Shaq raves about James' hoops IQ

Updated: December 11, 2009, 1:37 AM ET
By Chris Broussard | ESPN The Magazine

It's well-documented that Shaquille O'Neal has high standards for coaches. Typically, it takes one of iconic status such as Pat Riley or Phil Jackson to impress him.

O'Neal
O'Neal
James
James

That makes his praise of LeBron James that much more notable.

"His basketball IQ is phenomenal," O'Neal said of James. "He could coach in the NBA right now."

The 24-year-old James has impressed O'Neal with his thorough knowledge of the game -- his understanding of angles, of defensive principles, of how to set up teammates, of how opponents defend various plays and players, and of not only his own responsibilities on the court but those of all his teammates as well.

O'Neal hasn't talked about who's better between James and his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate, Kobe Bryant. But he has told confidantes that James has the advantage in basketball IQ, saying he's the smartest star he's played with in his 18-year career.

James was flattered by O'Neal's comments, but noncommittal on his coaching future.

"I've never thought about coaching before," James said. "I just know the game and have always been a student of the game."

Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.