Who was more dominant at age 24: Shaquille O’Neal or Giannis Antetokounmpo?
Antetokounmpo’s unprecedented combination of size, length and athleticism paired with his ball-handling and playmaking have made him a nightmare for opposing teams on both ends of the floor.
The man known as the “Greek Freak” became a league MVP at the age of 24, putting up one of the most dominant seasons ever and almost single-handedly helping to catapult the Bucks to the top of the Eastern Conference.
But was Antetokounmpo more dominant during his age-24 season than Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, who is regarded by many as the most dominant force to ever hit the hardwood?
The Diesel Express
Well first off, we should probably clear the air.
Shaq has been extremely vocal in his praise for Antetokounmpo’s game since the tail end of the 2018-19 season, even suggesting that Giannis was “better” than he was because of his ability to showcase his skill set and impact the game beyond just dominating in the post:
But, is that really the truth?
Shaq was in his age-24 season during the 1996-97 campaign, well before the days when Laker teammate Kobe Bryant would criticize him for being out of shape. Consider also that O’Neal was still years away from being installed as the post man for Phil Jackson and Tex Winter’s triangle offense (Jackson did not become the head coach until 1999).
This version of “The Diesel” was in his first year with the Lakers after signing a massive contract in free agency, and he still had the supreme athletic talent that he displayed during his days with the Orlando Magic. Just look at this first highlight from a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves from that season:
Shaq catches the ball all the way out on the perimeter–not in the low post–and shakes his defender using a series of dribbles, a spin and a pump fake to free himself for a thunderous jam.
Later on in the game, he makes a full-length outlet pass for an assist and also runs the length of the floor for an and-one. He truly did impact the game in all areas.
An Unprecedented Leap
By statistical measures, Giannis probably has Shaq beat:
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 4, 2019
Aside from traditional metrics, Giannis also easily outpaced Shaq in player efficiency rating (30.9 to 27.1) and value over replacement player (7.6 to 4.0), according to Basketball Reference. Hard to argue with those numbers.
Sure, Antetokounmpo had more opportunity to play on the ball and dictate the offense, but he also might have established himself as the most unstoppable “downhill” player in the NBA last season.
Not to mention, Antetokounmpo converted nearly 73 percent of his free-throws last season. Shaq barely eclipsed the 48 percent mark in 1997.
This argument depends on framing.
If you are talking about more dominant through their age-24 season in totality, then Shaq is the answer. But Giannis had the more dominant season in his age-24 season as a stand-alone consideration.