The Phoenix Suns are the kind of team that Larry Brown was thinking about when he pushed to acquire Gana Diop. I'm an Emeka cheerleader, but off the bat I'd think the dude will be hard-pressed to handle a rejuvenated Shaq, just based on size alone, and that he's much more suited to taking on Amar'e. Let's check out Shaq's games against Emeka.
Just on the surface, that's two huge games, one very good one, and a mixed bag in four other games. Maybe all this happened after Shaq had become an echo of his most dominant self. Maybe he was hurt/indifferent most of that time. Either way, it's a lot better than I expected Emeka to have done.
Diop, for his part, is probably most famous for giving Tim Duncan a lot of trouble in a playoff series a few years back. Against Shaq 4.0, though, the signs aren't necessarily that good. In fact, he faced Shaq and the Suns on January 9, just two weeks ago. Diop only played 16 minutes, but Shaq Daddy put up 25/10 in only 27 minutes. I don't know how much of that time overlapped, but it doesn't bode well for the Bobcats when they go big. (UPDATE: More in the comments.)
It's probably best to stay with the regular lineup as much as possible, which means putting Emeka on the center, whoever it is. If Larry Brown decides to give Diop a bigger chunk of minutes in a play for size against the Big Aristotle, that means Raja Bell is probably the odd man out. We'd have Felton or Singletary at the point, Diaw and Gerald at the wings, with Emeka and Diop as the bigs.
If they give that kind of excessive attention to Shaq, it probably won't hurt the defense, as they can put Gerald on Richardson and Diaw on any of the threes from Grant Hill to Matt Barnes to Jared Dudley, and he'll probably still be able to do a credible job. However, going from Raja on the perimeter to Diop in the interior would probably be a huge offensive downgrade. Raja's been the best shooting threat on the Cats this year, and there'd be a cascade effect as no one on the floor would be able to draw the defense away from the lane.
Slowly, and after breaking a lot of scar tissue, they've convinced me to believe in the starting lineup. There is no perennial All Star on the roster. However, the starting five is solid enough man by man that they're playoff-caliber. Playoff-caliber, though, is a far cry from being a title contender, and the Bobcats' cap situation is screwed up enough that they can only make incremental improvements to the bench. Their ceiling, as currently constructed, is the six seed. That's the highest of high end projections. There's simply no way they can contend until they get another big time player to go along with Emeka and Gerald. I wouldn't have tried to follow the Detroit Pistons model of roster construction, but this far along, that's where it appears we're headed.
Check out Bright Side of the Sun for more on tonight's game.
UPDATE: They've posted a podcast discussion with me.