A mere three months ago, two of the NBA's most storied and decorated franchises waged war once again for the 12th time to decide the fate of another Larry O'Brien trophy. The Celtics and Lakers battled through a tough, gritty, and physical series that went an epic seven games and ended with the Los Angeles Lakers winning their 16th NBA championship and repeating as back-to-back NBA champs.
In the final minutes of game seven, the Celtics' lack of front-court depth (due to the injury of Kendrick Perkins), scoring, and rebounding is what did them in and cost them their 13 point lead and the game. This offseason, Celtics GM Danny Ainge did a great job of addressing the Celtics needs; everything from offense (signings of Von Wafer and Delonte West) and front-court depth and rebounding (signings of Shaquille & Jermaine O'Neal) has been accounted for.
With Perkins out possibly until February recovering from a torn ACL, there lies a big question mark and gaping hole in the Celtics starting five. It has not yet been clarified which O'Neal will start for the Celtics come opening night, but with training camp starting next week, we should soon have some clarification on the matter. Both may be past their primes, but both are still very useful and can still be a force down low. Whichever O'Neal starts will help the Celtics post offense; they both are better offensive players than Perkins (though Perkins' offensive game is still developing), but which one will start and be of more help to the Celtics? Let's see.
With Jermaine O'Neal in the starting lineup, the floor will be spread constantly. Jermaine O'Neal can hit a mid-range jumper anywhere from 15-18 feet out, and he's a better free throw shooter than Shaq or Perkins. With Jermaine O'Neal in the starting lineup, along with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics will boast a front-court in which all of their players can shoot a mid-range jumper. Jermaine O'Neal is also a good rebounder and defensive post presence/shot blocker as well.
How Jermaine O'Neal Helps Rondo
With Jermaine O'Neal's shooting ability from mid-range, when Rondo penetrates from the perimeter, the opposing team's center will have two choices: either let Rondo get to the basket and possibly score two or help off Jermaine O'Neal and risk him hitting a mid-range jumper. With Perkins on the floor, the opposing teams center would have no problem helping off Perkins to negate Rondo's penetration because of Perkins' limited range and offensive ability. Rondo can also run plays with Jermaine such as a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.
Though Shaq may not be as dominant as he was in his days as a Laker, he's still effective and can give opposing big men trouble and get them into foul trouble. Though Shaq may be 38, he still has size, strength, and a strong post game that makes it hard for any other center in the league to stick him one-on-one. With Shaq in the starting lineup, the Celtics front-court would be Pierce-Garnett-Shaq, a front-line with two big men that are great passers. With Shaq down low, he'll draw double teams and with him being a great passer for a big man, it will open up more opportunities for Kevin Garnett. As for the subject of Shaq's pick-and-roll defense, KG will always be on the floor with Shaq and will cover for him on pick-and-rolls.
How Shaquille O'Neal Helps Rondo
With a center that has a well-developed post game and can score in the paint, Rondo will have a new weapon in his arsenal. With Shaq in the lineup, Rondo will have another post presence that can score besides KG and be a factor on offense. If Shaq's man is drawn on Rondo's penetration, that could possibly be an easy lob or offensive rebound for Shaq. Don't be surprised if Rondo runs more pick-and-rolls this season; it should be more effective if he runs it with Shaq. With another post-up threat on offense, the Celtics should be able to play more inside-out basketball and get more looks on the perimeter.