Ranking NBA Stars Who Have Most to Gain from Working with Hakeem Olajuwon
The summer of 2013 is shaping up to be the busiest one yet for Hakeem Olajuwon.
The trickle of stars seeking help from the Houston Rockets Hall of Famer and all-around NBA legend has since expanded to a flood of students hoping to be heeled in the seemingly ancient art of low-post play.
The success of such former pupils as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James has been great for business, with Olajuwon raking in as much as $50,000 per week per student for his services according to Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports.
Dream Shake? Sounds more like a Dream Shakedown, if you ask me...but I digress.
According to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida, this year's clientele list could go to 11, with as many as six All-Stars among them. Who, then, is seeking out Hakeem's help this summer? And who stands to benefit most from private lessons with The Dream?
11. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony's low ranking here has nothing to do with what I think of him as a low-post player.
In fact, 'Melo's post-up game is already superb and has been for years now. Few players in today's NBA—and even fewer wings—understand how to use their bodies to their advantage as effectively as Anthony. His strong lower body, careful footwork and soft touch on his shots combine to make 'Melo a deadly threat with his back to the basket.
The stats certainly bear that out. According to Synergy Sports, Anthony averaged 0.92 points per play in the post last season (good for 33rd in the entire league), where he operated 20.8 percent of the time.
Not that he was perfect down there. He hit a middling 43.2 percent of his attempts from the post, which helped to drag down his accuracy in the paint to 51.2 percent overall. And he only took five hook shots all year according to nbawowy.com.
Then again, does a guy who just won the scoring title really need to take more hook shots? Or spend time working on his "Dream Shake," as he did last year?
This isn't to suggest that 'Melo's game wouldn't benefit from future sessions with Hakeem. Even the greatest players in the world, with the most polished repertoires, can find ways to improve.
Rather, Anthony's already so proficient as a scorer in the low post that the returns to be gained from adding new moves wouldn't be nearly so dramatic as you might see from a novice taking lessons from Olajuwon.
10. Amar'e Stoudemire
It's tough to determine whether Amar'e Stoudemire would have more to gain from working with The Dream at this point than his superstar teammate with the New York Knicks.
On the one hand, STAT needs all the nifty tricks he can learn nowadays.
He's coming off a season in which he missed all but 29 games due to multiple knee surgeries, and, with his 31st birthday coming up in mid-November, his body doesn't figure to shape up much (if at all) from here on out. Stoudemire can't get off the floor as quickly or with the same ferocity as he used to, so finding ways to fool the opposition is of paramount importance to him.
Especially considering the frequency with which he turned the ball over in the post last season—20.4 percent of the time, per Synergy Sports.
On the other hand, Amar'e's post game is already surprisingly effective. He scored just as many points per play on post-ups as did Carmelo in 2012-13 (0.92) while shooting far more accurately on such plays (53.2 percent, including 71.9 percent on hook shots, according to nbawowy.com).
And, like 'Melo, Stoudemire worked with Hakeem last summer.
More importantly, nothing Amar'e absorbs will matter much unless he's healthy enough to show it off in live NBA action.
Which, at his advancing age and with his injury history, is anything but a guarantee.
9. Kenneth Faried
If Kenneth Faried were taller, spending time with one of the greatest post players in NBA history would make perfect sense. Faried is already strong, athletic and doggedly determined down low, but he lacks refinement to his game on the block.
Not that he gets there that often. According to Synergy Sports, just 5.1 percent of Faried's possessions ended with a shot, a foul or free throws in the post.
And when he has, the results have been mixed. Last season, he converted a stout 54.8 percent of his hook shots (per nbawowy.com), which helped to boost his accuracy in the paint to 58.3 percent. But, per Synergy Sports, Faried scored just 0.61 points per play (156th in the NBA) and shot a paltry 35.9 percent on post-ups.
The truth likely lies somewhere in between. The most important numbers of all, though, pertain to Manimal's size. He's officially listed at 6'8" and 228 pounds, but he's probably closer to 6'6" or 6'7" in reality.
That's solid for a wing, but hardly so for a player who spends so much time inside. It's all well and good that he's is so proficient on the interior, but if the Denver Nuggets are to be anything more than perennial playoff fodder, they'll need Faried to become a more reliable shooter from the perimeter.
Otherwise, he's liable to clog the lane for Denver's drive-and-kick game while forcing Brian Shaw to grapple with the same intractable matchup decisions on the defensive end that vexed George Karl.
Considering that Kenneth trained with Hakeem last year, perhaps his time and effort this time around would be better spent expanding his game to new spots on the floor.
8. Greg Monroe
It's always good to see a young pivot like Greg Monroe take up lessons with Hakeem.
Monroe, in particular, isn't the most powerful or most athletic big man around, which makes learning the finer points of post-up play (i.e. footwork, fakes, body positioning, touch on shots, etc.) all the more important.
