The Suns are all Shaq'd Up

Drew BartonAnalyst IFebruary 6, 2008

If ESPN is correct, the Phoenix Suns have acquired Shaquille O'Neal providing he passes a physical. "All" they had to give up was Shawn Marion.

Reactions have been widely varied from, "Well, there go the Suns chances" to "Oh, they have the Title for sure now". You can make a pretty strong argument for each view.

The argument that they just threw away their chances seems to go along the lines of, "The Suns need to run, they just got rid of their best fast-break player and Shaq will slow them down. Why, he is only playing 25 minutes for Miami. This is a disaster."

The argument they just won the title goes with the" Look at their line-up! Steve Nash and Shaq are MVPs, Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill could have been...they will be unstoppable!"

It seems quite possible that, while both lines of analysis have some pretty logical reasoning behind them, they both overlook a very important possibility. Perhaps the acquisition was not about offense, but about defense. Perhaps the Suns brass perception of Shaq is being their version of Bill Russell.

One of the factors a running team needs is someone to control the backboards.

The great Celtics teams of the '60s were built around a guy they seldom ran a play for in Russell. Sure, he scored and scored plenty but they did not need him to. Even Red Auerbach often claimed that if Russell never scored a point he would still have been the indispensable part to those teams. In a similar way, the Suns have plenty of guys who can put the ball in the basket. What they need is someone to get the rebounds and start the fast break.

However you view Shaq, no one can deny that he definitely can get the rebounds. He does not need to take part in the fast break. Nash, Hill, Leandro Barbosa, and Raja Bell:  They still have guys who can get out in the open floor and put the ball in the net. 

Imagine how much more effective they can be if instead of helping out on the boards they can take off down court and count on Shaq getting the rebound, finding the outlet man, and triggering the break? Seven seconds or less might become five seconds or less. Shaq can be like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was in his later years; just in there to play defense and rebound. If he bothers to go to the offensive end he can roll down there with 5 or 10 seconds left on the shot clock, take the pass, commit his offensive foul that gets called on the defender, and score his points or, more typically, miss his free throws. He is still good for double-digit points when fed the ball. And remember, Jabbar did not seem to slow down Showtime even though he was pretty creaky those last few years.

So if Shaq is counted on for rebounds, he also provides a solid interior defender. He still can't be pushed around because who is stronger? He blocks shots. He alters shots. He intimidates. He struggles against more agile guys, but the Suns have another guy to cause them problems in Stoudemire. He is not the player he once was but Shaq is still a force on the defensive end. He will improve their half-court defense and rebounding immensely.

The other positive for the Suns is when they do get sucked into a slow-down half-court game, they now have another option. Even at this point in his career Shaq commands double teams. On a team with as many shooters as the Suns that can be lethal. He is another big target for Nash to find on his laser passes. Shaq potentially improves their half-court offense.

Of course, losing Marion has a lot of negatives. He was excellent on the break, provided a lot of energy, and fit with the team very well on the floor. There is no telling at this point whether Shaq will fit in and replace what Marion did, whether other players will seize the opportunity and step up, or whether it will indeed be a horrendous move that closes the Suns window on a championship. It is an open question but one thing we do know:  Picking up Shaq for Marion has benefits that are a realm apart from being at the offensive end.