- Guy Lake
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There is a TLA (three-letter acronym) often employed with instant messaging that I think is circulating widely among Suns fans today. "What the fudge" indeed. Trading Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for an aged and infirm Shaquille O'Neal flies in the face of all logic. The Suns under Mike D'Antoni have been the archetypal uptempo team. When they aren't out on the break, they run a spread offense, one that requires a mobile center who is a threat at the top of the key as Amare Stoudemire is. While he is still somewhat imposing on defense, it is hard to see how Shaq will mesh with this offense except in a few pick and roll sets.
Let's take a look at the key players involved in the deal and what the ripple effect will be on each squad. Shaq is a big rock, and the ripples could be tidal waves.
Shaquille O'Neal: The big question for O'Neal is his health. How bad off is his hip? He has been missing a lot of time lately (I don't know that I've been missing it Bob). Shaq had shown the ability to renew his energy when traded in the past, though he was a much younger man when he was dealt to the Lakers and just 32 when he went to the Heat. That said, Shaq will be motivated by this move, and I think the hip will show "remarkable" improvement. There will be nights when he is devastating finishing the pick and roll with Steve Nash. However there are going to be a lot of nights where he is reduced to rebounding on defense and throwing outlet passes. The Suns can be effective running a four-man break and Stoudemire owners better hope this happens a lot because Shaq is going to put a dent in his post production when they are in the half court. This assumes that he actually joins the half-court offense after a defensive board. Numbers-wise, it will all come down to minutes. If Shaq plays 30 I can see 15-16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. This is because the Suns generate more possessions and Shaq, even if he is limited to 30 minutes per game, will see a few more shot attempts and rebound opportunities. I think 25 minutes per game is more likely given the Suns' pace. Let's just hope he gets enough shots to keep him from complaining. Shaq is becoming the Ricky Henderson of the NBA. He talks mad game about remaining Diesel dominant, yet his skills have clearly declined. This habit, as much as his physical decline, is what worries me the most about this deal for the Suns.
Amare Stoudemire: Spacing is going to be the key for Amare. His post game is far more facing the basket than back to the basket. He has a very good medium-range jumper and, as we all know, is one of the best finishers in the game after driving on his defender. While I like that fact that he is shifting back to power forward -- he is too fast and powerful for most fours to deal with -- I worry about the amount of room he will have to operate when he and Shaq are on the floor together. All in all, I expect a decrease in rebounds but for his scoring to remain the same or even slightly improve. On the defensive side, I would be surprised if his 2.3 blocks per game didn't dip. Shaq is going to me manning the strong side and I doubt Amare tops 2.0 blocks per game the rest of the way as a help defender.
Steve Nash: The numbers won't change much if at all. The ball will remain in Nash's hands and, in Shaq, he has another very high percentage finisher around the rim. His biggest challenge will be keeping both Amare and Shaq happy.
Leandro Barbosa/Raja Bell: We could see even more 3-pointers from the Suns most prolific outside shooters. The spread offense is dependent on good outside shooting and the Suns have a little bit less of that with Marion gone. Shaq is a better passer than Amare and is good at finding open teammates out of double teams. When he sets screens in the high post and Nash rolls off, Shaq is effectively done on offense. Unlike Amare, he can't drive or shoot from the free throw line should the ball come back to him. The ball has to end up in a shooter's hand, which could be good news for Barbosa, Bell and to a lesser extent Grant Hill. The downside for a player like Barbosa is that 3-pointers could become a larger percentage of his attempts. Except when he is on the break I expect fewer takes to the basket when Shaq is on the floor. When they do come, they will be on back cuts and I actually like Shaq's ability to locate cutters on these plays. Bell won't see a big change in his game because on offense he is largely a catch and shoot player. Like I said, perhaps a few more attempts from deep but otherwise we should see more of the same from Bell.
Boris Diaw: This guy intrigues me because his numbers have gone up when other players have gone down this season; Grant Hill in particular. With Shaq coming in, there is a good chance that Diaw gets more minutes due to injury. If even he remains healthy, Shaq is not going to play the 36.4 minutes per game that Marion did; 29 to 30 is the most he will average. I think Diaw inherits the lion's share of the difference, with Grant Hill getting a few as well. This won't return Diaw to his glory year of 2005-06 but with more minutes come more numbers.
