Most Dominant Ever? Ranking Shaquille O'Neal Among All-Time Great Centers

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Most Dominant Ever? Ranking Shaquille O'Neal Among All-Time Great Centers

 

Shaquille O'Neal is now eighth on the NBA's all-time scoring list. And that's a big deal for two reasons: One, no player currently in the NBA is even close of catching him, so it's going to be a while before any other player sniffs the top ten of the list. And two, you were alive witness a historic NBA milestone.

We can all agree that Shaq is one the greatest and most dominant players to ever play the game, but the real debate begins when you rank him among the other all-time great centers that have played the game.

His paltry shooting from the charity stripe is the one thing that has hurt O'Neal's scoring average. If he shoots at least 70 percent from the line for his career, who knows where he would be on the all-time scoring list?

But one thing you can never question, though, is the impact he made on his teams. O'Neal has reached the NBA Finals with three of the four teams he has played for in his career, and one an NBA championship with two of them.

Now, this is where the real fun begins. Before ranking him among all other great centers, let's take a look at Shaq's magnificent career team-by-team.

Orlando Magic (1992-96)

As the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, O'Neal was Orlando's first legitimate franchise player since their arrival in 1989. And he quickly turned around a franchise that had never won more than 31 games in a season.

The Magic failed to reach the postseason his rookie season, but Shaq helped Orlando increase their win total by 20 games from the previous season. Now it was just a matter of putting the right pieces around him.

A year later, Orlando received yet another No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft and used it to draft Chris Webber. But Orlando quickly traded him to Golden State for point guard Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway and three future first round draft picks.

Shaquille
Shaq's impact in Orlando will always be considered as one of the biggest impacts made in NBA history. Getty Images

Hardaway, who was also apart of the 1993 NBA Draft, made an impact by averaging 16.0 PPG, and helped Orlando win 50 games along with the Magic's first playoff appearance in franchise history.

The following season Shaq's Magic team reached the NBA Finals, with the addition of Horace Grant in the lineup, but were swept by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

During his last season in Orlando, O'Neal led the Magic to a franchise record 60 wins, but lost in the Conference Finals to the Chicago Bulls.

O'Neal left Orlando at season's end, signing with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent for seven years and $122 million.

Los Angeles Lakers (1996-2004)

Shaq had his best years as a Los Angeles Laker, but things weren't always good for him in L.A. Though the Lakers never missed the postseason during the Shaq era, they struggled to get past Utah and San Antonio during O'Neal's first three seasons in L.A.

But things finally changed in 2000. Phil Jackson was now their head coach, and young Kobe Bryant was evolving into one of the league's premiere shooting guards. O'Neal was also entering the playoffs as the almost unanimous league MVP, and won the scoring title, too.

Los Angeles reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1991, and defeated the Indiana Pacers 4-1. Not surprisingly--O'Neal was named MVP of the Finals.

Shaq went on to lead the Lakers to two more NBA championships against Philadelphia and New Jersey, and was named MVP in both series. The Lakers were the first team to win three consecutive titles since Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, and no team has done it since.

Shaquille
O'Neal averaged an unreal 38 PPG in the 2000 NBA Finals. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

O'Neal did exactly leave Los Angeles on a friend-to-friend basis. His team was eliminated from the playoffs by San Antonio the following season, and the relationship between O'Neal and Bryant began to become erupt.

Though O'Neal and Bryant weren't on the same page, the Lakers reached the Finals the following season after adding future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone to the lineup via free agency. Unfortunately for Payton and Malone, who came to L.A. to win a championship, the Lakers lost 4-1 to the Detorit Pistons.

That season would be O'Neal's last in a Lakers uniform. He was later traded to Miami in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant.

Miami Heat (2004-08)

The Miami Heat were instant championship contenders with the arrival of Shaq. Especially in the Eastern Conference.

O'Neal was now alongside another premiere shooting guard in Dwyane Wade, and those two together were bound to win a title with great role players such as James Posey and Udonis Haslem surrounding them.

In O'Neal's first season in Miami, he finished second in MVP voting behind Steve Nash, but Miami lost in the Conference Finals to Detroit in seven games. 

Shaquille
Shaq won his fourth NBA title in six years in 2006, but someone else took home Finals MVP honors for a change. Getty Images

 

Shaq was determined to lead Miami to the Finals in the 2005-06 season, especially with Pat Riley in as his new head coach after Stan Van Gundy "quit" to "spend more time with his family". But of course, Riley ran him out because he was so anxious to coach this team.

Turns out, Riley's return to the Miami bench was exactly what they needed. Miami entered the postseason with 52 wins and reached the Finals. But Miami fell into a 0-2 hole against the Dallas Mavericks, that is until Wade officially went on a rampage.

Wade averaged 34.7 PPG in that series along with O'Neal's 13.6, and Miami rallied to win the series 4-2, marking one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history. Wade went on to win Finals MVP.

Miami were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round the following season, and Shaq began to show signs that he was finally aging.

