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Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1990s

Posted by Neil Paine on December 30, 2009

Required reading material:

Who Are the “Inner-Circle” Hall of Famers? (Part I – Intro to Method)
Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1950s/1960s
Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1970s
Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1980s

1990s

Michael Jordan ("Air")

Position: Guard-Forward
Height: 6-6 Weight: 195 lbs.
Born: February 17, 1963 in Brooklyn, New York
High School: Emsley A. Laney in Wilmington, North Carolina
College: University of North Carolina

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1985 21 CHI 313.0 8 319.0 2 316.0 98.7% 5
1986 22 CHI 305.0 21 213.0 113 254.9 78.4% 29
1987 23 CHI 334.0 2 335.0 1 334.5 99.9% 1.5
1988 24 CHI 332.0 1 332.0 1 332.0 100.0% 1
1989 25 CHI 352.0 2 353.0 1 352.5 99.9% 1
1990 26 CHI 379.0 3 381.0 1 380.0 99.7% 2.5
1991 27 CHI 387.0 1 387.0 1 387.0 100.0% 1
1992 28 CHI 386.0 1 386.0 1 386.0 100.0% 1
1993 29 CHI 388.0 3 390.0 1 389.0 99.7% 2
1995 31 CHI 380.0 28 286.0 122 329.7 81.0% 28
1996 32 CHI 429.0 1 429.0 1 429.0 100.0% 1
1997 33 CHI 440.0 2 440.0 2 440.0 99.8% 2
1998 34 CHI 439.0 1 438.0 2 438.5 99.9% 1.5
2002 38 WAS 426.0 15 403.0 38 414.3 94.2% 21
2003 39 WAS 408.5 20.5 388.0 41 398.1 93.0% 22

What's scary is that The Greatest Of All Time™ is probably underrated by this metric because the MVP voters have a tendency to get bored and cast their ballots for variety at the top instead of going with the league's best player year after year. Jordan dominated the stats (and the rings, and the hearts and minds of the basketball-watching community) with a metronomic consistency from 1987-93, but "only" won the MVP 3 times. Still, being considered the game's #1 in seven different seasons (including ties with Magic Johnson in '87 and Karl Malone in '98) is far from a small feat -- in fact, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only other player to pull it off that many times; Wilt Chamberlain also did it 6 times, and no other player has done it more than 3 times. I just shudder to think what MJ's Inner-Circle induction speech would be like.

Karl Malone ("The Mailman")

Position: Forward
Height: 6-9 Weight: 250 lbs.
Born: July 24, 1963 in Summerfield, Louisiana
High School: Summerfield in Summerfield, Louisiana
College: Louisiana Tech University

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1986 22 UTA 148.5 178 222.0 104 181.6 55.9% 105
1987 23 UTA 308.0 28 309.0 27 308.5 92.1% 21
1988 24 UTA 325.0 8 323.0 10 324.0 97.6% 8
1989 25 UTA 351.0 3 349.0 5 350.0 99.1% 5
1990 26 UTA 378.0 4 378.0 4 378.0 99.2% 4
1991 27 UTA 383.0 5 385.0 3 384.0 99.2% 4
1992 28 UTA 383.0 4 385.0 2 384.0 99.5% 3
1993 29 UTA 386.5 4.5 388.0 3 387.2 99.3% 4
1994 30 UTA 400.5 3.5 400.0 4 400.2 99.3% 3
1995 31 UTA 406.0 2 405.0 3 405.5 99.6% 2
1996 32 UTA 425.0 5 427.0 3 426.0 99.3% 4
1997 33 UTA 441.0 1 441.0 1 441.0 100.0% 1
1998 34 UTA 438.0 2 439.0 1 438.5 99.9% 1.5
1999 35 UTA 440.0 1 439.5 1.5 439.7 99.9% 1
2000 36 UTA 434.0 6 438.0 2 436.0 99.3% 4
2001 37 UTA 432.0 10 437.5 4.5 434.7 98.6% 7
2002 38 UTA 418.0 23 424.5 16.5 421.2 95.7% 15
2003 39 UTA 202.0 227 417.5 11.5 290.4 67.9% 26
2004 40 LAL 208.5 235 330.5 113 262.5 59.4% 113

