Shaquille O’Neal was one of a kind during his time in the league. At 7’1 and about 300 pounds, he was one of the most dominant players that the NBA has ever seen. Traditional bigs like Shaq are rare in today’s game. More and more bigs are developing a face up game, drifting to shoot jumpers and some even beyond the three-point line. This development of the post player has caused a lot of teams to go small, to the point where 6’8 forwards are playing the center position.
Would this had happened during Shaq’s time, absolutely not. He was simply too big and too strong. But there were also too many other good post players that could hand out buckets with their back to the basket as well. As the game drifted further and further away from the basket, so did the big men. Everyone has speculation as to why the league drifted this way but if you ask Shaquille O’Neal, he attributes his dominance to lack of traditional bigs in the NBA (via Shams Charania of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports):
“There won’t be another (traditional center) like me, and like Yao (Ming, also entering the Hall of Fame), ever again. We feel the dearth of the real center. I believe the way that I dominated, I made guys not want to come inside and feel the pain. That’s why you have a lot of guys stepping out and shooting jumpers now. We’re all products of our environment, so when I was coming up, I saw big men playing in the middle. The kids saw me playing and realized that they couldn’t endure the pain and nor did they want to take the pain. So they started shooting jumpers – a la Dirk Nowitzki.”
Shaquille O’Neal has always been a cocky and braggadocios type of guy, and this response doesn’t surprise me one bit. Is he the reason for the lack of bigs in the NBA today? I would say no, but I do believe he’s apart of the reason.
The lack of big men in today’s game should be credited to the coaching and evolution of the game. Like anything else in this world, basketball evolves, and that’s what makes it so great. The style of the game changes and players have to adapt. A lot of young kids are being taught to catch the ball, face up, and either shoot or attack. The game is all about the three ball, so that’s why everyone is taking the time out to work on their shot.
Kids aren’t being taught how to post up, how to do an up-and-under, or how to do a jump hook. They’d rather do a cross over, put it behind their back and heave a three. That’s just the time we live in.
However, where I do give Shaquille O’Neal credit to this change is with how teams tried to match-up against him. With Shaq being so big and slow, a lot of teams tried to counteract him with a big that could stretch the floor. Forcing him to come out of the paint, would open up the floor for their offense. At 7’1 and about 300 pounds, Shaq getting out to a shooter is like finding satchsquat, it just ain’t happening. Therefore I don’t believe his dominance is to blame but more of his size, and the match-up advantages that it presented for other teams are to blame.