Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ranking Shaq with the Centers

Only Shaquille O'Neal could steal attention from an exciting NBA finals as an over the hill 39 year old. His impact has been humongous not only on the court but off it too. Just look at the name at the top of the page (Kobe, Tell Me How My ? Tastes!). Watching him over the last 5 years it's easy to think of him just as an outsized personality, but he was maybe the most dominant basketball player of all-time. In the all time pinnacle of centers, where does the Big Aristotle rank? I created a cumulative index to try to find out. And then I changed things a little bit (I'll explain for each change).
My index was a combination of my work on the Top 5 each year, career win shares, MVP share, Basketball-reference's Hall of Fame odds (to include championships), and BBR's Elo player ratings. I altered things a little bit to help some defensive studs out, but pretty much stuck to the results.
There were two big names who maybe should be on the list. Arvydas Sabonis never got a chance to show the world what he could do in his prime, but some suspect he could've been the best center ever. Also, I left Tim Duncan out, even though he's really more a center (I'd probably put him right behind Shaq).

10. Dwight Howard (5 points in the index)
He proved himself the second best player in the NBA, and with it moved himself into the top 10, knocking Bill Walton (or Willis Reed) out. He and Ewing were the only centers under consideration who haven't won a championship, and everybody else besides Malone has won at least two. Howard's entering his prime, and his time will come.
9. George Mikan (7 points)
Mikan is without a doubt the hardest player to rank on this list. He played in a completely different era, and probably would play something like Aaron Gray if he were in the league now. At the same time, he was the NBA's first superstar, and the center piece of the leagues first dynasty.
8. Patrick Ewing (9 points)
He will always be known for failing to break through (or for his Snickers commercials) but he took the Knicks to the finals twice, and led a renaissance of New York basketball. It's just tough to go up against MJ in your prime.

7. Moses Malone (25 points)
Moses Malone is often a forgotten name among centers, quickly replaced by Olajuwon in Houston and never living on Dr. J's level in Philly. He peaked in a way that few players ever have. According to my top 5 calculations, Moses was the best player in the NBA in 1978-79, 81-82, and 82-83.
6. David Robinson (28 points)
Robinson was a physical specimen, and is being appreciated even more with advanced statistics. He consistently shows up at the top of Career PER or win shares lists, and can be seen by some methods as one of the best players of all time. He needed Duncan for playoff success though, and in his prime got it taken to him by the next man on this list.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon (24 points)
While his regular season stats aren't quite on par with Robinson or even Malone, taking both of the titles during MJ's break earned him a top 5 spot among greatest centers ever. He beat both Patrick Ewing and Shaq in those finals, and the way he dominated NBA MVP David Robinson forced me to give him a bump up this list.

4. Shaquille O'Neal (38 points)
Shaq was the best player in the NBA in the immediate post Jordan era, ruling over the league in 1999-00 in a way that few ever have. He could rule games physically, but also had great touch around the hoop. He never quite got all he could out of his basketball potential, but winning 4 rings and being an absolute force for 3 different teams still put him 4th on the list.
3. Bill Russell (37 points)
Russell helped integrate the sport, anchored the greatest dynasty in the history of athletics, and my be the best defensive basketball player ever. A player with 11 championships will never be seen again in any high level team sport.
2. Wilt Chamberlain (44 points)
He occasionally cared more about women or statistics than about winning, but he also once averaged 50 points and 27 rebounds per game, over an entire season. Nobody has had a game like that since him, and that what he used to average! Wilt the Stilt also managed to squeeze in a couple chips around Russell's hogging.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (46 points)
Kareem was the best player in the NBA for 7 total years, and was the best player in the league for 4 straight seasons from 1970-74, a streak matched only by Michael Jordan and now Lebron James (didn't see that one coming huh?). The NBA's all-time points leader is also the greatest center of all time. For now.


  1. 1st Tier:
    1. Wilt Chamberlain
    2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
    3. Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon
    4. Bill Russell
    5. Shaquille O'neal

    2nd Tier
    6. Moses Malone
    7. George Mikan
    8. David Robinson
    9. Patrick Ewing
    10. Bill Walton

    3rd Tier
    11. Robert Parish
    12. Bob Lanier
    13. Wes Unseld
    14. Alonzo Mourning
    15. Dwight Howard

  2. The records don't lie in da NBA Archives ---> Hakeem has More rebounds, more steals, more blocked, more assists AND slightly lesser points than Shaq
    OFFENSIVELY : Hakeem = Shaq
    DEFENSIVELY: Hakeem >> Shaq
    1)Midheal Jordan, 2) Robert Horry, 3)Kenny Smith, 4)Reggie Miller, 4)Kobe Bryant, 5) Kareem Abdul Jabbar etc etc etc

    CONCLUSION: Sentimens aside, Hakeem >>> Shaq
    NBA TV -- > HAKEEM >> SHAQ

    1st> WILT:: 2nd> KAREEM :: 3rd> HAKEEM :: 4th> RUSSELL :: 5th> SHAQ

  3. This is quite a Hakeem love fest we've got going on. And I love Hakeem just as much as the next guy (I've got his poster on the wall behind me) but I have to concede he's not as good as Shaq. Here's why:
    Hakeem had more rebounds/steals/blocks/assists only because he played considerably more minutes. Shaq's rebound and assist rates (a much better assessment) are both higher, and blocks are surprisingly close.
    Hakeem was better on defense, but was not in Shaq's league offensively. Win shares, PER, offensive rating, even simple PPG all clearly point that out.
    If somebody is better statistically, the only argument that is really valid to switch the two is if one player had much more team success. This is why Hakeem was bumped up over Robinson.
    It doesn't work with Shaq though because:
    A- Shaq is considerably better statistically than Hakeem
    B- Shaq had more team success! (4 championships to 2). Sure Hakeem peaked at the same time as Jordan, but he never actually played against him in the playoffs. O'Neal on the other hand played him, and even beat him.
    It's great to admire the way that Hakeem goes about the game, and about life as a whole, but any objective comparison of the two shows that Shaquille O'Neal was the better player.

    Also, players are notoriously bad judges of talent. Did Lebron really think that Larry Hughes would put him over the top? MJ turned on his GM for life when he traded away Charles Oakley, but that led directly to his first 3 championships.

  4. Wilt is number 1