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Can Jermaine O’Neal Play The Four?

 

In my breakdown of the Shaquisition, I mentioned the question of who Shaq could be paired with in the front court. If Perk returns healthy, the C’s post-season big man rotation will probably consist of: Shaq, Perk, KG, Big Baby, Jermaine O’Neal.

Shaq is immobile, and so in an ideal world, you’d pair him with mobile big man who can defend the screen/roll and otherwise cover a lot of ground. KG obviously works, and Perk just as obviously does not. That leaves Big Baby and Jermaine O’Neal, and I expressed doubts that Jermaine O’Neal could realistically play the power forward position on defense against most teams.

A lot of readers disagreed, and so did Chris Forsberg at ESPNBoston.com (to an extent). Here’s what Forsberg wrote in response to a question about the C’s front court rotation:

I actually see potential in an O’Neal-O’Neal frontcourt. Celtics GM Danny Ainge noted that he was eager to utilize Jermaine O’Neal at the 4 this season, and high-mileage legs aside, I don’t see why it can’t work against another team’s second unit. It’s not like they’re going to spend 20 minutes together on the court per game, so if you need to lean on that pairing for a sequence or two each game, I don’t see a problem.

In the end, I really like the flexibility O’Neal’s addition offers Boston. Although without ideal sets all the time, Boston can easily trot out a reserve-laden big lineup like O’Neal-O’Neal-Luke Harangody-Marquis Daniels-Rajon Rondo or go small with something like Jermaine O’Neal-Glen Davis-Daniels-Nate Robinson-Rondo. Go ahead and mix and match starters in those units. Again, it’s not something you trot out there every day, but it offers greater flexibility than was available last season.

Some thoughts:

• The regular season is one thing. I’m generally unconcerned with the 2011 regular season. The Celtics will win the Atlantic Division, probably secure the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference and dole out chunks of February and March playing time to Luke Harangody and Semih Erden. Forsberg is absolutely right that the regular season matters in that Boston must remain healthy and keep their vets well-rested, all while establishing a team-wide rhythm on both sides of the floor—the foundation for the playoffs.

In that sense, Rivers absolutely can experiment with all sorts of different front court combos—including O’Neal/O’Neal—for short stretches here and there.

But if the C’s end the regular season the way they want, the front line rotation will consist of those five guys listed above. And that’s when the concern about pairing up Shaq comes in.

Readers who suggested Jermaine O’Neal had played the power forward spot before were absolutely correct. In 2007, for instance, he played nearly as much at the four spot as at the five, according to 82games. During that season, J.O. logged 25 percent of Indiana’s total available power forward minutes. That’s a lot.

In the three seasons since then? He’s barely sniffed the power forward spot. In each of those three seasons, O’Neal logged less than 1 percent of his club’s minutes at the power forward spot, according to 82games. (See here, here, here and here). O’Neal played for three different teams and four different coaches during that span, so it’s not as if he got stuck with one stubborn coach who didn’t think he could play the four.

You can chalk some of this up to personnel. J.O. wasn’t going to log a lot of time at the four in Toronto with Chris Bosh around. Troy Murphy logged about 40 percent of the power forward minutes in Indiana in 2008. Michael Beasley and Udonis Haslem hogged the power forward minutes in Miami, where Joel Anthony was the only real alternative at center.

So perhaps personnel explains why O’Neal has played virtually no power forward since 2007. But the fact remains that he hasn’t, and I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect a 32-year-old with creaky legs to suddenly start playing key minutes at the four when he hasn’t done so since 2007. Especially when you consider the power forwards on elite Eastern Conference teams, a group that includes Rashard Lewis, Chris Bosh and Josh Smith.

But this is the fun of basketball. We all get to watch and see what happens.

  • Rob Ace

    PLEASE – GET FROM DETROIT PISTONS : PRINCE
    HE IS VERY GOOD PLAYER
    VERY DEFENSIVE PLAYER – LONG ARMS AND
    HE SCORE , THE 2 AND THE 3 POINTS .

  • Jay P

    “Especially when you consider the power forwards on elite Eastern Conference teams, a group that includes Rashard Lewis, Chris Bosh and Josh Smith.”

    This is absolutely true. Except that if JO plays the 4 at all, it’ll be when KG is off the floor. Meaning he very rarely, if ever will have to guard any of those guys.

    JO haven’t to guard a mobile stretch 4 like Lewis, Bosh, Smith, yep, that’s got me sweating. Now JO guarding second-tier players that come off the bench at the 4? I’m sure he’d be ok there.

    Forsberg point, which I agree with, is JO, and Shaq now, give you options to play match ups. Neither will be a primary option, KG is obviously the primary option at 4, Perk (if healthy) is the primary option at 5. But depending on the match ups, any of the bigs can be mix and matched against different line ups to try and exploit various weaknesses in opponents.

    Having too many options (if there’s such a thing) is a good problem to have.

