Should Celtics' Shaquille O'Neal Have Retired?


Why Didn’t Shaq Just Retire?

This is the question I address in my latest for The Huffington Post. For those who have read the Wages of Wins Journal for quite a while – and who also have an amazing memory – my answer will bring back memories of this post on Brett Favre.

The discussion of Shaq was inspired by more than something I said about Brett Favre two years ago. It was also inspired by Henry Abbott’s argument that Darko Milicic would do more than Shaq in 2010-11. As I noted on Thursday, at first glance this argument seems hard to believe.  But if one looks at the career of Milicic, the age of Shaq, and how many minutes each will play next season; well, it is possible that Henry is correct. And Arturo Galletti reached a similar conclusion as well

Tom Ziller, though, thinks this is an easy call.  According to Tom, Shaq is clearly going to do more than Darko. Consequently, Tom has taken Henry up on his bet.

In reading Tom’s argument, though, I think he has missed something. Consider the following statements from Tom’s post on the subject.

  • Shaq, of course, is more likely to miss half the season with an injury. There’s also the matter of Darko having already been named the team’s starter, while Shaq is likely behind Jermaine O’Neal on the depth chart right now, and will be behind Kendrick Perkins when the latter returns around midseason. Darko will likely finish the season with many more minutes than Shaq.
  • Shaq, even at age 38, so thoroughly outperformed Darko last season that Darko will need that huge minutes advantages just to keep up.

In support of this argument that Shaq has “thoroughly outperformed” Darko, Tom looked at data on scoring, rebounds, and defense. And after looking at this data, he made these two statements:

  • So essentially, there is little data to suggest that Darko can outplay Shaq in the one area of the game where Milicic has the perceived edge. Which tells me Milicic has no edge, at all. The only chance Darko has in this competition, barring a Brady Anderson-like unprecedented mid-career boom, is for Shaq to be injured or relegated to spot duty by Doc Rivers.
  • Beyond that, Darko outplaying Shaq? Good luck.

Okay, those are fairly emphatic statements.  And if we look at Wins Produced from last season, it looks like Tom is on solid ground.  Again, here is what I said on Thursday:

Here are the Wins Produced (the more complex version of Win Score) numbers for both players last year:

Shaquille O’Neal: 2.2 Wins Produced, 0.086 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]

Darko Milicic: -0.2 Wins Produced, -0.016 WP48

So whether we look at Wins Produced, or all the stats Tom references, it is clear that Shaq did much more than Darko last year.

Unfortunately, basketball was played before 2009-10. And when we look at the data prior to this past season, we see that Darko has played better before 2009-10. No, he is not great.  But remember, Shaq is old. And Shaq is probably not going to get major minutes in Boston next year. So all Henry needs to win this bet is to have Darko to not produce in the negative range (something that has happened in the past) and to play many more minutes than Shaq. 

Now there are no guarantees that either event will happen. But in evaluating the probability that Darko will do more or less than Shaq, we need to consider more data than what we saw last year.  And when we consider more data, this does not look like an easy call.

One last comment on this subject… a few weeks ago Jeffrey Ma sent me a copy of The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business (this is one of the advantages of having a forum like this blog, people sometimes send you books for free!!). It is my hope to offer a complete discussion of this book in the near future, but for now I want to make two observations:

  • Jeffrey has written a book on statistical analysis that is very easy to read (always a huge plus). 
  • Jeffrey emphasizes a point I am trying to make in this discussion.  One needs to consider all the data in making a decision.  Restricting yourself to the most recent event will bias your judgment.

Again, there is much more to say about Jeffrey’s book.  And I hope to offer more on this excellent book soon. 

- DJ

P.S. Some people have noted that in comparing Darko and Shaq we need to consider the salaries each is being paid.  Shaq’s price tag next year is much lower.  Although this is an important issue for Boston and Minnesota to consider in evaluating each player, for the purpose of Henry’s bet this is irrelevant.  Henry simply argued that Darko would do more on the court.  He did not argue that per dollar spent, Darko would do more.  If that was the bet… well, then I think Tom would be on much more solid ground.

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