SHAQ & IVERSON IN THE ZONE
Two of my favorite basketball players were inducted in to the Basketball Hall of Fame on September 9th, 2016. Shaquille O'Neal aka Shaq ska Wilt Chamberneezy aka the big Hofa (Hall of Fama) and Allen Iverson aka the Answer aka AI, both of these guys were two of the greatest players of their respective generations. Two of the most dominant forces the NBA has ever seen play. Two contrasting styles, both bigger than life personalities that changed the game forever. Shaq was one of the biggest and strongest players ever so he accomplished his dominance on raw physical strength the likes of the late, great Wilt Chamberlain.Shaq was unstoppable when he got the ball on the block, mostly dunking everything in sight, with such force, he brought down a couple backboards and rims. Iverson was one of the smallest definitely skinniest to ever play , but he also dominated the league, mainly with his speed and quickness. His biggest attribute was his heart, playing a game meant for giants, he brought them down to size while taking lots of punishment in the process. But he always got back up. O'Neal and Allen were two ends of the spectrum that would change the game forever.
Literally change the game forever. At the start of the 2001-2002 season, the NBA decided to adopt the "zone defense". Unlike high school and college though a defender was restricted to stay in the paint for 3 seconds or more which made the league's zone defense different from the others (sort of like 3 seconds on offense). The NBA won't tell people directly and indirectly, but two of the main reasons were because of Allen Iverson and Shaquille O'Neal. At that time, the NBA was going through a scoring drought. Scoring numbers were down, the pace of the game was too slow and stagnant, too much defense being played, low tv ratings and a whole lot of isolation basketball on offense especially with Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. Iverson thrived at the one on one game because of his quick first step and crossover. He also dribbled and held the ball too long in some instances. Unfortunately, other players thought they could do the same. The game was too much one on one and it became easier for defenses to lock in on one particular star of the opposing team. The league wanted more scoring to boost up ratings and sharing of the ball. The ball moving from side to side. So they figured, bring in a zone defense (with defensive 3 seconds) and there will be more offense on the score boards. In most basketball circles, it was called the Allen Iverson rule.
On the other end of the spectrum, Shaq was dominating the league and unguardable especially in the finals. During the Los Angeles Lakers' run he showed he couldn't be stopped one on one. Teams tried to double, Diesel would just pass it out to open shooters. To this day, it is still a crime that he only has 1 regular season MVP. Inserting the "zone" defense indirectly affected Shaq from being that dominant force in the paint. Teams could crowd him now more easily than before, where as back in the days, they couldn't do that because it was illegal defense. Before the "zone", defenders had to guard an offensive player at arms length or double directly, they couldn't stay in between or double an offensive player without the ball. You see that now in games where defensive teams "overload". Meaning, they will have a defensive player not guarding anybody or staying in between to force dominant offensive players to pass the ball instead of going one on one. It is one of the reasons that the center position has been terrible the past few years. There is no room to operate on the block with defenders able to play in between or not directly guard an offensive player away from the ball.
The "zone" defense has had its positives and negatives. Isolation basketball is very limited and there has been more ball movement in the league, and the pace is quicker. Examples of this have been two of the best teams in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Both these two teams move that ball side to side and the ball doesn't stick in a player's hands for too long. Team basketball is more at the forefront of the league than it was in the past. In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks shocked the world by beating the "super" team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. They couldn't really match up defensively one on one so Dallas coach, Rick Carlisle, used the "zone" defense against the Heat. Miami couldn't solve the "zone" defense and LeBron James in particular looked lost on offense. Some of the negatives of the defense though is it allows bad defenders to stay in the game and not be held accountable for that horrible defense. Teams just send multiple defenders to help them out. "Zone" defense has also taken away the individual creativity of the great offensive player. Superstars see multiple defenses and defenders so they really have to share the ball with their teammates. Teams can't take advantage of bad match ups on defense.
But no matter what defense was applied, Shaq and Allen Iverson would have still been unstoppable. That's how great their talents were. Great players are able to figure out how the opposing team plays them on defense and Diesel and A.I. were that in their primes. Watching them getting inducted in the hall of fame was good and sad at the same time. Not only were their games big, but their personalities and "swags" where bigger than life. And it all showed with their induction speeches. Two of the best and entertaining hall of fame speeches I have ever heard in any sports (Shoutout to Yao Ming as well, his was pretty good too). They were both dominant figures. Shaq ended up winning 4 championships, only 1 MVP, even though realistically he could have won it every year in his prime years. While Allen Iverson went to 1 final with no championships, he is seventh all-time in points per game average (only player under 6'4 in the top 20). His influence can be seen in today's point guard play in the league. Before Iverson, point guards were asked to just run the team, make passes to their teammates and make them better. Iverson made it vogue for point guards and especially smaller players to score and get buckets. Shaq and the Answer, two of the best that ever did it. Gladly they went into the hall of fame together.