Malone vs. Tim Duncan for "Best PF Ever" is one of those debates that you can go around in circles with forever and still not come out with a satisfactory conclusion. The rings crowd just hates Malone's guts because he never won a title, while Duncan has 4 (and counting). Statheads counter with the observation that while Duncan's numbers are all-time caliber, Malone combined productive excellence with longevity as well as anyone who ever played the game; the only other player who comes close is Abdul-Jabbar. But was the Mailman merely a "compiler" who couldn't get it done in the clutch? Well, Malone's Jazz teams do show up several times on this list. Unlike just about every other player in his stratosphere of reputation, he's linked inexorably with a teammate (John Stockton) who stands on equal historical footing, with their collective success almost always split 50-50. Jordan never splits credit 50-50 with Pippen; there's never any doubt as to whether Jordan could exist as a legend without Pippen (albeit with fewer rings), but there's always the lingering question with Stockton & Malone of whether they could have reached the heights they did without each other, as well as Jerry Sloan's system. And finally, Malone's Jazz lost two very winnable Finals against the great Jordan-era Bulls teams, as Dennis Rodman was able to disrupt The Mailman and cause him to uncharacteristically disappear for extended stretches of time (crucial mistakes -- missed FT and turnovers -- were a problem in both series as well). The counter argument, of course? They had two very winnable Finals against the great Jordan-era Bulls teams! Malone may have played below his norms vs. Chicago, but so did everybody else those years, and he still played well enough to keep Utah competitive against one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. And so the debate rages on with Malone, unquestionably one of the greatest players to ever take the hardwood, but also a polarizing figure because rightly or wrongly, the perception is that teams did not make the most of their postseason chances with The Mailman as their go-to scorer.

Hakeem Olajuwon ("The Dream")

Position: Center
Height: 7-0 Weight: 255 lbs.
Born: January 21, 1963 in Lagos, Nigeria
High School: Muslim Teachers College in Lagos, Nigeria
College: University of Houston

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1985 22 HOU 308.5 12.5 312.5 8.5 310.5 97.0% 10
1986 23 HOU 320.5 5.5 320.0 6 320.2 98.5% 5
1987 24 HOU 331.0 5 329.0 7 330.0 98.5% 6.5
1988 25 HOU 328.0 5 327.0 6 327.5 98.6% 6
1989 26 HOU 350.0 4 350.0 4 350.0 99.2% 4
1990 27 HOU 376.0 6 375.5 6.5 375.7 98.6% 6
1991 28 HOU 367.0 21 371.5 16.5 369.2 95.4% 15
1992 29 HOU 365.0 22 378.5 8.5 371.7 96.3% 13
1993 30 HOU 389.0 2 389.0 2 389.0 99.7% 1
1994 31 HOU 403.0 1 401.0 3 402.0 99.8% 1
1995 32 HOU 399.0 9 402.5 5.5 400.7 98.5% 7
1996 33 HOU 424.0 6 420.5 9.5 422.2 98.4% 6
1997 34 HOU 437.0 5 419.5 22.5 428.2 97.1% 10
1998 35 HOU 206.0 234 381.0 59 280.2 63.8% 63
1999 36 HOU 430.0 11 430.5 10.5 430.2 97.8% 10
2000 37 HOU 206.5 234 242.0 198 223.5 50.9% 198
2001 38 HOU 205.5 237 357.0 85 270.9 61.4% 87
2002 39 TOR 206.0 235 276.5 165 238.7 54.2% 165

David Robinson ("The Admiral")

Position: Center
Height: 7-1 Weight: 235 lbs.
Born: August 6, 1965 in Key West, Florida
High School: Osbourn Park in Manassas, Virginia
College: United States Naval Academy

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1990 24 SAS 372.0 10 377.0 5 374.5 98.3% 7
1991 25 SAS 385.0 3 386.0 2 385.5 99.6% 2
1992 26 SAS 384.0 3 384.0 3 384.0 99.5% 2
1993 27 SAS 381.0 10 386.0 5 383.5 98.3% 6
1994 28 SAS 400.5 3.5 403.0 1 401.7 99.7% 2
1995 29 SAS 407.0 1 407.0 1 407.0 100.0% 1
1996 30 SAS 428.0 2 428.0 2 428.0 99.8% 2
1997 31 SAS 204.5 238 190.5 252 197.4 44.8% 252
1998 32 SAS 433.0 7 437.0 3 435.0 99.1% 5
1999 33 SAS 424.0 17 435.5 5.5 429.7 97.7% 11
2000 34 SAS 426.5 13.5 432.0 8 429.2 97.8% 10
2001 35 SAS 431.0 11 427.0 15 429.0 97.3% 12
2002 36 SAS 206.0 235 414.0 27 292.0 66.4% 38
2003 37 SAS 202.0 227 348.5 80.5 265.3 62.0% 82.5

