Shaquille O'Neal is out for 2-4 weeks with a sprained ankle and the silver lining for his fantasy owners is that their team has a chance now to be competitive in free-throw shooting for the next month. Aside from that, Shaq is going to leave a gaping hole in points, rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage that needs to be filled. Unfortunately, the center position is typically the thinnest on the waiver wire, and won't offer anything remotely close to what Shaq can bring to the table.
In looking for a replacement, the search has to start in Miami, where Alonzo Mourning will be asked to step up his role. Because of his past kidney issues, he probably can't play much more than 25-30 minutes a night. That would be more than enough time for Mourning to make an impact as a shot blocker – he averaged 1.7 blocks in an average of 12.9 minutes last season (19 games). He'll also contribute solidly in points and rebounds, but will have some inconsistent nights.
O'Neal owners should also look to see if Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia is available on waivers. The big man won't offer much in the way of blocked shots, but he opened with 13 points and 12 rebounds against Golden State on Wednesday and is running unopposed for the Hawks in the post.
Digging deeper, I'm intrigued by New Orleans/Oklahoma City center/power forward Chris Andersen, who scored 11 points, grabbed eight boards and rejected three shots in 27 minutes off the bench on Wednesday night. He turned away 2.0 shots in an average of 24 minutes last season. With Jamaal Magloire in Milwaukee, Andersen should see a steady 25-30 minutes a night.
Finally, Steven Hunter is filling in as the starting center in Philadelphia while Samuel Dalembert nurses a quad injury. Hunter has averaged 32.5 minutes in the first two games of the season, and has averaged 8.5 points and 2.5 blocks. At least until Dalembert returns, Hunter has some upside, especially in blocks.
Clearly, a free agent isn't going to fill a Shaq-sized gap at the center position. And since this type of injury might be something that will linger as the season progresses, Shaq owners may want to consider swinging a deal to land a better center than what is available on the waiver wire.