Is There Any Diesel Left in the Tank?

(I use a lot of different advanced statistics in this piece. If you’re confused about any of them, check out the explanation of Composite Score found here:

One of the most criticized moves during the past NBA season was Steve Kerr’s decision to trade Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for Shaquille O’Neal. The Suns felt they had many reasons to trade Marion – his contract demands, potential locker room problems with Amare Stoudemire, his age, etc. However, couldn’t they have gotten more for him than the once great but now aging Shaq? Not only was Shaq’s game slipping, but he’s due a lot of money until 2010.

Regardless of the criticisms last season, the trade happened, and there aren’t any do-overs. The Suns must figure out what they have going forward in Shaq, and they need to figure out how best to utilize him.

First of all, what do the player rating systems say about Shaq? Composite Score had Shaq ranked as the 41st best player in the league last season, down from 33rd in 2007 and superb numbers from 2004-06. Shaq’s PER was 17.17, declining for the 3rd straight year. Hollinger expects Shaq’s numbers to continue to decline and fall below league average. O’Neal’s plus-minus was +1.2 overall last season, a one point decline from the previous year. His plus-minus is another statistic that has been declining every year. His offensive rating was a career low last season (this is bad) and his defensive rating was a career high (also bad). The biggest culprit for these declines appear to be his turnovers, which have become a huge (no pun intended) problem.

If his decline stays at its current pace, Composite Score thinks he’ll still be an above-average player. PER thinks he’ll be around average, as does plus-minus. His offensive and defensive ratings suggest he’ll be below average. All of the numbers agree that Shaq will be a worse player than Shawn Marion next season.

However, the Suns may have already known that before they made the trade. The reason they acquired O’Neal was for a strong post presence on both ends of the floor. What do the numbers say about Shaq’s potential to meet those expectations?

His offensive rebound rate ranked 21st among centers and his defensive rebound rate ranked 10th last season. He blocked 2.33 shots per 48 minutes, which is not particularly impressive. He committed 6.3 fouls per 48 minutes, another negative. He did shoot a high percentage near the basket. He is excellent at drawing fouls, although bad at converting foul shots. Overall, he’s a decent post presence because of his solid rebounding and sheer size, but you can do better. For $20 million, you can do a lot better.

It may seem like I’m beating a dead horse, but the Shaq trade really does not look like a good one for the Suns, and the stats confirm this. If he was making a third of his current salary, it would be a different story.

I will say this though: Shaq is one of the greats and should not be totally ignored. He understands his legacy and will try not to end his career on a bad note. If nothing else, he’s an experienced veteran who can teach guys like Stoudemire a thing or two.

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