Speaking of debates that can't end, a variant on the Duncan-Malone debate is the older Hakeem Olajuwon-vs.-David Robinson clash, one which was "settled" in the 1995 playoffs but still has been known to rage even on the pages of this blog, because the numbers say it's a mismatch in the opposite direction. Let's put the incident in question out there immediately:

Well, that's it, then... Olajuwon owned Robinson from May 22-June 1, 1995, and therefore was the better player. Except Robinson's numbers are better than Olajuwon's, even if you throw out Hakeem's lost year in Toronto -- the Admiral essentially averaged the same points per minute on the same FG%, but he got to the line at a far better rate, shot a higher FT%, and turned the ball over less, leading to a much better offensive efficiency. Since their defensive numbers were equal and they both anchored equally strong defensive teams (if anything, Robinson's were better), it should come as no surprise that Robinson had the higher PER (26.2 to 23.9) and 18 more WS in 8,500 fewer minutes. And it's not like Hakeem dominated every head-to-head matchup. But Olajuwon was clearly better in the playoffs (25.7 PER and 22.6 WS vs. 23.0 and 17.5 for Robinson), and he obviously destroyed DR in that '95 series. So what gives? Was Robinson a choker, or was it like rock-paper-scissors (Hakeem dominates Robinson, but Robinson dominates everybody else, some of whom outplay Hakeem as well)? Did the Spurs catch Hakeem at a time when nobody was going to be able to stop him, did Robinson have a bad week, or was it perhaps a bit of both? If Hakeem could dominate a player of Robinson's stature at will, why didn't he do it against everybody, all of the time? Or was Robinson only really capable of dominance against teams like the Clippers?

These questions deserve their own post, but I'm afraid we could devote 1 million posts to the topic and never really unravel the mysteries of the Olajuwon/Robinson dynamic. Suffice to say, they're both Inner Circle legends, and in May '95 Olajuwon played at a level few in the NBA's history have attained. But if you want a definitive answer on which great center was truly "better", I think you're always going to be disappointed, because the evidence is contradictory at best and usually leads us into a tricky philosophical debate about what we mean when we say "Player X was better than Player Y". Now let's watch some videos:

On the outside looking in: John Stockton, Gary Payton, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen

Inner Circle according to HoF Probability: Jordan, Malone, Olajuwon, Robinson

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37 Responses to “Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1990s”

  1. Raj Says:

    Wow, so no shaq moved into the 90s. I suppose that means the 2000s won't include King James (but will have Shaq, Duncan, KG and Kobe) which really just doesn't seem right to me.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    LeBron hasn't played 10 NBA seasons yet, so he isn't eligible for the Inner Circle.

  3. Jason J Says:

    Great list. No arguments from me.

    I do think Robinson's significant downturn statistically in the playoffs is probably worth more attention that it gets. Regular season PER* top 4 careers since 1980 - Jordan, Shaq, Bron, Robinson (PER = 26.2). Playoffs PER top 3 careers since 1980 - Jordan, LeBron, Shaq... and Robinson shows up at #17 (PER = 23). Is it telling that the other 3 best regular season players (according to PER) are also the best playoff players (according to PER), yet Robinson drops from top 5 straight out of the top 15?

    *Players had to average 30 minutes or better to be considered.

  4. Luke Says:

    I'm glad to see the Admiral make it onto this list. I wasn't sure he'd qualify since it's arguable whether or not he was ever the best player on a finalist. He definitely wasn't in 2003, and I think Duncan was slightly better in the playoffs in 1999, but Robinson might have been better during the regular season, so that year is really a toss up. But I have absolutely no problem seeing him on this list.

    And, to address Raj's comment, INCLUDING LeBron in the 2000's just wouldn't seem right to me. That generation belongs to Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, KG, Dirk, AI, Kidd, and Nash, and you could throw in Pierce, VC, T-Mac, Ray Allen, and maybe Yao and Chris Webber for good measure. In my opinion, LeBron's first year in the league officially ushered in the next generation of players with him, Wade, Anthony, Bosh, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant, and any other stars who break out in the next few years.

