Shaquille O'Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon: Who Is the Better Player?

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Shaquille O'Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon: Who Is the Better Player?

This past summer, I wrote a quick Scattered Thoughts piece in which I touched on the SLAM Magazine 's top 50 players of all time. For those that forgot, here is the top 15 (of that top 50):

1. The GOAT: Michael Jordan
2. Mr. 100: Wilt Chamberlain
3. Mr. Rings: Bill Russell
4. Diesel: Shaquille O'Neal
5. Mr. Trip Dub: Oscar Robertson
6. Magic Johnson
7. Mr. Skyhook: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
8. Groundhog Day: Tim Duncan
9. Basketball Jesus: Larry Bird
10. Mr. Clutch: Jerry West
11. Draft Lottery Veteran: Elgin Baylor
12. Black Mamba: Kobe Bryant
13. The Dream: Hakeem Olajuwon
14. Bob Petit
15. Dr. J: Julius Erving

I contended that Shaquille O'Neal is far too high on that top 50 list. Not only is he too high, I felt as though Hakeem Olajuwon deserves to be higher on the list.

Then I started thinking about it some more, and asked this question to Money and Supreme: If I'm picking a center to play for me for the next 17 years (Dream played 17 seasons and Diesel just completed his 17th season), who do I want, based on his dominance?

Initially, the guy I wanted off the bat was Olajuwon. I remember him doing it all, as far as scoring, rebounding, blocking shots, intimidating and destroying his opponents and their confidence.

However, a case can be made that Shaquille O'Neal did the exact same thing. So with that, I figured I might as well do my research give an informed opinion, instead of basing my arguments off of teenage memories of The Dream.

So with that, let's look at Shaq and Hakeem's respective careers.

Career  

Let's go through Hakeem's list of achievements:

—12 All-Star appearances

—12 appearances on the All-NBA team

—Nine appearances on All-NBA Defensive team

—1992-1993 Defensive Player of the Year

—1993-1994 Defensive Player of the Year 

—1993-1994 NBA Finals MVP

—1993-1994 NBA MVP

—1994-1995 NBA Finals MVP

—8th all time in field goals made

—11th all-time in field goals attempted

—9th all-time in offensive rebounds

—5th all-time in defensive rebounds

—12th all-time in total rebounds

—9th all-time in steals

—1st all-time in blocks

—7th all-time in turnovers

—10th all time in points

A lot accomplished in his 17 seasons. Take that whole career and, no matter how you look at it, it screams Hall of Fame. But in addition, let's also look at the Dream's career numbers:

Regular season:

 21.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.7 spg, 3.1 bpg.

Playoffs:

 25.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 3.3 bpg


Let's now have a look at the long list of achievements and/or landmarks of Shaquille O'Neal's career:

—12 All-Star appearances

—1992-1993 Rookie of the Year

—1999-2000 All-Star Game MVP (shared with Tim Duncan)

—1999-2000 NBA MVP

—1999-2000 NBA Finals MVP

—2000-2001 NBA Finals MVP

—2001-2002 NBA Finals MVP

—2003-2004 All-Star Game MVP

—2008-2009 All-Star Game MVP (shared with Kobe Bryant)

—14 appearances on All-NBA team

—Three appearances on All-NBA Defensive team

—7th all time in field goals made

—2nd all time in field goal percentage

—4th all time in free throw attempts

—7th all time in points

—2nd all time in PER (Olajuwon finished 16th in this category)

After having gone through that list, let's have a look at the Diesel's career numbers:

Regular season:

 24.7 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.6 spg, 2.4 bpg

Playoffs:

 25.2 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.6 spg, 2.2 bpg

Prime

One of my biggest arguments when debating this issue with Money and Supreme was the respective primes of both players. We all remember Shaquille O'Neal as being a dominating force that bullied his opponents and did whatever he wanted to on the basketball court. To use a comic book analogy (the Diesel would love this comparison), O'Neal was like Superman. He was an NBA center with the size of Godzilla, superhuman strength like Kal-El, amazing speed, more foot quickness then Casius Clay (his momma called him Casius so I will call him Casius; but for the uninformed, I am talking about Muhammad Ali), the touch of Tim Duncan (people forget that Shaq didn't just dunk the ball), the drop step of Chris Webber, and the engaging personality of Money Mike (Kat Williams). Add to that Shaq's actual production on the court, and it's easy to see why several would pick him over Hakeem.

