March Madness Bracket Tournament for Top 16 Players in Houston Rockets History

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIMarch 16, 2013

March Madness Bracket Tournament for Top 16 Players in Houston Rockets History

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    Fill out your brackets, boys and girls, because it's time to determine who would win a March Madness-style bracket out of the top 16 players in Houston Rockets' history.

    The Rockets have no shortage of talent when examining their best players. Several Hall of Famers make the list, and some of the NBA's greatest players stepped on the hardwood for Houston.

    The parameters of this bracket are quite simple, really. These top players will be pitted against each other in one-on-one game scenarios with the winners moving on to the next round. The games will not be based off their career numbers or career highlights, though their seeding was based off such things. In the end, the final player will be crowned the champion of the Rockets bracket.

    In a bracket like this, every aspect of the game matters. Size, quickness, agility, creativeness and overall explosiveness are essential to coming out on top.

    Don't be surprised if your bracket fails to match up with mine—as with any March Madness tournament, there are bound to be a few upsets.

Hakeem Olajuwon (1) vs. Cuttino Mobley (16)

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    This matchup features one of the best centers in NBA history and one of the better volume scorers of the early-2000s.

    While both players were far from poor players during their careers, Cuttino Mobley would be no match for Hakeem Olajuwon in a one-on-one contest.

    Olajuwon's size advantage and athletic ability gives him the easy edge. Despite Mobley's deadly three-point shot, Olajuwon will pull through because of his versatility as a big man.

    Mobley will have to resort to jump shooting to try to win this one. Olajuwon is one of the best interior defenders ever, making it extremely difficult for Mobley to work in toward the basket—even with the guard's under-appreciated post game.

    This one's no contest.

    Winner: Hakeem Olajuwon (1)

Moses Malone (2) vs. Vernon Maxwell (15)

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    This matchup should go down similarly to that of the previous one.

    Vernon Maxwell, an established shooter and volume-scoring guard, will be matched up against Moses Malone, a Hall of Fame big man. Malone clearly has the advantage in terms of career accolades, but will Maxwell put up a fight in a one-on-one game?

    Maxwell should fair better in this one than Mobley did versus Olajuwon, but not by much. Malone is one of the best double-double threats in NBA history. As both an established rebounder and post scorer, Malone should go to work on the severely undersized Maxwell.

    The size advantage and dominant post game gives Malone the edge in this one. Maxwell's strong shooting and intimidating personality will not be enough to take down one of the game's greats.

    Winner: Moses Malone (2)

Elvin Hayes (3) vs. Kenny Smith (14)

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    Kenny Smith is best known in Houston as the point guard that led the Rockets to the team's only two NBA Finals, while Elvin Hayes is best known as the team's first superstar.

    Smith, while a good player during his career with the Rockets, was not nearly on the level of Hayes. Hayes was unparalleled at his position (power forward/center) for the time at which he played (1968-84). He was a dominant rebounder with 12 straight seasons of at least 11 rebounds and had a deadly turn-around jumper.

    Hayes may not need the jumper much in this matchup. The much smaller Smith won't be able to out-rebound him, making his offensive possessions one-and-dones if he misses his shots.

    Hayes' ability to keep possession after miss shots and routinely get high-percentage shots up close make him the favorite and likely winner.

    Winner: Elvin Hayes (3)

Clyde Drexler (4) vs. Robert Horry (13)

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    Clyde Drexler and Robert Horry square off in the first matchup of our bracket that pits men of similar size together.

    Drexler's versatility as both an explosive dunker and strong perimeter player make him difficult to guard, but Horry's claim to fame wasn't just his clutch shooting—it was his on-ball defense as well. This will give Horry a chance to serve up the tournament's first big upset.

    This game will come down to the wire. Drexler will need time to adjust to Horry's defense, while "Big Shot Bob" will live along the perimeter knocking down shots from distance. You can't rely on the three forever, though, and that will inevitably be Horry's downfall.

    Drexler's ability to get to the basket will eventually payoff. Not only is he an all-time Rockets great, he is one of the best players in NBA history. It's hard to pick against that.

    Winner: Clyde Drexler (4)

Calvin Murphy (5) vs. Steve Francis (12)

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    Steve Francis and Calvin Murphy will give us the best first-round matchup of the tournament—bar none.

    Murphy is one of the sport's most accomplished small point guards—he stands 5'9"—while Francis is one of the most creative scorers of his generation. Murphy used his speed and quickness to play very good defense for a man his size, however, making this game all the more interesting.

