Shaquille O’Neal, headed for the Hall of Fame later this week, thinks that he is responsible for the way the game has changed. In an interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, the legendary center said that big men started shooting jumpers because they were afraid to do battle with him in the paint.
“I believe the way that I dominated, I made guys not want to come inside and feel the pain,” O’Neal said. “That’s why you have a lot of guys stepping out and shooting jumpers now. We’re all products of our environment, so when I was coming up, I saw big men playing in the middle. The kids saw me playing and realized that they couldn’t endure the pain and nor did they want to take the pain. So they started shooting jumpers — a la Dirk Nowitzki.”
I guess that’s one way of framing it it. Tall kids watched O’Neal on television and, rather than trying to emulate him, they decided to try something different. He was just that dominant: no one could imagine being that sort of force.
As incredible as O’Neal was, his line of thinking probably wouldn’t hold up to serious scrutiny. Jump-shooting big men existed before he came into the league — hello, Sam Perkins! — and those players became more valuable when defenses became more sophisticated and spacing became paramount. Drawing lumbering centers like O’Neal away from the basket was an added benefit, but it wasn’t all about just avoiding contact on the inside.
The unfortunate thing about O’Neal’s comments is not that he was patting himself on the back, but that he was reinforcing the antiquated notion that centers who shoot jumpers are soft. Skilled players like Nowitzki, a champion and future Hall of Famer in his own right, shouldn’t be seen as afraid of pain. Nor should people think that it’s somehow a bad thing for tall kids to work on their perimeter skills, looking up to inside-outside threats like Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns. In this case, change is good.
Source: CBS Sports / Shaq takes credit for perimeter big men: ‘I made guys not want to come inside’