  • mike

    agreed jay p….

    only one way to find out if he’s capable….he’ll be playing the five to close out the game anyways, i’d assume…

    i also would expect that kg, shaq, and JO will get some time off/reduced towards the last month and rest those older legs

    perk should be fresh with time to play himself into shape, and baby should be able to go all out all the time….that could be a treat in itself

    throw luke in there with his rebounding and the shot he showed in the summer and that’s a nice group….

  • mike

    any idea if dainge has wrestled with the idea of adding mccants? give him the vet min to fill the last spot, worst case, he gets cut….

  • http://www.truecloud.com Dave

    Where is the pressing need for the Celtics to even have to consider playing Jermaine at the four?

    The Celtics already have Garnett starting and Big Baby coming off the bench at the 4. What’s the problem?

    Where exactly are the minutes going to come from which would constitute the need for a third option at the 4?

    All summer long, the conversations amongst Celtic fans keep driving obsessively towards being three and sometimes apparently even four deep with star power at all of these positions. Why?

    It’s not an advantage to have that much dedicated depth.

    In fact it’s mostly disadvantageous and can breed a lot of discontent.

    Unless major injuries amongst the starters and second teamers rule the day or the Celtics are having one of those nights where the front line is in serious foul trouble, then being more than two deep at the 4 and 5 is unnecessary in terms of the normal rotation.

    I promise you, If Shaq and Jermaine are logging serious minutes together on the floor next season for any stretch of time….

    It will signal that Doc Rivers has already encountered the kind of serious, insurmountable problems that will have taken the Celtics out of legitimate contention for a title anyway.

    The Celtics have two centers and two power forwards they can rely on, going into next season just as they did a year ago.

    When and if Perkins returns next season, The Celtics will have 3 centers and then the fun begins for Doc trying to manage minutes amongst 5 quality players who expect to play.

    At that time, the issue of minutes won’t change based on the fact that Jermaine can or cannot play at the 4.

    The Celtics are still going to be 3 deep with star power at one of those positions and somebody isn’t going to be happy with their playing time when that happens.

  • Jeff

    JO will not have to play minutes against the ELITE stretch fours in the game.

    KG will be playing the starters minutes against those guys and as I recall BBD has done alright backing up KG against pretty much everyone.

    Think about it, if BBD and KG can be the frontcourt in games against the Magic, for stretches, with Howard and Lewis on the floor, and not get victimized that badly, I’m not too worried about JO playing the 4 spot for 6-8 minutes a game every now and then.

  • http://www.truecloud.com Dave

    @Jay P…..”Having too many options (if there’s such a thing) is a good problem to have”

    No it’s not. Not when we’re talking about former star power guys who are used to playing a good chunk of minutes each night.

    There are only enough minutes to support three or best case four reserves in most normal NBA rotations.

    It’s only a good problem to have if injuries to starters occur and they’re out of action for some period of time.

    In the case of the Celtics, if the starters are banged up and out of action for any length of time, this cast of reserves isn’t going to make up for that kind of a loss anyway.

    Example: If Garnett is incapacitated, Jermaine O’Neal is not capable of picking up the slack for him. Big Baby will have to log many more minutes if that happens.

  • http://www.truecloud.com Dave

    @Jeff….Exactly right! Kevin and Big Baby are the answer at the 4 spot…..PERIOD!!

  • mike

    @ dave…and if baby punches something again or KG’s knee flares up you go with what? luke h for 40 minutes a night, i think not….

    i think that’s what the majority that are saying the more the merrier are thinking, at least i am….i don’t think you can count on baby to be the #4 big man at this point, he hasn’t shown it yet night in night out…

  • mike

    bottom line is, with perk out until feb or so, we won’t really have to worry about it, unless there is an injury…

  • http://boston.com mike

    please stop saying get T. Prince. He makes 17 million a year. It can not be done.

  • Jay P

    @Dave

    I don’t see you’re point. You’re saying it’s a bad thing that we have 5 complimenting big guys who can pretty much cover any situation cause they wont get enough minutes?

    Isn’t that up to them (And Doc) to get them to buy into doing whatever they can to help the team and not care how many minutes they get?

    That’s kinda the idea their pushing for here, it’s certainly the “company line” that each of them has been spitting. Egos checked at the door, do whatever it takes to win.

    So in that mind set, where minutes don’t matter and they’ll do whatever they can to help the team; having the answer to any match up and any situation certainly is a wonderful weapon to have.

    And the Celtics do, you need defense, Perk is in. Shots not falling and you need to pound the post? Queue up Shaq. Want to stretch the floor from both big man spots and work mid range? JO is your man. Need an energy spark? Call on Davis. Wanna go small and run? Play KG at center.

    Options, options, options.

  • Perry

    @JayP

    You hit on a good point about never having enough front court options.