    Murphy excelled as a passer and team player. Francis excelled as a shot creator and pure scorer. Those strengths suggest that Francis would have the upper-hand in a one-on-one game.

    Francis' ability to drive to the hoop, hit a contested jumper or step back and create space for a fade away jumper make him the ideal candidate to be successful in this type of tournament.

    Murphy may have been the overall better player, but Francis wins this one due to his scorer's mentality.

    Winner: Steve Francis (12)

Charles Barkley (6) vs. Otis Thorpe (11)

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    In a battle of the big men, the not-so-athletic Charles Barkley takes on the very athletic Otis Thorpe. Both men were big in stature, though Thorpe was a much slimmer looking forward.

    Barkley and Thorpe would bump bodies throughout this game, but Barkley's offensive game far exceeds that of Thorpe's. Thorpe was known for his rebounding and defense, but the key to winning a one-on-one matchup is putting the ball in the basket. Preventing the opponent from scoring is great, but you'll get nowhere unless you can score.

    Thorpe is a better team player (similar to that of Murphy). He was known for great passes and ability to handle the ball for a big man. Unfortunately for him, that won't help him much here. Barkley's offensive versatility is what gives him the victory.

    Winner: Charles Barkley (6)

Tracy McGrady (7) vs. Yao Ming (10)

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    Tracy McGrady really drew the short straw here. Going up against a 7'6" tower like Yao Ming is never an easy task, but McGrady has the offensive polish to make a solid effort.

    Ming will dominate in the post and on the boards (though McGrady's quickness should steal a couple rebounds from the much slower Ming), but McGrady will be difficult to stop once he gets rolling on offense.

    McGrady was one of the most explosive scoring threats in the NBA when he was healthy. He could shoot, drive and create, the three most crucial pieces to be considered a top scorer. He should capitalize on Ming's lack of speed and lateral quickness, as well as his inability to defend on the perimeter.

    Ming will make it a close game because of his size, but McGrady's overall effectiveness on offense gives him the advantage.

    Winner: Tracy McGrady (7)

Rudy Tomjanovich (8) vs. Ralph Sampson (9)

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    Ralph Sampson, the 7'4" skyscraper of a power forward, has a great chance for the upset (albeit slight) against one of the most devoted Rockets of all-time, Rudy Tomjanovich.

    Tomjanovich was perhaps one of the best offensive players in team history, finishing his career as the third-highest scorer in Rockets history. Far from one dimensional, he also finished his career with over 8 rebounds per contest.

    Sampson's career was riddled with injury and "what could have been," but his size is something that should make him a tough opponent for even a scorer like Tomjanovich.

    His length and quickness will make Tomjanovich for shots he otherwise wouldn't. While Ming was also much taller than McGrady, the difference here is that Sampson is not nearly as slow or flat-footed as Ming.

    Sampson provides our tournament with a mini-upset in the final game of round one.

    Winner: Ralph Sampson (9)

Hakeem Olajuwon (1) vs. Moses Malone (2)

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    In perhaps the best matchup in the entire tournament, Olajuwon and Malone will square off in what will most assuredly be a back-and-forth kind of game.

    Both big men have polished post games and more than respectable mid-range jumpers, and both are even great defenders. Choosing a winner based off this first level of analysis would be unfair, so I've dug a little deeper to pick a winner here.

    Olajuwon had a go-to move on offense that was nearly impossible to defend, a move he called the "Dream Shake." This move involved Olajuwon dribbling towards the defender, jabbing one direction with his foot and then turning the opposite direction for either a hook shot, fade away jumper or pretty much anything else you could imagine.

    This move will give him the advantage against Malone, who will not be able to defend the "Dream Shake" for the entire game.

    Winner: Hakeem Olajuwon (1)

    *Want to see the "Dream Shake" in action? Click here.

Elvin Hayes (3) vs. Clyde Drexler (4)

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    Drexler, Olajuwon's old time running mate, takes on Hayes in another exciting second round game. Hayes may be one of the most dominant players in Rockets' history, but Drexler's explosiveness will keep him in the game from start to finish.

    The turnaround jumper is Hayes' scoring method of choice. That should be difficult for Drexler to defend given the size advantage (slightly in both height and weight). Plus, a player that can consistently knock down the turnaround is extremely difficult to defend for anybody.

