The half-court is where O'Neal and Antetokounmpo are most similar. Even as he further extends his his shooting range this season, Antetokounmpo is still doing historic damage in the paint.
Shaquille O’Neal knows he would dominate today’s NBA.
Like so many retired superstars, he’s wary of the league’s intertwined emphasis on analytics and small ball. Gone are the days of wings isolating again and again with one side of the floor cleared and bigs posting up possession after possession until forcing defenses to double-team. O’Neal longs for the NBA landscape that made him a legend.
Just because he misses how the game used to be played, though, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like to play as it continues to evolve. In fact, O’Neal believes an evolved version of himself isn’t just playing in today’s NBA but dominating it.
A comparison between O’Neal and Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t make much sense on the surface.
At over seven-feet tall and 300 pounds, O’Neal was as traditional a back-to-the-basket center as basketball has ever seen. He ruled the low block from the mid-1990s to late 2000s, subsisting on post-ups, duck-ins, and lobs. O’Neal rarely initiated offense from outside the paint and almost never brought the ball up the floor.
Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, functions as the Milwaukee Bucks’ primary ball handler. Whereas O’Neal was routinely called out for a lack of commitment to fitness, Antetokounmpo has tirelessly worked his way into becoming arguably the strongest player in the NBA – and one of its most imposing physical presences of all time.
It’s that shared attribute from which O’Neal’s self-made comparison to Antetokounmpo stems. The reigning MVP, by the way, sees it in himself, too.
This isn’t the first time O’Neal has drawn a resemblance between himself and Antetokounmpo.
During an appearance on “The Big Podcast” last spring, the Hall-of-Famer known as “Superman” admitted that Antetokounmpo was a superior player to him at the same age. Why? O’Neal, he insisted, didn’t have the opportunity to showcase his transition game how the Bucks superstar does. He said of Antetokounmpo, per ESPN:
He’s better because he has more opportunity to showcase more. I was a post player, and the only thing I was allowed to showcase was my domination. He’s running the floor. I did that early, [but] I stopped doing that because I stopped getting the ball when I ran the floor, so I turned into a half-court dominant player.
Antetokounmpo is indeed a monster in the open floor but not because his teammates find him for high-flying finishes. He’s the most dangerous transition player in the NBA because he needs fewer dribbles to go the length of the floor and finish than any player ever.
O’Neal, of course, was never initiating fast-break opportunities himself. While he certainly ran the floor better early in his career, that has more to do with O’Neal’s self-inflicted weight issues than a refusal of his teammates to get him the ball.
The half-court is where O’Neal and Antetokounmpo are most similar anyway. Even as he further extends his his shooting range this season, Antetokounmpo is still doing historic damage in the paint.
Case in point: He’s averaging more paint points per game than any player since O’Neal in his early-2000s heyday.
That exclusive club shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given how frequently O’Neal and Antetokounmpo rock the rim with dunks. Last season, Antetokounmpo joined Dwight Howard as the only high-usage players since the stat started being recorded in 2001 to notch more dunks than O’Neal’s personal best of 255, per Basketball Reference.
Is Antetokounmpo a perfect embodiment of O’Neal? Not quite.
But Milwaukee’s franchise player, like O’Neal before him, defies all historical precedent. Considering that reality and their unsurpassed dominance in the paint, a comparison to O’Neal might actually be the best one for Antetokounmpo.
This article was edited by Gerelyn Terzo.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:40 PM UTC