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Just The Sports: 2008-05-25

Just The Sports

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Amare and Shaq

Superstars, even over-the-hill veteran ones, routinely get too much credit for making the players around them better simply with their august presences. It makes for good stories to tell about how young players benefit by being around players who have been there and done that. Although it may be the case that the players do learn from veterans, usually the players who seemingly get better under these circumstances already had the potential to be stars on their own. It is very convenient how the veterans usually get credit for grooming the star young players when they do not receive any criticism for their other young teammates who are quite simply never going to be great, no matter who they play with, not improving and maintaining a sub-par level of play.

After Shaquille O'Neal was traded from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns, it became convenient to erroneously report how O'Neal somehow made Amare Stoudemire a better player or freed him up to play to his strengths. The fact that such a claim is incredibly easy to discount is obviously of no importance; the incorrect account must make for better copy where facts would be viewers, readers, and listeners to sleep.

For those who pointed to Amare's increase in scoring output after Shaq arrived in Phoenix as evidence to how Amare benefited from playing along with Shaq, thank you for trying to mislead me. In actuality, the real reason Stoudemire scored more points playing with Shaq is being he took more shots, 2.8 more field goal attempts per game and 2.4 more field goal attempts per game. Usually, when a player of Stoudemire's capabilities takes more shots per game, he is going to score more points per game. That is exactly what happened.

How I can safely conclude Stoudemire did not improve under Shaq's tutelage is by looking at his rate statistics. With Shaq not in the lineup, Amare had a true shooting percentage of 65.8% on 1.32 points per shot attempt. Before Shaq arrived to play with the Suns and in the contests where he was not healthy enough to play, Amare had a true shooting percentage 65.9% on 1.32 points per shot attempt. Any great improvement in Amare's shooting is invisible to my eyes. One category in which Amare did vastly improve was his assist rate; without Shaq, the assist rate was 6.0 and with Shaq, the assist rate was 7.6. Perhaps because he was taking more shots he was less likely to turn the ball over.

The simple truth is Amare Stoudemire would have played at the same superstar level if anyone, including me and maybe you, was his teammate. Shaq certainly should not receive any credit for what Amare is able to do on the court.