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Just The Sports: The Miami Heat: With and Without Shaq

Just The Sports

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Miami Heat: With and Without Shaq

There is little denying that Shaquille O'Neal has been in decline since he signed his 5 year, $100 million contract with the Miami Heat. O'Neal is still an efficient scorer and one of the best centers in the NBA, but he cannot take on the offensive load he carried during his prime nor is he asked to anymore. One question I asked myself is if this decline shows itself up when O'Neal misses a Miami Heat contest. In other words, are the Miami Heat appreciably worse or appreciably better when O'Neal does not suit up to play.

Since he signed his monster contract, the Heat have had 168 regular season contests of which O'Neal has played in 134. Even though I am not necessarily interested in records, the Heat have gone 96-38 with O'Neal and 17-17 without. More importantly, though, I was interested in seeing if there was any significant difference between the two subsets, both defensively and offensively, in a number of basketball statistics. Before I get to the results, I should mention that in my research I did not include the last two games of either the 2004-05 season or the 2005-06 season. This is because coaches of teams with guaranteed playoff spots do not coach to win and the lineups and play of the team is affected, which was something I wanted to avoid.

Defensively, there is really no important difference with the Heat play, with or without the Big Aristotle. This makes sense because he missed the majority of those games last year and his back-up, Alonzo Mourning, prides himself on his defensive play so there is no real reason to expect any decline on the defensive side. Also worth noting is the Heat are not better on defense without O'Neal in the game.

However, when the Miami Heat have the ball in their possession, it is a whole other story because there are several significant differences between when they are playing with Shaq and when they are not. At the 95% confidence level, the Heat are noticeably better with Shaq in offensive efficiency (110.9 to 106.8) floor percentage (.53 to .50), field percentage (.44 to .39), true shooting percentage (.561 to .538), and assist rate (17.3 to 15.3) than they are without him.

Still, the Heat are not always better with Shaq on the court. Not surprisingly, the Heat are significantly better at free throw percentage when Shaq doesn't dress although they do average 4.6 less free throws per game when he does not play.

So even though I am still stubbornly convinced that Shaquille O'Neal is in a steady decline and the Heat will come to regret that contract over the next three years, the truth is that the Heat need him for their offense to work liked a well-oiled machine and without him, they have been just another average NBA team.



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