Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shaq Wants to Retroactively Adjust Some Hardware

Shaquille O'Neal has become remarkably outspoken, even by his standards, since retiring from active play last June. Unfortunately, his outbursts are too often colored by personal spite rather than sober analysis. For example, last month he labelled Andrew Bynum the league's best big man, forsaking Dwight Howard, whom every other observer considers the strongest 5. Shaq's pique likely stems from Howard's appropriation of the "Superman" nickname, which we discussed at length in this 2009 post. O'Neal has a "Superman" tattoo on his arm and considers himself the original owner of said moniker (I don't know if any actual intellectual property is involved, as was the case in Jeremy Lin's situation that we discussed yesterday).

Today an interview emerged in which O'Neal suggests that Steve Nash did not deserve the MVP awards he won in 2005 and 2006. O'Neal is likely still miffed that he did not win the 2004-05 prize (indeed, contemporaneous scribes back then hinted that racism might be responsible) after he arrived from the Lakers and turned Miami into a championship contender. But let us turn to the numbers.

Phoenix: 29 wins
Miami: 42 wins

Phoenix: 62 wins
Miami: 59 wins

Evidently, Nash's arrival in Phoenix (holding constant the previous core of Marion, Johnson, and Stoudemire) resulted in 33 more victories, while O'Neal's introduction to Miami (joining a holdover group of Wade, E. Jones, and Haslem) led to 17 more Ws. Let us recall that Phoenix was putrid the previous year (to be fair, they traded Stephon Marbury early that season and had no point guard for most of the campaign) while Miami without Shaq (and with Caron Butler + Lamar Odom) was a solid team that reached the '04 playoffs' second round.

We could probe the change in fortunes of the Lakers (O'Neal's former team) and the Mavericks (Nash's former team) but too many factors there changed from 2003-04 to 2004-05: the Lakers lost Karl Malone, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, and Gary Payton, in addition to the big LSU alum. The Mavericks traded away Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker for Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry, respectively. Examining those teams' transitions would not tell us much about the causal force of O'Neal or Nash.

In 2006, O'Neal was not an MVP candidate, as his performance slipped while Dwyane Wade became a superstar, and his team's performance dropped to 52 wins despite a revamping of the roster with several accomplished veterans. Meanwhile, Nash steered his team to 54 wins with Amare Stoudemire injured the whole season and Boris Diaw manning the center position. To be fair, several other players including Nowitzki, James, Bryant, Wade, Brand, Duncan, and Billups did just as much that season to push their respective teams to a high level of play. But Shaquille O'Neal had no claim on the award that year.

It appears that Nash was incredibly valuable on Phoenix (and the regular-season success proved to be no chimera, as the Suns easily made the conference finals twice) while O'Neal's boost to Miami was not as robust. O'Neal did help to deliver a championship to South Florida, but most valuable player of the league? Didn't happen.

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