Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Yao's 5 Toughest Matchups: Shaq O'Neal (No. 5)

In an era that claims with increasing validity the true center is dead in the NBA, Yao Ming is a throwback. But being old school means having to resist an overwhelming trend of NBA teams going smaller, faster and more athletic at the center position; essentially, playing power forwards at center. It's been no easy feat for Yao to keep up, as 3 seasons of missing 25+ games may attest, but then again, that size advantage or disadvantage, however full you see your cup, cuts both ways.

When healthy, Yao is the the best offensive center in the league (yes, this is arguable with Amare Stoudamire thrown in the mix but he's officially a PF again this season) but the list isn't restricted to centers but to those players assigned to guard him. This is a breakdown of the match-ups that should not only be the most entertaining to watch, but also the ones that may be the toughest on Yao.

Really, none of these players has proven they can defend Yao man-to-man and contain him--there's few teams in the league that won't double him right away (Hornets, Spurs, Detroit, Boston?)--but in defending Yao, offense is the often best defense. So this list takes into account the best combination of a player's ability to contain Yao and make him work on defense.

5.) Shaquille O'Neal
Ht: 7-1 | Wt: 325 lbs | 16 yrs

Head-to-head '07-'08, Record: 0-1
SO: 26 pts, 14 rebs, 3 blks, 4 fouls
YM: 20 pts, 7 rebs, 1 TO, 6 fouls

DIAGNOSIS: You can call last season's little one-shot "Shaq's Revenge." After losing his "best center in the league" title as far back as '06, the Big Aristotle had to be more than a little pleased to gain some relevance again last season only to have it fizzle as as trade claptrap. But he still makes the list. Shaq is still very big and very powerful (if not quite as much as his prime) and even his offense has trickled down the drain, he's really the only true center that's proven he can still give Yao trouble establishing the low block.

PROGNOSIS: When the Rockets roll into Phoenix, November 12th, Shaq might be there. By March 6th's match-up maybe not, but come April, he'll probably be back. Whatever the case may be, Shaq's role with the Suns is to be big, rebound and pick up garbage points. Which certainly makes it possible that with his focus directed entirely on the defensive end--especially against the Rockets--that he'll put all his energy into giving Yao hell. Yao may be more nimble now than the aging Shaq but don't underestimate the will of a former MVP trying to make a point.

It would behoove the Rockets then to move Yao out of the paint and work from the high post, which if Adelman's game-plan is indeed gaining in its implementation, should be no problem. But we'll have to wait and see, the high post was one of the best selling points of the new offense last season but Yao didn't get to work from that spot as much as a lot of fans, at least now, will prefer.

More to come...

Originally posted at Yao Central 2008-10-08 09:38:57

1 comment:

deerfieldparksouth said...

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