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What can we really expect from Shaq this year?

Aug 1, 2010, 5:41 PM EDT

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.

  1. Proof read - Aug 1, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    Shaq avg 23.4 points per game last year huh? God I wish you guys would start proof reading before you post these articles on nothing.

  2. Jet - Aug 1, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    Dude, stop complaining. Go somewhere else with your crying.
    Back on topic; I think Shaq can help a team but not for more than 20 minutes per game. The problem is his price tag. He wants starters wages but he isn’t starter material any more. I suspect somebody will end up taking a chance on him though because he does help sell tickets.

  3. Anonymous - Aug 1, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    Proof read before posting.

  4. CPBS - Aug 1, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    “Hakeem Olajuwon is the center Shaq is most often compared to[...]”
    Ha! Hilarious. I’m pretty sure that the fact they are/were both centers is the only thing comparable. Quit making stuff up.

  5. cmac - Aug 1, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    he said mintues. dude. u proof read.

  6. luffy - Aug 1, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Agreed…. because Shaq was more dominant during his prime, Kareem had Finesse but Shaq had power…
    Anyways, I think Shaq could still put up decent numbers, he should accept the Atlanta offer plus he could be a starter there…
    Bibby – Johnson – Smith – Horford – Shaq…
    Crawford – Crawford – Evans – Williams – Zaza…

  7. Jay - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:51 AM

    Dude stop crying this is MSNBC, they don’t really specialize in Sports writing. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of ESPN maybe you can check out that site and find some stuff to your liking.

  8. Azucar - Aug 2, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    Anonymous, English class begins soon. Sign up!

  9. Azucar - Aug 2, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    Anonymous gets critical and does not even know how to spell. Unbelievable.
    He makes more mistakes than a kid with ADHD.
    nuf said

  10. Tombstone7 - Aug 2, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    Shaq!? Go play wiht CP# in New Orleans…..The hornets have money and a legitimate pointy guard who can gert you the ball….you might even teach Emeka OKrafor and David West how to be men among boyz…..The fans will love and your LSU fan base will travel to increase attendance! ShowTime in Dome……..which would compliment the Saint’s Dome Patrol!…….Shaq would be in the Western conference and get a chance to play against KOBE and The Lakers….CP3 would be excited again and it would appear the Hornets could buy some time for the future!…Shaq coulddo his “farewell tour” this year and really motivate him to beocme more legendary……just a thought!

  11. Harry Ball - Aug 2, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    “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 is sick! Screw Shaq. I had no idea that Kareem was beasting like that at 38.

  12. Anonymous - Aug 2, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    You should proof read, its 23.4 minutes

  13. Xavier - Aug 2, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    Shaq should play in Europe, what’s he gonna do in a low level NBA team?
    In Europe he can move the world, in spite of his age, and earn at least 10m with eyes closed.
    They play less games, and a guy like him would just dominate Europe.
    C’mon time to give back something to Europe…

  14. C - Aug 2, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    the writer never said Shaq averaged 24 points……….he gave is correct numbers 12 pts, 6.7 rebounds. Stop jumping to conclusions dummy and read a little more carefully. Shaq is still better that a lot of these stiffs being signed, he still a quality big man and one of the NBA’s greatest players…you will miss him when he’s gone.

  15. John - Aug 2, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    Very well put

  16. wizard of oz - Aug 3, 2010 at 2:22 AM

    LOCKER ROOM POISON
    COACH KILLER
    OUT OF SHAPE
    CAN’T MAKE FT IN 4TH QUARTER
    NUFF SAID

  17. Bersem - Aug 3, 2010 at 7:35 AM

    Shaq shouldn’t certainly not play in Europe ! Where ? In Greece like Dominique Wilkins 10 years ago ? Just for becoming a starter and getting a big contract ? No way, the situation in Europe is no more the same since the economic crisis in 2009, specially in Greece … it also begins in Italy and Spain. Why do you think Josh Childress and some former NBA-players come back to the US ??
    Ok Shaq is a future all-of-famer, a tremendous – but aging – star. He perfectly knows that and that’s why he still wants to be a starter and why he want to be well paid. Except Brook LOPEZ and Dwight HOWARD, can you give the name of another center who’s able to have 20p-10boards a game ? Shaq is 38, ok but I’m sure he still can score at least 15 points and grab 7 rebounds while playing 25′.
    But teams are really affraid to offer him a big contract beacause of his age (and character ??). If Shaq should accept to play for less money maybe some teams would get interest in signing him …
    Sorry for my English guys ! And greetings from Belgium ;)

  18. WeonCuliao - Aug 3, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    Azucar, for a person with named sugar in Spanish you sure do seem to be a grammar/spelling nazi when it comes to English.

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