  5. AYC Says:

    The Olajuwon/Robinson debate is a perfect example of how stats don't tell the whole story. The stats have nothing to say about how much better Hakeem's footwork, post-moves and handle were... But wait, they do! Dream's postseason stats are much, much better than DRob's; his postseason scorig avg is nearly 8 ppg higher, and his fg% is .50 higher.

  6. AYC Says:

    PS I think Luke is on to something, DRob was never the best player on a finalist!

  7. Anon Says:

    "...did Robinson have a bad week...?"

    I think that this is partly the case. Many players have had a bad series during the playoffs before only to be hoisting the O'Brien trophy in June because their teams had bailed them out. This is not meant to devalue Hakeem's play of course, but I've always found it curious how some people would use a SIX GAME series example as "definitive" proof that one player is better than another.

  8. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Again alot of Robinson fans are simplifying what really is the deal about why alot of people put Olajuwon over Robinson. It was more of a microsum of their plays in the post season. Going into the playoffs Robinson's rep was this: great in the regular season, but can he do it in the Playoffs. People forget that in that 1993-94 season while he was awesome in the regular season he laid a massive egg against the Jazz, while Olajuwon ran wild on the competition like Hulkamania circa 1987 (and he dominated the Jazz). The loss to Hakeem was just, in people's minds, the nail in the coffin of Robinson being an underachiever in the playoffs (ie the soft label he gets) while Olajuwon was somebody, when push comes to shove could carry a team to the crown.

    Personally I think that just how Robinson has become underrated in the general basketball fandom, he has become just as overrated among the APBR crowd. Yes his regular season, specifically in the mid 90s were some of the best in history (better than anything mustered by Bird or Magic at their best), his inability to sustain that great play into the postseason should drop him down points (and also it isn't mentioned much that past 97-98 his productivity, compared to the other legends, was hampered severely by playing 6 man level minutes).

    Robinson was great in the regular season, but players like Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Shaq, Olajuwon, and Duncan were able to carry their regular season dominance into the playoffs. Hell even Larry Bird, the man with perhaps the most overrated playoff rep among the all time greats, can rightfully claim that he at least had two all-time great playoff runs in 84 and 86. Robinson can't.

  9. nimble Says:

    Hi Neil,

    Out of context but do you have any words on Michael Adams (he was 5'10'' and had quite many awesome games of 40+points and 10+ assists,found while playing with your gorgeous play index:)
    Just curious what happened to him,why he left game early.

    Thanks and happy new year!

  10. Anon Says:

    "Going into the playoffs Robinson's rep was this: great in the regular season, but can he do it in the Playoffs."

    His 12.47 WS/3000 min in the playoffs definitely suggests he can.

  11. mr parker Says:

    I went back and looked up the leader in playoff win shares for each season since the season ending in 1980. I figured anyone not on this list shouldn't be able to make an inner-circle team. What you get is about you thought you should get.

    I call these individual championships

    jabar 1(1980)
    moses 2
    dr. j 1
    bird 2
    magic 3
    jordan 7
    barkley 1
    olujawon 1
    shaq 4
    kobe 1.5
    dikembe .5
    duncan 2(2nd most in one post season 5.4)
    billups 1
    nowitski 1(most ever 5.9, one of only two 5 ws performances)
    lebron 2(had 4.8 without making it to finals){last one in 2009}

    By this ranking the best players since 1980 have been
    1. Jordan
    2. shaq
    3. magic
    4. bird
    moses
    duncan
    lebron
    8. Kobe
    9. jabar
    dr. j
    barkley
    billups
    nowitski

    By this metric player of 80s would be Magic,Moses,Bird,(dr J and kareem being in the 70s)
    players of 90s would be Barkley, Jordan, Olajuwon,
    players of 00s would be shaq,duncan,kobe, garnett, nowistki
    putting lebron in 10s assuming he will dominate this decade

    Looking at it this way takes out any championship requirements. And yet it heightens the requirements in that for at least one season you had to be the best player when the competition was the strongest.

  12. mr parker Says:

    I had fun with that exercise so I'll continue

    00s shaq, duncan, kobe, nowitski, garnett
    90s jordan, olajuwon, barkley
    80s magic, bird, moses
    70s were more fractured there were 7 different candidates
    i made an arbitrary cutoff at 3 win shares for that season
    i also only counted nba
    jabaar(2), frazier(2), dr. j(1), elvin hayes (1)
    60s were dominated by 3 guys
    russell(4), chamberlain (2), west (2), and baylor snuck in for 1

  13. Anthony Coleman Says:

    His 12.47 WS/3000 min in the playoffs definitely suggests he can.