Shawn Marion: "The Matrix" should see a modest spike in his numbers. He immediately becomes the second option on offense and the best rebounder on the Heat. The Heat are going to be more uptempo having cut themselves free of Shaquille's anchor. No, they don't have the same pieces as the Suns for running and gunning, but Dwyane Wade, Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks, Dorell Wright, Jason Williams and others can all get up and down. Marion has the lowest season scoring average (15.8) since his rookie season and there have been games in which he has disappeared altogether; see January 23 and 25 when he attempted three and four shots respectively. This is not going to happen on the offensively starved Heat. It has been pointed out that Marion is not adept at creating his own shot. That's ok, Wade will be the creator and, trust me, he will be looking to Marion to help him score. Expect Marion to get back to 18-19 points per game and for his rebounding to bump up a bit as well. With more shots we are likely to see a decline in shooting percentage, but overall I see Marion gaining value with this trade.
Dwyane Wade: This trade is good news for Wade. He now has a proven running mate, emphasis on the word running. Wade's numbers will improve. In eight games without Shaq, Wade averaged 24.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks. Wade played a few of these games with the flu, so if anything these numbers are a bit low. Yet they are still a bit higher than his season averages. As Wade continues to work his way back into shape and with a complementary player like Marion alongside him, I think we will see a modest increase in scoring and assists.
Dorell Wright: The Heat's current small forward does not benefit from this move, even though it should make the Heat more uptempo, and that favors his style of play. I feel for Dorrell Wright. He is a gifted athlete. Unfortunately for him, Shawn Marion is more gifted and is going to log a lot of minutes at small forward. Dorrell will get time when the Heat go small and shift Marion to the four and bench Udonis Haslem. I am unconvinced that this will be all that often given the rebounding challenges the Heat would face with this lineup. Remember, Mark Blount does next to nothing on the glass.
Marcus Banks/Jason Williams/Chris Quinn: Point guard has been a mess for the Heat all season. Jason Williams hasn't been able to stay healthy and Chris Quinn is not starting material. The sleeper in this trade is Marcus Banks. The Heat don't require a lot of playmaking from their point guards; Jason Williams is averaging 4.9 assists on the season and team is ranked 26th in the league in point guard assists. This is good news for Banks because that isn't his strength. His strength is scoring. He can shoot the 3-pointer and push the ball. That is all he will need to do for the Heat. Wade will drive and kick and Banks will be the recipient in a lot of cases. Owners in deep leagues should pick him up immediately. Mid-sized and smaller leagues can hold off, though I think there is potential here for ownership in 12-team leagues as a bench player. He is going to get a lot more run than he saw in Phoenix. This playing time will come at the expense of Chris Quinn and to a lesser extent Jason Williams. Neither of these guys had a lot of value to start with and this trade depresses it even further.
Udonis Haslem: Mr. Reliability is going lose a little value with this move. Udonis Haslem has been the kind of guy you could always pencil in for 10 points and eight rebounds. This season he is up to 12 and nine. A lot of this has to do with Shaq's injuries and playing alongside a weak rebounder in Mark Blount. Haslem will dip to 11 and eight with the addition of Marion. Marion, as we know, is an excellent rebounder and will take some boards from Udonis. More significantly, Marion's ability to play the four in a smaller lineup could take minutes from Haslem. Haslem is averaging a career-high 37.2 minutes per game. Depending on how often Riley is willing to go small, Haslem could drop to 35 or fewer minutes per game. Udonis will still be reliable but the career-high averages won't continue with Marion on board.
Mark Blount: He's not for everyone but the Heat's starting center benefits from this trade for one reason; he will remain the Heat's starting center. In 12 games as a starter Blount has averaged 15.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks on 59.4 percent shooting from the field. These are better numbers than you might expect from a player who is just 10 percent owned in ESPN leagues. I think the scoring comes down a bit with Shawn Marion getting more looks, and the seven-footer's rebounding will always be hopeless. I am not a big fan of Blount because of his limited statistical range but his field goal percentage and low teens scoring can be useful to teams who already have their rebounding and defensive categories covered.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com.