However, Hakeem is the most skilled big man I have ever seen play (never saw Kareem play). Dream scored in every conceivable way imaginable, rebounded with ferocity, and defended the basket like a pimp who wasn't getting his money's worth.

Think of the best pure scorer in the NBA right now. Who comes to mind?

This answer might vary for several, but to me the answer is Kobe Bryant. Now picture Kobe Bryant as seven feet tall; to me that's Hakeem. Dream gave you the fade away jumper, the crossover, the hook shot, the up and under, the drive baseline, and then fake the reverse layup and come back on the side where the play started to score.

On defense, Dream was like Ben Wallace...the two-time Defensive Player of the Year (not the one you saw get destroyed by Dwight in the 2009 playoffs). Olajuwon created steals, blocked shots (never throwing them in the stands but instead blocking it to a teammate), changed some shots just by looking at the opposing player coming down the lane (he was really that intimidating), and always helped out his teammates on defense.

Although it's tough to measure a player's value through stats, we'll give it a try. Olajuwon's prime coincided with his two championship years. Let's have a look at his regular season stats for those two years:

'93-'94 & '94-'95 regular season averages

Points: 27

Rebounds: 12.6

Assists: 3.4

Steals: 1.6

Blocks: 3.3

Average vs. league

After seeing what Olajuwon did during those seasons, wouldn't it be interesting to also see what he did against top level performers? I mean, it's one thing to dominate a team without a center while playing at home, but it's completely different to go up against an All-Star at your position right? Let's have a look at Olajuwon's numbers against All-Stars from the 1993-1994 season & 1994-1995 (not necessarily All-Stars in both seasons); the players were Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, and Alonzo Mourning.

Opponent

Mutombo

Points: 22.3

Rebounds: 11.3

Assists: Five

Steals: 0.3

Blocks: Two

Divac

Points: 32.9

Rebounds: 13.6

Assists: 2.7

Steals: 0.4

Blocks: 2.4

Davis

Points: 28.8

Rebounds: 14.5

Assists: Five

Steals: 0.5

Blocks: 3.5

Robinson

Points: 27

Rebounds: 12

Assists: 2.9

Steals: 0

Blocks: Three

Mourning

Points: 24.5

Rebounds: 11.3

Assists: 4.3

Steals: 0.3

Blocks: 2.5

Average vs. All

Points: 27.7

Rebounds: 12.6

Assists: 3.7

Steals: 0.3

Blocks: 2.7

Here's the crazy thing about Shaq: His numbers against All-Star players at his position are actually slightly inferior to his overall regular season averages, but they are still impressive numbers. With that said, only David Robinson is a sure pick to make the Hall of Fame, and yet we still see a decrease in Shaq's numbers. I'm pretty sure that O'Neal got up for big matchups against top flight centers (I know, Dale Davis being considered a top flight center is a joke, but hey, he made the All-Star game, don't blame me) but right now it seems that Hakeem was better at it then Shaq was.

'99-'00 & '00-'01 playoff averages:

Points: 30.6

Rebounds: 15.4

Assists: 3.1

Steals: 0.5

Blocks: 2.4

Average in playoffs

As expected with great players, Shaquille O'Neal's number trend upwards in the playoffs. There is a decrease in his assists and his blocks, but he still shows up as a performer. The memories I have of Shaquille O'Neal earlier this decade (it's not that far mind you) are exactly what I thought they were. An imposing figure that owned the basketball court in the regular season and the playoffs. However, look at Shaq's numbers in comparison to Hakeem's numbers in the playoffs during that two year stretch that I identified as their respective primes. Whose numbers do you like best?

Conclusion

After crunching all of these numbers, let's answer the original question: Who do I want as my starting center for the next 17 years based on their dominance?

My original answer was Olajuwon and it hasn't changed.

The Dream was a better all-around player as well as a more skilled athlete than the Diesel.  In addition, Olajuwon's was able to do whatever he wanted against the scrub centers, but he also did it against some Hall of Famers. His numbers on average against All-Star centers exceeded the production he had against the league average.

In contrast, O'Neal's numbers took a slight dip when playing All-Star centers in comparison to his usual averages against the league. In addition, Dream's playoff numbers are all better then the Diesel's numbers except for rebounding and field goal percentage.

So if Shaquille O'Neal is the self-proclaimed MDE (most dominant ever), what does that make Hakeem? Keep in mind we haven't even spoken about Kareem yet...

 

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