O'Neal spent part of the 2007-08 season with Miami before getting traded to Phoenix in a deal that included Shawn Marion.

Phoenix Suns (2008-present)

Only a brief summary needed for Shaq's time in Phoenix. Shaq's presence meant changes for everyone. The run-and-gun offense began to slow down, and no longer fun to watch.

Steve Nash's assist total decreased along with his scoring, while Amare's increased. But Phoenix was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.

This season, however, has been a different story for Shaq. He has looked like his old dominant self at times, and even had his first 30 point game since his arrival in Phoenix. He also scored 28 Monday night against Oklahoma City to move ninth all-time on the NBA scoring list. He moved to up to eighth all-time Tuesday.

O'Neal is still a presence inside, but who knows how far he will lead his team this season.

To Be Continued...

Let the Rankings Begin

After refreshing your memory with a brief career summary, it's time to rank O'Neal among the top 10 all-time best centers. Over the past few years, I have always struggled to keep Shaq in one spot. But one thing that remains the same is that he stays in the top five.

So, here it goes.

1. Kareem Abdul Jabbar

2. Wilt Chamberlain

3. Bill Russell

4. Hakeem Olajuwon

5. Shaquille O'Neal

6. Moses Malone

7. Willis Reed

8. Bill Walton

9. David Robinson

10. Patrick Ewing

After a long and hard study, it came down to these 10 guys. George Mikan came close to grabbing the No. 10 spot, but Ewing beat him by a hair.

Other centers such as Robert Parish, Nate Thurmond, Bob McAdoo and Wes Unseld were also thrown into the mix.

Shaquille O'Neal' career stats:

Year Team G GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% OFF DEF RPG APG SPG BPG TO PF PPG
92-93 ORL 81 81 37.9 0.562 0.000 0.592 4.2 9.6 13.9 1.9 0.7 3.5 3.79 4.00 23.4
93-94 ORL 81 81 39.8 0.599 0.000 0.554 4.7 8.5 13.2 2.4 0.9 2.8 2.74 3.50 29.3
94-95 ORL 79 79 37.0 0.583 0.000 0.533 4.2 7.3 11.4 2.7 0.9 2.4 2.58 3.30 29.3
95-96 ORL 54 52 36.0 0.573 0.500 0.487 3.4 7.7 11.0 2.9 0.6 2.1 2.87 3.60 26.6
96-97 LAL 51 51 38.1 0.557 0.000 0.484 3.8 8.7 12.5 3.1 0.9 2.9 2.86 3.50 26.2
97-98 LAL 60 57 36.3 0.584 0.000 0.527 3.5 7.9 11.4 2.4 0.6 2.4 2.92 3.20 28.3
98-99 LAL 49 49 34.8 0.576 0.000 0.540 3.8 6.9 10.7 2.3 0.7 1.7 2.49 3.20 26.3
99-00 LAL 79 79 40.0 0.574 0.000 0.524 4.3 9.4 13.6 3.8 0.5 3.0 2.82 3.20 29.7
00-01 LAL 74 74 39.5 0.572 0.000 0.513 3.9 8.8 12.7 3.7 0.6 2.8 2.95 3.50 28.7
01-02 LAL 67 66 36.1 0.579 0.000 0.555 3.5 7.2 10.7 3.0 0.6 2.0 2.55 3.00 27.2
02-03 LAL 67 66 37.8 0.574 0.000 0.622 3.9 7.2 11.1 3.1 0.6 2.4 2.93 3.40 27.5
03-04 LAL 67 67 36.8 0.584 0.000 0.490 3.7 7.8 11.5 2.9 0.5 2.5 2.91 3.40 21.5
04-05 MIA 73 73 34.1 0.601 0.000 0.461 3.5 6.9 10.4 2.7 0.5 2.3 2.78 3.60 22.9
05-06 MIA 59 58 30.6 0.600 0.000 0.469 2.9 6.3 9.2 1.9 0.4 1.8 2.85 3.90 20.0
06-07 MIA 40 39 28.4 0.591 0.000 0.422 2.4 5.0 7.4 2.0 0.2 1.4 2.38 3.50 17.3
07-08 MIA 33 33 28.6 0.581 0.000 0.494 3.0 4.8 7.8 1.4 0.6 1.6 2.97 4.10 14.2
07-08 PHX 28 28 28.7 0.611 0.000 0.513 2.4 8.2 10.6 1.7 0.5 1.2 2.96 3.40 12.9
08-09 PHX 24 24 29.3 0.597 0.000 0.592 2.7 6.1 8.8 1.8 0.4 1.4 1.96 3.50 16.9
Career -- 1066 1057 36.0 0.581 0.050 0.525 3.7 7.7 11.4 2.7 0.6 2.4 2.84 3.50 25.0
All-Star -- 11 9 23.9 0.530 0.000 0.466 3.2 5.2 8.4 1.3 1.2 1.6 1.82 2.50 16.8

 

Michael Whittenberg is one of two NBA Community Leaders for bleacherreport.com

Information from NBA.com and basketballreference.com was used in this article.

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