There was no legal way to stop Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. Shaq is called ‘the most dominant player ever’ with a reason – his brutal strength, massive 7-foot-1 height, and monstrous frame were the reason why he couldn’t be contained. Along with his skill set and lethal force, the Diesel was a nightmare for any game plan.
Shaq would quickly break away from his defender, and then it was just a question will he dunk the ball or go to the free-throw line. Even though the opponent coaches tried to stop Shaq with double coverage, it just opened up the game for Shaq’s teammates, so that usually didn’t work. Ex-Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy spoke about defending Shaq on The Dan Patrick Show. Van Gundy explained how there were no successful tactics in guarding Shaq.
“With great players, you can’t give them everything. First of all, O’Neal was by far the hardest guy. There was no game plan for the power of O’Neal.”Jeff Van Gundy, The Dan Patrick Show
Van Gundy also had the privilege to coach against the best players the game has ever seen – Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron. But he says there’s not much you can do against them except to make it harder for them to score easy baskets.
“On those perimeter players, you try and take away their transition and lay-ups. And try to take away their free-throw attempts. The pull-up game and some of the threes we see LeBron James making now, like the one against the Phoenix – left corner off the dribble fade – there’s nothing you can do with that. So you got to take away the lay-ups, the free throws. The harder you make on great players in the half-court, they try to figure it out, so you have to fight them in the effort areas. There’s truly no way to stop them, but you can’t give them everything. For James, you can’t give him 30 points and double-digit assists. He’s probably going to get one or the other, but you can’t give him both.”Jeff Van Gundy, The Dan Patrick Show
As Van Gundy says, it’s impossible to restrain the best players in the league – as we can see in this year’s Playoffs when Luka Dončić or Damian Lillard are playing. When those players have their day, coaches can shred their game plan, no matter how carefully designed it was. The best they can do is to pick a lesser evil and live with the consequences.
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