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Top 50 NBA players from last 50 years: Shaquille O’Neal ranks No. 9

Editor’s Note: As a part of a brand new sequence for his podcast, “What’s Wright with Nick Wright,” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright is rating the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues as we speak with participant No. 9, Shaquille O’Neal.

Shaquille O’Neal’s profession highlights:

  • Three-time Finals MVP
  • 2000 league MVP
  • 15-time All-Star
  • Eight-time first-team All-NBA, two-time second group, four-time third group
  • Three-time All-Defensive second group
  • Two-time scoring champion
  • 10-time field-goal proportion chief
  • 1993 Rookie of the Year
  • Eighth on all-time scoring listing

Shaquille O’Neal is the nickname king. The gigantic heart with the outsized character got here up with numerous monikers through the years — for others and himself.

One, particularly, stands out because it issues his personal enjoying profession: M.D.E. (Most Dominant Ever).

It sprung up halfway by his profession, virtually as if he knew he wouldn’t go down as the best participant of all time and needed to manage the narrative. With that, was Shaq’s best possible higher than everybody else’s?

“You can have any participant in NBA historical past for one sport at his apex peak of his powers, who’re you selecting?” Nick Wright mentioned. “My reply is Shaquille O’Neal. Because as nice as [Michael] Jordan was, as nice as Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was, as nice as LeBron [James] was, even at their apex peak, they may have an off night time. It’s unlikely, however they may have an off night time. During Shaquille O’Neal’s apex peak, he by no means had an off night time when he cared.”

Shaquille O’Neal is No. 9 on Nick Wright’s Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years

Shaq is extensively thought to be one of the crucial dominant players in NBA historical past. He amassed a lot of accolades all through 19 seasons within the league, together with Rookie of the Year and MVP honors. O’Neal received 4 NBA titles and was named Finals MVP 3 times.

That caveat on the finish — when he cared — may appear handy. But anybody who watched Shaq is aware of that he was liable to choosing his spots all through a chief that spanned greater than a decade. What’s inarguable is that he was totally engaged within the 2000-02 postseasons, significantly within the Finals. 

And the 7-foot-1, 300-plus-pound large was unstoppable.

Consider that Shaq’s quietest efficiency amongst 15 Finals video games through the Lakers‘ three-peat was 29 factors, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks within the 2001 clincher versus the Sixers. His Finals averages throughout that stretch: 35.8 factors, 15.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.9 blocks, 59.5% capturing, 44.3 minutes.

“Nobody can argue anybody’s ever been extra dominant within the largest second than Shaq throughout these three years,” Wright mentioned. 

His dominance doesn’t start or finish there, after all. Shaq was regarded as a Dream Team snub earlier than he entered the NBA, and his rookie 12 months in Orlando proved as a lot. He was an All-Star starter and completed seventh in MVP voting after posting 23.4 factors, 13.9 rebounds and three.5 blocks a sport at simply 20 years previous. No rookie has grabbed extra rebounds up to now 50 years.

By Year 3, the nimble heart had the Orlando Magic within the Finals after eliminating Jordan’s Bulls within the second spherical. And he was higher than you may bear in mind within the title spherical. It’s develop into folklore that Hakeem Olajuwon ran circles round a younger Shaq in Houston’s sweep. The reality is, three of the 4 video games have been shut, the Rockets’ supporting forged badly outplayed the Magic’s, and the famous person large males’s numbers have been actually related (O’Neal: 28-13-6, three blocks, 60% capturing; Olajuwon: 33-12-6, two blocks, two steals, 48% capturing).

The actual phenomenon that arose was Shaq’s groups frequently getting swept regardless of his excellence. It occurred 5 instances in his first six playoff runs, with the pattern initially following him to Los Angeles. He averaged 27 and 12 in these losses. The Lakers’ playoff fortunes would quickly change, nonetheless, with their rent of Phil Jackson and improvement of Kobe Bryant.

“[Shaq] responds with what I consider to be essentially the most dominant three-year stretch of any participant in league historical past,” Wright mentioned.

In 1999-2000, a better-conditioned Shaq performed a career-high 40 minutes per sport and averaged 30 and 14, received his second scoring title and got here one MVP vote away from being the primary unanimous choice. Those averages rose to 31 and 15 within the playoffs, boosted by 5 40 and 10 video games, and delivered a championship. 

“One of essentially the most dominant start-to-finish playoff runs ever, nevertheless it’s not even his greatest,” Wright mentioned. “His greatest will come subsequent 12 months.”

Shaq produced almost an identical numbers in 2000-01, but the Lakers received 11 fewer video games, wrongly costing him the MVP. In the playoffs, his 30 and 15 headed a 15-1 run and second title. The lone setback required extra time and Allen Iverson exploding for 48 factors because the 76ers stole Game 1 of the Finals. Shaq went for 44 and 20, his third 40-20 output of a postseason that culminated in one other Finals MVP.

He’d win a 3rd straight in 2002, however solely after the Lakers narrowly escaped the Kings within the convention finals. Down 3-2 within the sequence, Shaq tallied 76 factors, 30 rebounds and 6 blocks over Games 6 and seven. Equally vital, he hit 24 of 32 free throws as L.A. received each contests by slim margins earlier than sweeping the Nets within the Finals. 

It felt just like the Lakers couldn’t lose, and maybe they wouldn’t have within the coming years in the event that they continued going by Shaq on offense. As Bryant ascended, O’Neal’s utilization step by step declined from his MVP season. During the ’03 playoffs, Kobe averaged almost eight pictures greater than Shaq, and L.A. bowed out within the second spherical. While their illustrious partnership had begun to fray halfway by the three-peat, it was utterly fractured within the aftermath of Bryant’s sexual assault case. 

In 2003-04, Shaq led the NBA in field-goal proportion for the sixth time in seven years however averaged a mere 14 pictures per sport. The getting old, disjointed Lakers rallied late within the season and ran by the West, making them heavy favorites within the Finals versus the Pistons. O’Neal confirmed up however was largely alone. He put up 27 and 11 (on 63% capturing) for the sequence, together with 36 and 20 in Game 4, as L.A. was crushed handily in 5 video games.

A commerce to the Heat rejuvenated O’Neal and made his Eastern Conference squad an immediate title contender. He’d have a pair of sturdy seasons however was now not the overwhelming pressure within the postseason. The Heat couldn’t overcome an damage to Dwyane Wade within the 2005 convention finals. In 2006, Shaq had throwback performances in clinching Game 6s towards the Bulls and Pistons, however Wade did the heavy lifting in Miami’s Finals win over the Mavericks

O’Neal held on for a number of extra years with a number of extra groups and even earned a fifteenth All-Star bid at age 36 with the Suns. After 19 vigorous seasons, he ranks within the high 10 in factors, offensive rebounds, blocks, field-goal proportion, free-throw makes an attempt and participant effectivity score, and he ranks even increased in a number of postseason classes. His 58.2% profession capturing mark is by far the best for a 20-point scorer. 

Shaq averaged 28 and 12 over his 10-best seasons and 27 and 13 over his 10-best postseasons, which spans 155 video games. In 25 of these playoff contests, he registered a Game Score (Basketball Reference’s catch-all metric) of no less than 30. That trails solely Jordan and James. 

What can’t be quantified however is apparent by 75 years of the NBA: O’Neal is one in all one.

“There isn’t any period during which Shaq wouldn’t be totally dominant,” Wright mentioned. “He did it towards anybody and everybody. At his peak, nobody may maintain him underneath 35 and 15 a sport.” 

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