    I don’t see extended minutes for JO at the 4, but if it happens it’s coming against the opposition’s second unit, and in most cases it should be an advantage for us. But it’s also true we have no one to counter an athletic 4 like Josh Smith — or athletic teams like Atlanta and Okl, City. This is why Kevin is so important because he usually gets the best of Bosh and Lewis or at least prevents them from roaming on the defensive end. But without him no one is capable of playing key minutes at the 4 spot.

    I could see Shaq being utilized as the 6th man replacing his name sake and playing alongside Kevin for a few minutes, which is a natural fit. Then Shaq/Davis around the quarters with JO waiting in the wings. I like the combination of JO and Davis. Plus you gotta give KG a 5-7 minute blow each half.

    The Celts addressed the Perk injury and rebounding deficiencies, but they didn’t skew the roster to comport with Rondo’s skill set. That’s a few years away. Meantime we’re still a contender on paper, but we’re older and as not as mobile.

    I think we match up just fine against the Magic, Heat, and the Deer. The Bulls are a bit more athletic, but our overall depth would wear them down in a playoff series.

    Given the market for bigs, and salary restraints, Danny was limited in his choices. He could have pursued a more athletic Beasley, but decided to go with a known commodity. Just look at how Dallas tweaked their roster to compete with the Lakers. Against the power hitters in the playoffs size matters, and we have plenty of that.

  • Shooter

    What Dave said.
    I won’t say it,but i’ll say it,i expect Baby to have a breakout season next year.He better………or else.As for JO playing the 4,it’s not a problem, if Doc decides to play him there.He’ll most likely be playing against 2nd unit guys anyway.

  • http://scal4three.blogspot.com/ SCAL-4-THREE

    YES, Jermaine can play the four. The guy became feared and a defensive beast as a PF earlier in his career, during which he was voted into six consecutive all-star games. He may be older now, but the four spot is still his natural position, and if given the opportunity while Shaq is on the court, Jermaine could definitely do some damage in the blocks and rebounds department shutting down some of the inadequate power forwards of the Atlantic division and Eastern conference.

  • Rangatiratanga

    Trade for Iggy?

    Thoughts?

  • I love Green

    Big Baby most improved player of the year.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    i agree that JO will not see time at the 4. it seems pretty straightforward. kg/baby at the 4. shaq/JO at the 5. harangody/erden in limited minutes only in the case of foul trouble or mop-up.

    it will be interesting to see how those combinations work out and i expect a lot of early experimentation. i like the thought of KG/JO as the #1 front-court. but not convinced on how baby and shaq will click. kg can cover a lot of shaq’s deficiencies (on both ends) better than baby.

  • wayne7779311

    BBD has not shown that he can handle the #4 Big man slot. Those guys will feast on him (e.g. Pau Gasol in the Finals). They are TOO long for him and just tower over him,easily grabbing ‘ALL’ the rebs over him, and they also shoot right over him as well. That’s why we’re Conf Champs this year and not World Champs. Say what you will: I like J O’s length in tough situations like that…maybe he can help us get one or two extra rebounds. It was simply stated this past season during the playoffs that “the team which wins the rebound war wins the game”; and that’s pretty much the way it played out.
    How soon we forget.

  • http://www.truecloud.com Dave

    @Mike…If the Celtics can’t count on Garnett and Big Baby to stay healthy and combine to hold down the 4 spot next season, then they’re not going to seriously contend for a title. And that’s whether Doc experiments with Jermaine at the 4 or not.

    @Jay….I’m saying it’s impossible to manage a 5 man rotation of star power BIGS in the NBA. That’s why teams don’t carry 5 present or former stars on their front line.

    The idea that a team can carry up to 15 players doesn’t mean championship teams have rotations that reliably go further then 4 or 5 deep off the bench.

    The ideal arrangement for a front line is to have a three headed monster where you have a 4 and a 5 and another player who can play both the 4 and the 5 and you split time between the three.

    That failing you’re stuck with 1 for 1 substitutions that involves 4 players instead of 3, 2 – 4′s and 2 – 5′s which is where the Celtics find themselves, personnel wise.

    A 5 player combination on the front line doesn’t work. The reason for having extra players is for practices, in case of injuries and for instances where foul trouble arises.

    The 5th guy doesn’t get enough time to remain cohesive and make a consistent contribution.

    Look at last year. Except during periods where players were injured, how many times was Doc going further than 4 to 5 guys off the bench with no more than 3 of them getting serious minutes?

    It wasn’t about options JayP. It was about cohesiveness.

  • Adrian

    I like this option its not like he will be logging major minutes at the 4. Mix and match. I still think we need an athletic # who can defend and score. When Pierce gets in foul trouble who guards Lebron, Marquis, Luke i dont know but since we lost TA i think were just i player away from being Chmps

  • Rangatiratanga

    @Adrian Chumps or Champs?

  • Luke Walton

    August 13?

    Y’all still in business????

  • Sophomore

    @Luke – I hear you. We junkies are always looking for our fix. But I do sympathize with the writers- not much going on in Celtics land, and everybody needs some downtime.

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