At this point, Monroe still has plenty of work to do, at least as far as his proficiency as a low-post scorer is concerned. He hit just 43 percent of his hook shots (per nbawowy.com) and all of 41.2 percent of his attempts from all post-ups (per Synergy Sports). In addition, his overall field-goal percentage has slid during each of his three seasons as a pro.
As such, Monroe could use a helping hand from Hakeem to get better looks and up his accuracy on those he gets.
If Monroe's not going to shoot any better from the non-restricted portions of the paint than the 32.8 percent he converted in 2012-13 (per NBA.com), then it'd behoove him to either work on his repertoire from that area or redistribute those shots to other spots. That way, he can ensure that his growth as a cornerstone for the Detroit Pistons continues into his age-23 season.
Especially with another giant, Andre Drummond, by his side. Monroe's already a solid passer for a player at his position. But if the Pistons are to push for the playoffs with Drummond up front, they'll need Greg to command double-teams and ensure that he can find his massive partner in crime for easy looks.
7. Joakim Noah
The Chicago Bulls should slide in among the most potent challengers to the Miami Heat's seat atop the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, assuming Derrick Rose is ready to go after sitting out a full campaign on account of ACL surgery.
But while their offense was surprisingly productive in the two years prior to Rose's lost season, the Bulls too often struggled to create scoring opportunities come playoff time.
Opposing defenses have been able to prey on Chicago's reliance on Rose to generate points by crowding the paint on his drives and throwing double- and triple-teams at him all over the floor.
To counteract that, the Bulls will need at least one other player to step up as a scoring threat, and Joakim Noah seems as good a bet as any to do just that. Noah established new career-highs in points (11.9), shot attempts (9.5) and assists (4.0) while Rose was away last season.
Unfortunately, the added responsibility took its toll on Noah's body (he missed 16 games due to foot problems) and efficiency. He made just 37.5 percent of his hook shots, missed more than 70 percent of his looks from the non-restricted-area portions of the paint, saw his overall field-goal accuracy dip to a career-low 48.1 percent, and had 60 of his shots blocked.
If that weren't enough, Synergy Sports pegged Noah's shooting on post-ups at 32 percent, with all of 0.61 points per play.
Noah, then, could certainly use a pointer or two from Olajuwon.
And considering his long-stated desire to work with Hakeem, Joakim figures to make the most of his time working alongside a bona fide NBA legend.
6. JaVale McGee
JaVale McGee trained alongside Olajuwon last summer, with less-than-stellar results during the subsequent season. Hakeem claimed that McGee "should dominate the league" (via Mark Berman of MyFoxHouston) based on his size, length, agility, inherent talent and room for growth.
Instead, McGee—armed with a new four-year, $44 million contract—saw his game stagnate amidst dwindling opportunities in George Karl's frenetic rotation.
He posted a strong PER (20.7) and shot a career-high 57.5 percent from the field, but his minutes dropped (to 18.1 per game) amidst problems with turnovers (2.3 per 36 minutes) and fouls (4.6 per 36 minutes).
Discipline remains a key concern for McGee, as does basketball IQ...and general feel for the game, for that matter. His lack of touch as a scorer left him with a well-below-average 0.58 points per play and a shooting percentage of 0.30 therein (via Synergy Sports).
Was George Karl to blame for restricting McGee's minutes? Or was McGee more at fault for failing to refine his game to a playable point? And did Karl's refusal to lend McGee significant playing time contribute at all to his firing?
Whatever the case may be, expect McGee to have every chance to succeed under new head coach Brian Shaw. The more JaVale takes in from Hakeem this time around, the better equipped he'll be to justify a starting spot in place of the since-traded Kosta Koufos.
5. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant's arguably the best all-around shooter in basketball, as his 50-40-90 season in 2012-13 would suggest. His ability to put the ball in the basket has been well-established by a string of three straight scoring titles that Carmelo Anthony brought to an end this year.
But, with his 25th birthday upcoming, Durant still has plenty of room for improvement, including on the low block.
He showed off a nifty low-post game last season amidst the overall expansion of his game in the wake of James Harden's departure. According to Synergy Sports, Durant ranked as the seventh-most efficient low-post scorer in the entire NBA this past season at 1.04 points per play, thanks in no small part to shooting 51.8 percent on such possessions.
If KD is already this good at producing points in the paint—and has the work ethic to boost the "weaker" areas of his game as he has since entering the NBA—imagine how much better he'll be once he's spent some time under Hakeem's wing.
And how much more lethal the Oklahoma City Thunder's too-often-unimaginative (yet still supremely productive) offense will be as a result.
4. Serge Ibaka
Of course, there wouldn't be as much need for Kevin Durant to play in the post if the Oklahoma City Thunder had themselves another more consistent threat down low.
That's right. I'm lookin' at you, Serge Ibaka.