    Drexler has the quickness factor in his favor, though, and that's something I like in a one-on-one. Getting that first step is crucial in moving toward the basket for high percentage looks, and that's something that he should excel in against Hayes.

    While not the slowest of players, Hayes isn't necessarily best known for his lateral quickness.

    Some flashy dunks should lead Drexler to victory in a mini-upset during our tournament's second round.

    Winner: Clyde Drexler (4)

Steve Francis (12) vs. Charles Barkley (6)

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    Francis, fresh off a first-round upset against Calvin Murphy, faces another challenging opponent in Barkley. Barkley beat out Otis Thorpe in a battle of big men, though his size may not help him much in this game.

    Francis is very fast and very quick off the dribble, something that will inhibit Barkley from making an impact defensively. If Barkley can't make stops defensively, then it should be smooth sailing from Francis.

    This is actually my candidate for biggest blowout of the second round. Francis' creativity and ball-handling skills will lead him to a comfortable victory against Barkley.

    Francis just keeps on rolling with the upsets in this tournament.

    Winner: Steve Francis (12)

Tracy McGrady (7) vs. Ralph Sampson (9)

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    McGrady beat Ming in the first round, so playing against a "smaller" Sampson should be smooth sailing for him, right? Well, not necessarily.

    Sampson is two inches shorter than Ming, but his athleticism and quickness far exceed that of McGrady's former teammate. On defense, this should work to contain McGrady and prevent him from driving as frequently as he would against Ming.

    If T-Mac knocks down his jump shots, though, than he can pull this one out. Sampson may be long and quick, but the step-back jumper that McGrady has been known for his very difficult to defend. But if McGrady can't make shots consistently, Sampson will use his size down low to score at will.

    I could see this one going either way, but I'll take the explosiveness and shooting of McGrady over the size of Sampson nearly any day.

    Winner: Tracy McGrady (7)

Hakeem Olajuwon (1) vs. Clyde Drexler (4)

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    One of the game's greatest centers versus one of the game's greatest dunkers—what more could you want from a semifinal one-on-one?

    Drexler has the explosiveness to get to the basket nearly at will, and most big men would not be able to keep up with his first step off the dribble. That being said, Olajuwon isn't most big men. He's one of the best defenders of all time, regardless of position.

    His career per-game averages of 3.1 blocks and 1.7 steals are superb. Drexler may not be able to drive against him like he did against his previous opponents (Horry and Hayes).

    Drexler will stay close to Olajuwon because he's a quality player, but I don't think there's any denying a man that is widely considered the best big man of all time.

    This is an easy choice.

    Winner: Hakeem Olajuwon (1)

Steve Francis (12) vs. Tracy McGrady (7)

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    Francis and McGrady are nearly the same player in terms of mental makeup—both demand the ball, both have go-getter attitudes on offense and both are me-first type of guys. In one-on-one games, though, the me-first attitude obviously doesn't matter.

    That attribute actually caters to a one-on-one scenario, as both Francis and McGrady are skilled at facing defenders head on. This should make for an interesting matchup.

    Because both players are essentially the same, so we'll have to go beyond shooting percentages and go-to moves to determine the winner here. Instead, let's take a look at negatives.

    Francis, while a strong ball-handler, turned the ball over 3.5 times per game over the course of his career. In a one-on-one, turnovers can change the momentum quickly. If McGrady can come up with a few steals during the game, he should be able to come away with a tough victory.

    The Franchise may be riding a few upsets coming into this one, but McGrady will stop him from yet another in the semifinals.

    Winner: Tracy McGrady (7)

Hakeem Olajuwon (1) vs. Tracy McGrady (7)

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    The final game of our March Madness-style tournament is between Olajuwon and McGrady, two players who have vastly different skill sets. Olajuwon plays a big man's game—physical and strong—while McGrady prefers to rely on quickness and skills along the perimeter.

    Whose abilities will reign supreme?

    I really don't think there's anyone picking against Olajuwon here. He can play incredible defense, which will prevent McGrady from being dynamic with the ball in his hands. He possesses incredible post moves, something that an undersized McGrady won't be able to defend. He even has the "Dream Shake" at his disposal.

    Olajuwon is the best player in Rockets history, and there's no reason to believe that he won't prove that in a one-on-one tournament of the team's greats. The final step in doing so will be defeating McGrady, which I believe he'll get done pretty easily.

    McGrady's a fine player, but not anywhere near the level of the Dream.

    Winner: Hakeem Olajuwon (1)