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Fantasy Basketball: How Shaq Managed to Marginalize His Legacy

To say that Shaquille O'Neal used to be Dwight Howard would be a gross underestimate. Howard on his best day was never even half as good as Shaq. It took Dwight Howard seven years of growth to get where he is now: a physical beast and MVP-runner-up who averaged 22.9 points per game last year along with 14.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Now compare that to Shaqulle O'Neal's first season in the NBA, way back in 1992 when he played for the Orlando Magic: 23.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.5 blocks per game.

Assessing it from a purely fantasy perspective, all you need to know about Shaq is that as good and dominating as Dwight Howard is now, Shaquille O'Neal was better than him from the crib.

Considering the age in which Wilt Chamberlain racked up his points and how far the game has since evolved, it's hard not to declare O'Neal the most dominating bigman of all time. He racked up ten consecutive seasons with at least 26 points per game, something only he, Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson have done over the past 30 years. He changed the fabric of the game, and was so dominating during the 2000 playoffs that on two different occasions his opponents spent the entire fourth quarter doing nothing but fouling him. He shot 27 free-throws in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Portland, and a record-breaking 39 free-throws against the Pacers in Game 2 of the finals. Teams would use so many fouls on him that they'd bring previously-unrecognizable bigs off the bench to do nothing but hack him -- or play defense against him, incase the regular center fouled out, which happened a lot.

He deserved to go out with his dominance fresh in everyone's mind, so that we wouldn't have to remind ourselves how great he used to be. Which is why it was such a shame for him to go out the way he did. Rather than remaining in L.A., O'Neal hopped from team to team in his final years, from Miami to Phoenix to Cleveland to Boston. He rapidly descended into role player territory, with his old knees eliminating his ability to back defenders down and forcing him into becoming a jump-hook specialist. He seemed incapable of staying healthy, with the story always being that something would happen to him in the spring, causing him to miss half the season, but that he'd be back by the playoffs. Except that wasn't the case this year, his first and hopefully only one in Boston. In between injuries, he managed only a pair of postseason appearances in a green Celtics uniform, producing merely 2 points and 4 fouls in a combined 12 minutes of action.

Even worse, he became irrelevant to fantasy owners. Here we had one of the five best centers of all time, one of the top ten scorers in league history, and suddenly he was no longer useful. This was one of the greatest players ever, a guy you would dream of building your fantasy team around, and yet he was less valuable than Darko Milicic and Nicolas Batum and Marco Belinelli last year. Fantasy owners would see him on the waiver wire, consider picking him up and literally have to tell themselves, "No, he sucks now." What an awful way to go out. No one that good should ever have to be marginalized in the eyes of sports fans.