    No he couldn't compared to how good he was in the regular season and to the other players I mentioned. That was always his problem. In the playoffs he went from being one of the "best players who ever lived" to "all-star/ superstar" level. And he was very good in 1990 and the 1991 playoffs, and I think that PER greatly underrates his 1993 performance, but he was mediocre in 94, and except against the Lakers in 95 was inconsistent against both the Nuggets and the Rockets. And something that PER doesn't tell you is that in 1996 playoffs, half of the games against the Jazz his play was downright bad.

    Again Robinson was an amazing regular season performer, but he wasn't on par with the Jordans, Olajuwons, Magics, Shaqs, Kareem, and Duncans when it was time for the most important games of the season and that is what undermines his legacy.

  14. Anon Says:

    "In the playoffs he went from being one of the "best players who ever lived" to "all-star/ superstar" level."

    Still better than Hakeem's 11.79 WS/3000 min in the playoffs though. But what do I know? It's not like his success is also tied to how his teammates perform, right?

  15. AYC Says:

    25.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 3.3 bpg, 1.7 spg, .528 fg%, .719 ft% 145 games, 25.7 PER
    18.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.5 bpg, 1.2 spg, .479 fg%, .708 ft% 123 games, 23.0 PER

    Which one had the better postseason career? It's not even debatable. BTW, aren't win-shares tied to how a player's teammates perform too? I wonder how many WS Robinson would have without Timmy carrying him to 2 titles...

  16. Luke Says:

    I wasn't trying to say David Robinson shouldn't be on this list. He's clearly the 4th best player of the 90's once you move Barkley to the 80's and Shaq to the 00's. I was just saying that I wasn't sure he'd qualify since it's debatable whether or not he was the best player on the 1999 Spurs. I assume Neil knows his own rules, so if he says Robinson was the best player on that team, then I'll take his word for it. I've read enough on this site to know that its contributers aren't going to break/change the rules on the fly just to throw a guy they like onto a list like this. (And I have no idea if the Admiral is Neil's favorite player of all time or if he hates him.)

    Plus, who else could possibly make this list from the 90's if not for Robinson? Barkley's already out. Shaq's in the 00's. Stockton and Pippen definitely weren't the best players on a finalist. Ewing's a possibility for his 1994 finals appearance, but Robinson was clearly a better player. Same for Payton and Drexler ('96 and '92). And I personally don't think "the best of the best of all-time" when Ewing, Payton, and Drexler's name come up. (For Robinson, it isn't an instant "of course he is" reaction for me either, but after thinking about it for about five seconds, I find myself saying "you know, he probably is.")

  17. Neil Paine Says:

    Yeah, I considered a player the "best on his team" if he led in either Stats or Media Points, and D-Rob still had a higher PER and SPM than Duncan on that '99 team.

  18. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "Yeah, I considered a player the "best on his team" if he led in either Stats or Media Points, and D-Rob still had a higher PER and SPM than Duncan on that '99 team."

    Again this is where I differ from the norm and that is this: even though Robinson was slightly better than Duncan on a per minute basis, he wasn't the more productive or essential part of the team's success because Duncan was on the court far longer. That shows specifically in the amount of points scored: the difference is that Coach Popovich relied on Duncan on more possessions to score points at that stage of the career. That is what too many people miss: a player's effect on the game is greatly influenced or limited to how many minutes they are on the court. Plus in the playoffs, specifically in the Finals, Duncan played more minutes and was more effective in a per minute basis. To me there is no doubt that was Duncan the most valuable player on that first championship team.

  19. Jason J Says:

    I think that's a very valid point, AC. Total production needs to override per minute / per possession production when the difference is dramatic. Being extremely efficient without actually doing as much on the floor is not necessarily more valuable to your team. I still think in the context of this exercise Robinson is the right choice when Barkley and Shaq are definitely not available. The only other legit options would be Ewing, Drexler, or Payton, as the best players on NBA Finals teams, and IMO Robinson's production advantage over those three is too dramatic to ignore.

  20. Anon Says:

    "BTW, aren't win-shares tied to how a player's teammates perform too?"

    In some respects, but at least it does a better job with defense than PER does. And that's where David has the edge over Hakeem in the playoffs.

