There's no denying that Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers is the best big man today. Some even believe he's on the way to winning the coveted MVP trophy. People always like to entertain their thoughts by imagining then debating what would happen if Embiid matches up with Shaquille O'Neal — renowned as the most dominant big man of the sport. Former NBA player-turned analyst Jay Williams shared his thoughts on the match-up. And there is no doubt Joel Embiid will win.
The modern-day big man
Before laying down his arguments, Williams pointed out the facts: Embiid is on the way to becoming the first center since O'Neal to lead the league in scoring. As of writing, Embiid does lead the NBA with 29.8 points per game.
When it comes to the duel itself, Williams believes that Embiid's profile as a modern-day big man — which means he has an outside touch — would give him the advantage over Shaq. In addition to this, Williams shared their scouting report on Shaq back in the day. The man had trouble with pick-and-roll coverages.
"Joel Embiid is on his way to be the first center since Shaq, to lead the NBA in scoring. Remember when we talked about 'what happened to traditional bigs?' They've morphed into Joel Embiid. I think Shaq would have fits trying to guard him. Shaq wouldn't be able to guard him. I would float him on the perimeter all day long. I know scouting reports of when he was a young Shaq and they would just string him out on the perimeter cause he still had a hard time guarding pick and rolls. I would put Joel Embiid in that situation," Williams said.
Williams did share some good points. His arguments were based on what he saw with Embiid and with Shaq during his playing days. However, he fails to acknowledge that if someone as great as Shaq were playing today, he would make the proper tweaks to his game. We have to note that there were only several big men with an outside stroke during Shaq's prime. And not all of them were shooting at an elite clip compared to the big men of today. Since Shaq was so dominant in the paint, it didn't make sense for him to follow suit.
The clip above shows that Shaq could develop a reliable stroke — if he wanted to. He probably won't be shooting like Curry or Embiid, for that matter. However, he will try his best to have that in his arsenal enough to be respected.
With this in mind, it would be much trickier to gauge who will win in a big man duel featuring Embiid and O'Neal. Will Embiid's perimeter touch be too much for Shaq? Can he outmuscle Shaq, something that has never been done? Sad to know that we'll never see it happen. But it should not stop us from imagining.