Countless articles have been written in the wake of the blockbuster trade that sent Shaquille O'Neal to the Valley of the Sun for three-time All-Star Shawn Marion.
Some of these debated the probability of Shaquille O'Neal fitting in with Phoenix' finesse offense. Several doubted Shaq's health, and said that he would not be able to keep up with the Suns' frenetic style.
Others offered praise for what is arguably the best training staff in the NBA, stating that Phoenix' uncanny ability to revitalize old past-their-prime players would be exactly what the Big Diesel needed. Some went as far as to say that Shaq in Phoenix would mean a sure championship for the Suns.
However, only now that Shaq has played three games with the Suns, can one begin to accurately evaluate the success of the "experiment".
So far the Suns have gone just 1-2 with Shaq in the rotation. At first glance, this looks abysmal, especially for the Suns. However, upon further evaluation, one can draw several positive conclusions.
First of all, the losses were not necessarily due to poor play on behalf of the Suns. Their opponents in the three games, were the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, and the Detroit Pistons; the top three teams in the NBA record-wise.
Secondly, the Suns have shown improvement in some areas. Over the three-game span, Phoenix has out-rebounded their opponents by five rebounds per game. Also, their 85-77 victory over Boston marks just the second time this season that they have won a game in which they score under 90 points. This entails an improved interior defense, anchored by Shaq.
The Suns have a somewhat easy stretch coming up with Memphis tonight, followed by a tough game against New Orleans, and then Philadelphia and Portland. If they can find a way to edge the Hornets, then they should be able to run off at least four straight, and perhaps reclaim the Western Conference lead.
While the Suns' record looks bad through Shaq's first three games, it may not be as bad as it seems, and more time is needed to accurately assess the Suns' progress.