    I can understand someone putting Hakeem over D-Rob on an all-time list, but to say "it's not debatable" that Hakeem had the better postseason career is false. These players are near equals from a production standpoint.

  21. Anon Says:

    "Total production needs to override per minute / per possession production when the difference is dramatic."

    Agreed on this point, but David did play the 3rd most minutes on the '99 Spurs team in both the regular season and the playoffs (Avery played a little more than David in the playoffs but he was alot less productive). So he still did his heavy lifting and then some. When people say he "jumped on Timmy's back" for his rings I think they're more talking about the Spurs '03 title. During that season David played the 6th most minutes in the regular season and 7th most in the playoffs.

  22. TRad Says:

    You've conveniently transformed HoF'90 into good ol' DRob versus Hakeem dispute - but what about Stockton? He was arguably the second best point guard in the history. And leting Malone in while leaving Stockton out just doesn't seem right. You should shift Jordan into 80's (instead of Barkley) and put Stockton in. Barkley is nowhere close to the top 3 power forwards of all time (Pettit, Malone, Duncan, Garnett - and I think Nowitzki has a sporting chance to have a better career than Barkley).

  23. Dave Says:

    For starters, I want to say that I've greatly enjoyed this whole inner circle debate.

    I've been thinking that Stockton is an example of where two of the rules for this exercise are a little problematic. The two in question are: 1. best player on a finalist, and 2. only four per decade. Both are good guidelines that can sometimes be altered, but not hard-and-fast rules. Of course, it's not like this whole debate is much more than a fun debate.

    As for the four-per-decade, I think the Elvin Hayes debate in the 70's kind of shows that--it feels a little like adding Hayes to meet the numbers is a little bit of a reach. Does Hayes really belong in a class with the rest of these inner circle guys? That was hotly debated. I'm not saying it's wrong; I admit that I'm not the most knowledgeable fan, and I'd hate to re-ignite that debate.

    But Stockton seems to get the double-whammy on this. The only reason he's not the best on a finalist is Malone, and the Malone-Stockton divide is nothing like the Jordan-Pippen divide: as Neil says, Malone is the only real elite HOF'er who's strongly linked to another, and the two split credit pretty much 50-50. And then, because Malone gets the nod, his mate gets the axe because there are only four per decade.

    I know that one of the premises of the inner circle is that these aren't just compilers, but, despite the possible subjectivity of the assists record, his career assists record is just astronomical--almost 40% over the next guy (though Kidd is closing the gap) and 50% over the third guy. And he did that in the lowest-scoring era in the history of the NBA.

  24. kevin Says:

    I think Ewing needs to at least get credit for the "outside looking in" category. Knicks fans shit all over him because he could never get the tea over the hump and is viewed as a disappointment but there's no shame in not being as good as Jordan and at least he made them a contender for the first time since the4 early 70's.

  25. AYC Says:

    "I can understand someone putting Hakeem over D-Rob on an all-time list, but to say "it's not debatable" that Hakeem had the better postseason career is false. These players are near equals from a production standpoint."

    Wrong; Hakeem and DRob were near-equals in the REGULAR season; in the POSTSEASON there is no comparison; out of the 8 major stats, Dresam is better at every single one except 3pt%, and it's not like 3pt shooting is at all relevant. And while I disagree with the inherent assumptions in PER, I included it to show that Dream's playoff production was much better even after you adjust for minutes played and pace.

    As I mentioned before, Hakeem's advantage as a scorer specifically, is ENORMOUS. Now, I disagree with the notion that DRob was a better defender, but let's say you're right; even so, how much better would Robinson have to be to make up for Hakeem's overwhelming offensive superiority? How much does Robinson's defensive WS benefit from playing with TD, a dominant defender in his own right? How much does DRob benefit from playing on a slower paced team (a slower pace always helps the defense)?

  26. Anon Says:

    "As I mentioned before, Hakeem's advantage as a scorer specifically, is ENORMOUS."

    There's no need to use seven different per game stats when win shares already takes care of that for you in one metric. These two players are separated by a little more than half a win share per 3000 minutes on the offensive end. I'm not sure the word "enormous" in all-caps is what you would use to describe this.

    As for defense, David has always anchored his teams even before Timmy arrived on the scene -- over 6 DWS/3K min in the playoffs before the Duncan years, and even leading the league in that department during the '95 playoffs (and by the way, these numbers are pace-adjusted). The difference between that year and the years in which he finally won a title is that he finally had teammates around him that played consistently well in the postseason. This was something he lacked during the 90s (and Hakeem certainly had in '94 and '95). Perhaps I may the only one here who thinks that Hakeem wasn't THAT much better than David during the playoffs (if at all), but I don't think I'm making any baseless statements.

