Observation Deck (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday March 13, 2007 12:34PM; Updated: Tuesday March 13, 2007 2:56PM
Shaq -- good center, fine dancer, thespian and, we've learned, a pretty important cog in that whole Miami Heat machine. He doesn't make players better, but he does allow them to perform their roles more efficiently, due to the attention he receives on both ends of the court. You've probably heard this song before.
But Shaq can't be this important, can he? Consider Eddie Jones. In 19 games with the Memphis Grizzlies this season, he averaged 5.6 points in 19 minutes and shot 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. In Miami? Six more minutes per game, 9.3 points, 50 percent from the floor, 42 percent from long range.
Now, Shaq's as fine a passer as he is a dancer, he creates great spacing, and the Heat know a thing or two about executing in the half-court, but the bulk of the credit behind Jones' resurrection has to come from the idea that the 35-year-old shooting guard wasn't really enjoying himself all that much in Memphis. An open shot off a double team is one thing; a new lease on life is another.
In Memphis, the focus just wasn't there. Case in point: Jones has coughed up the ball just seven times in 400 minutes with the Heat. Has he had to do less in Miami besides just spotting up behind the three-point line and waiting for the ball? Yes, but that's really all he was asked to do in Memphis, where he turned the ball over 16 more times in 160 more total minutes. With the Grizzlies, he was just an expiring contract, playing out the year. In Miami, he's being credited as the missing piece (he's not, but let's play nice). This has to be especially comforting for a player who was twice traded off teams (the 1999 Lakers, the 2004-05 Heat) that ended up winning a championship the following year.
Fans who pay close attention to per-minute statistics get a lot of stick from those who are still stuck on the idea that there are certain players who deserve big minutes despite questionable output and others who (for whatever reason, usually made up) can survive only as a bit player. Though this is true in extreme cases (like, say, with Michael Sweetney -- we really blew that one), most players who make a huge jump in minutes from season to season usually see their per-minute numbers stay the same. The per-game numbers jump up, obviously, but the per-minute numbers -- almost to a man -- stay the same.
Though he could stand to trim up a bit, the silhouette of Indiana's Ike Diogu doesn't quite fill up the one created by a Michael Sweetney. This makes it all the more frustrating to see him while away on the bench for two months with the Pacers while Rick Carlisle's team chucked its way toward oblivion. Diogu averages 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in just 10.7 minutes, but he's been kept on the bench for reasons that are unclear.
Let's say his conditioning isn't sound or that his defense isn't up to Troy Murphy's level (incidentally, the captain's cap I wear to summertime social gatherings is up to Troy Murphy's level, defensively). Let's give Rick Carlisle that imaginary argument, just on a hunch, for not playing Diogu 32 minutes a night. Then why not just play him 21.4 minutes and take in a nice 10.6 points and 5.4 rebounds, and stop forcing Danny Granger to get his tail handed to him while playing out of position at power forward for long stretches (he has played 10 percent of Indiana's total minutes at power forward this season). Wouldn't any sort of shakeup, for a team that has lost nine in a row, help?
Well, it looks as if Carlisle has abandoned the imaginary arguments and realized what works: Diogu has averaged 27 minutes over his last two games, offering 16.5 points and six rebounds. The Pacers, without Jermaine O'Neal, dropped both games. When O'Neal returns, Diogu should stay on the court. And if Carlisle feels the need to sit Diogu again, the coach at least should give the captain's hat a try.