Is Shaq Killing the Cavs' Offense?
An early, pre-injury criticism of these new Cavaliers was that Shaq "clogged the lane" on offense, rendering LeBron James and Mo Williams less efficient by throwing the halfcourt off-balance. Is that real, or just a facile excuse that makes intuitive sense but isn't backed up by data?
Well, the numbers do say Shaq is doing something bad to Cleveland's offense.
According to 82games.com, the Cleveland offense is more than eight points per 48 minutes worse when Shaq is on the floor. What in particular is the problem? Well, Cleveland's shooting is worse with Shaq playing (even though Shaq tends to be a high-efficiency player) and the team's offensive rebounding is worse. The biggest deal, though, might be in drawing fouls: the Cavs average four free throws per 48 minutes fewer with Shaq on the court. Of course, a huge part of LeBron's game is drawing fouls -- Shaq seems to hamper that part of the offense, according to the numbers.
According to data provided by BasketballValue.com, the most frequently used line-up which includes Shaq -- that'd be O'Neal-James-Anthony Parker-Mo Williams-Anderson Varejao -- has an awful Offensive Rating, 96.6 points per 100 possessions. The team's most-used Shaqless line-up (James-Parker-Williams-Zydrunas Ilgauskas-J.J. Hickson)? An Offensive Rating of 113.7. In fact, of the team's 10 most frequently used line-ups which feature LeBron, the only two units which have scored less than 107 per 100 possessions both feature O'Neal.
Data analysis -- especially line-up data -- is limited by sample size concerns. But this is a case where the easiest explanation for the intermittent offensive woes for Cleveland -- it's Shaq's fault -- seem to fit the numbers.