’s that the rest of the team would follow.

So far it has. In its last 11 games, the Lakers are 8-3 with the third-best offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense over that stretch, with a +7.2 net rating. What’s more, the shooting woes that dragged them down early in the season have also righted themselves.

This hot streak started against a soft part of the schedule, but road wins over the Bucks and Wizards show it isn’t a fluke. This is a team gaining confidence, and while it likely will not sustain this level of success for the remaining five months of the season, it’s a sign of what this team is capable of when clicking.

Los Angeles also still has a lot of work to do. Even with this recent run they are 10-12 and sit 12th in the West — they have to keep this going long enough to get into the playoff mix. Then we can discuss what kind of postseason threat they are.

Two Wizards notes out of their loss to the Lakers Sunday.

First, Bradley Beal left the game in the first quarter with hamstring tightness. He did not return and after the game there wasn’t much of an update on whether he will miss time, and if so how much. It’s not a good sign for a Wizards team without much margin for error.

Also, Daniel Gafford had maybe the dunk of the year. This is insane.

2) Damian Lillard returns to court and Trail Blazers

With Damian Lillard sidelined by a strained calf, the Trail Blazers dropped 7-of-8 and fell to .500 on the season (11-11). They were not the same team.

Sunday he returned — looking unbothered by any calf issue — and suddenly the ball was moving again, and the offense clicking in a win over the Pacers. Lillard was 5-of-10 from 3 on his way to 21 points, but just his presence opened up the offense so Jerami Grant could score 28. Anfernee Simons, coming off his insane 45-point night, added 22.

Lillard doesn’t have to carry Portland, he doesn’t have to drop 40 every night to have a chance to win (see Doncic, Luka). Grant and Simons can help carry the scoring load. But this is also a team without much margin for error, so they struggle without the threat of Lillard, the floor shrinks and the ball doesn’t move the same way.

With Lillard back, the Trail Blazers are a threat every night. In a tight West — the Trail Blazers are tied with the Clippers and Warriors for the sixth seed — they can’t afford any more slumps like the recent one. And they can’t afford to be without Lillard for an extended stretch.

3) Does he have a puncher’s chance? Floyd Mayweather wants to buy NBA team

The instinct is to bet against Floyd Mayweather ever owning an NBA team for a couple of reasons, but when you’re talking about a boxer with a 50-0 career record, bet against him at your own risk.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

There are two key questions about Mayweather’s being able to purchase an NBA team.

The first is, does he really have the money? Mayweather says he does, and last year said his net worth was above $1.2 billion. Whether that is true, and whether that money is liquid or if it’s tied up in speculative investments, is not something we know (it’s not like Mayweather has to make his financial situation public). However, you can be sure it’s something the NBA would have its accountants look into — Mayweather would have to open his books to them to get into the club.

The second issue is Mayweather’s history of controversies — including homophobic comments and pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. The NBA vets its owners looking to avoid public relations blowback, and you can be sure a Mayweather ownership would lead to a lot of hard questions for a league that paints itself as progressive.

Even if he has the $2 billion and the league approves him, Mayweather will need partners in this process. The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that may be double the $2 billion number Mayweather threw out. As for potential expansion teams (probably headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources (think the second half of this decade), and the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jose Alvarado put up a 38-spot for the Pelicans and had the New Orleans fans singing his name.