When Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Phoenix Suns, questions flew as to how the Big Shaqtus was going to fit in with the fast-moving Suns offense. Unable to keep up and often gumming up the works more than providing an option, Phoenix was left regretting the trade after winning only one postseason game in 2008 and missing the playoffs entirely in 2009.
While Cleveland was not nearly so poor a fit in Cleveland, with its plodding offensive pace that only really got off to the races when the ball started and finished in LeBron's hands, Shaq also cannot really be said to have shined there. His numbers took a significant dip with his diminished minutes, and he was clearly not capable of filling the role of supporting superstar that the Cavaliers needed for LeBron (South Beach results notwithstanding).
The Shaquille O'Neal that has found his way to the Celtics is not dramatically different from last year's. He looks like he might be in somewhat better shape, but he's still not the Shaq that can lead a championship team. Why, then, has he fit in so well in Boston?
It has everything to do with role. In Boston, Shaquille O'Neal is just one of five Boston stars on the court. His job is to catch the ball when he's open and stuff it home for an easy two points, not to catch it in the post and create. And in that role, he's the perfect fit. A huge target who's not about to get blocked and lacks Kendrick Perkins' often stone hands. The result is that Shaq is taking the fewest shot attempts in his career (just 10.8 per 36 minutes) and making an astounding 69% of them.
Of course, Shaq isn't the most durable of players anymore, and it seemed like his endurance hurt him as much as anything else with Cleveland. But that shouldn't be a problem is Boston either. While Jermaine O'Neal hasn't necessarily proven the most reliable option, the Celtics have enough size on their team that Shaq should be well rested when it's most important-the playoffs. By then, Kendrick Perkins will be back to take over as many minutes as the Celtics need, and Shaq can cede however much time is necessary to Sixth Man of the Year candidate Glen Davis and even surprising rookie Semih Erden. At that point, the team might well already be in coasting mode anyways, gearing up for another long playoff run. The only question then will be just exactly where Shaq fits best: in the starting lineup, or off the bench?