It's all well and good that OKC's $12.35 million man has developed a reliable mid-range jumper and has begun to expand his game out to three-point range. But any forward with Ibaka's size (6'10") and length would be better served using his genetic attributes to terrorize opponents on the interior.
He already operates fairly proficiently on the inside. According to Synergy Sports, Ibaka ranked 33rd in the league in post-up efficiency, contributing 0.92 points per play while shooting 50.6 percent on such possessions.
Thing is, only 10.3 percent of Ibaka's plays came in that capacity.
With Kevin Martin gone and no one of note to fill in as the Thunder's next sixth man, the onus will be on Ibaka to pick up a significant chunk of the scoring slack. That may mean more jumpers than ever.
But, with any luck, Olajuwon's lessons will have Ibaka surging to the hoop with his back to the basket.
3. Andre Drummond
Sending Andre Drummond to work with Hakeem Olajuwon might be the smartest developmental move the Detroit Pistons have made in years.
Everything about the kid screams for the sort of assistance that was once afforded a fellow Tri-state native by the name of Andrew Bynum.
Like Bynum, Drummond is young (he turns 20 in August) and huge (6'10", 270 pounds), with raw talent surpassed only by his considerable promise. On a per-36-minute basis during his rookie year, Drummond averaged 13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, and 1.7 steals while shooting 60.8 percent from the field.
Granted, you could drive a Mack truck through the holes in his game—from his foul problems (4.2 per 36 minutes) to his abysmal free-throw shooting (37.1 percent) to his more-than-occasional lapses in judgment on the court.
Luckily, these are all facets in which Hakeem's help can be of critical importance. Olajuwon has dealt with his fair share of skill-deprived physical specimens before (rhymes with "Light Coward").
However much Drummond learns this summer, the Pistons would do well to bring him along slowly. After all, he's still incredibly young, and new head coach Mo Cheeks will be free to arrange a frontcourt rotation that now includes Josh Smith in addition to Drummond, Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.
So long as the Pistons stay on Andre to practice what Hakeem has preached, they should have themselves another building block in short order.
2. Blake Griffin
The Pistons probably won't be able to reap the full rewards of whatever Andre Drummond learns from Hakeem for at least another year or two.
The Los Angeles Clippers, on the other hand, stand to benefit handsomely from The Dream if Blake Griffin listens and observes as carefully as he should.
At this point, Griffin's low-post game consists mostly of quick spins and baby hooks that, in combination, aren't exactly pleasing to the eye. He's incredibly coordinated for a guy his size, but he's still prone to losing his balance (and the ball) when operating with his back to the basket.
In that sense, Blake could be in for a bit of a breakthrough under Olajuwon, who recently told Maurice Bobb of Slam:
From a basketball perspective, I teach them the joy of turning basketball into a science. For example, if you know about construction and engineering, if you want to do some remodeling and you have a load-bearing wall, you cannot move it. But when you have a column that’s not load-bearing, there’s lots of possibilities because it moves. So when we create a move in basketball, you make a player shift his weight to his load-bearing leg and then you attack that leg because now he cannot move. When I work with young players and see the expressions on their face, it’s a true joy for me. They realize that basketball is a science.
Not that Griffin is at all hopeless in the post at this point. According to Synergy Sports, Blake ranked among the top 50 most efficient post-up players in the NBA last season, with an average of 0.88 points per play.
Olajuwon, though, might finally be able to teach the three-time All-Star how better to regulate the use of his prodigious physical gifts—by exercising patience, by changing gears rather than going full throttle all the time, by properly positioning his feet and legs to get to Point B rather than bowling his way there, and so on.
And if Hakeem can teach Blake a thing or two about protecting the paint, then the Clips may yet have themselves a bona fide two-way big man to pair with Chris Paul in their pursuit of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
1. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard's post game, while not pleasing to the eye, is more effective than you might think. He already sports a solid right-handed hook and a nifty scoop with his left in addition to a face-up game that allows him to put his size, quickness and strength to devastating use.
But merely "good" isn't good enough for a player who's bristled at the very thought of playing in a pick-and-roll-heavy offense, despite all evidence pointing to Howard's incredible effectiveness as a screener and finisher. According to Synergy Sports, post-ups comprised many (45.2 percent) of D12's possessions with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Which would've been fine if he'd been more efficient down low.
Howard converted just 44.5 percent of his post-up shots, turned the ball over 18.2 percent of the time down there and ranked a so-so 121st in post-up points per possession (0.74) among those who ended at least 25 such possessions with either a shot, a turnover or free throws.
The question is, how much improvement can anyone reasonably expect from Dwight at this point? He's worked with Hakeem in the past (see the video above) and apparently didn't take advantage of the assistance offered by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in LA.
The Rockets can only hope improved health and a change of scenery will be enough to get Howard on the right track. With Hakeem's tutelage (and Kevin McHale's reinforcement), Dwight should have every resource available with which to take his game to the next level.
And bring the Rockets along with him.