  27. AYC Says:

    "There's no need to use seven different per game stats when win shares already takes care of that for you in one metric."

    Frankly, Anon, I think that's a load of BS; Win Shares (like PER) is a subjective formula for interpreting objective stats; I'll take those unadulterated stats over treating WS like the Gospels any day, especially since WS produces some bizarre results (like tremendously overrating players like John Stockton and Reggie Miller).

  28. Jason J Says:

    I'm not real big on the whole Robinson / Hakeem debate. Like Neil, I don't think there's a definitive answer to be found. Robinson's numbers are a little odd overall because he came into the league so late - at age 24. He sort of skipped the early stumbles most rookies and second year players go through by coming into the league a grown-ass man. He also dropped off pretty dramatically after his tenth season because he was already 34 years old, and Tim Duncan was fully capable of assuming his role as a first option. Kudos to David for being willing and able to assume the Pippen role and dedicate himself to the success of Duncan.

    Through Age 33 (Robinson's last season where you can argue he was the best player on his team): http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/tiny.cgi?id=TbFgv

    Robinson has much better advanced stats in the regular season largely because he got to line more and had fewer turnovers - not dramatically so, but enough to make a significant difference in PER and WS. In total production, they are virtually even. Olajuwon's playoff numbers are pretty clearly better. Hakeem's WS is .166 per game. Robinson's is .159 - over a 7 game series that's really no different. However, the point production and PER favor Hakeem pretty dramatically (which is not surprising since scoring is one of the biggest elements in PER).

    In terms of play-style I think Hakeem's back to the basket game may have made it easier for his catch and shoot teammates than David's face up first step style (sort of the difference between Duncan and Amare), but they were both spectacular. Robinson was bigger, faster end to end, and a better jumper. Hakeem was quicker laterally, had better balance, and held position better. I actually think they both have a good arguments. I'd rather build a team around Hakeem because he's got that primary scorer mentality. I'd rather have Robinson on a truly great team because he's ego-free. Like the Magic / Larry debate though, it's a no-lose either way.

  29. AYC Says:

    "I'd rather build a team around Hakeem because he's got that primary scorer mentality. I'd rather have Robinson on a truly great team because he's ego-free. Like the Magic / Larry debate though, it's a no-lose either way."

    Great post Jason J, but I think you're straining to be even-handed at the end there; having a "primary scorer mentality" didn't prevent MJ from having 3 different all-time great teams. The same ego that leads to scoring titles applies to winning championships (wanting YOUR team to beat their team is a selfish act).

    Kareem and Magic were both strong-willed alpha-males who coexisted well enough to win 5 titles; Shaq and Kobe got along well enough to win 3 titles; so I don't think DRob's lack of fire is in any way a virtue. Bird and Magic were both great clutch performers who were willing and able to carry their teams on their backs (even though they are both known for their passing); Hakeem was that type of personality, Robinson was not.

  30. TRad Says:

    Olajuwon=Chamberlain, Robinson=Russell?

  31. Raj Says:

    Full disclosure: I am as big an Hakeem fan as anyone. Ever. I grew up in Houston, was 8 and 9 when the Rockets won, stood in parades, bought those outrageously overpriced cable boxes when the playoffs were PPV and STILL have a Dream poster in my apartment now.

    With that in mind, Robinson's biggest failing to me is that his GM sucked. Seriously, look at the other starters when he was in his prime: Rodman right as he started going insane (and actually found a way to make rebounding a selfish act), Sean Elliott, who was a legitimate starter but never anyone who should be a #2 scorer (esp. when the other side is bringing Clyde Drexler) on a great team, Avery (a backup PG at best) and Vinny Del Negro, who I suppose people at the time must have (incorrectly we know now) thought had a high basketball IQ because he too was at best an 8th or 9th man from a production perspective. Toss in a washed up Terry Cummings and the wholly replaceable coaching talent of Bob Hill, and the Admiral was pretty much manning the SS Minnow. This cannot be debated.

    It's hard even for someone like me who does believe Hakeem was better (basically Robinson's "consistent" WS/3K doesn't override the fact that Hakeem was the dominant force on 2 title teams and almost singlehandedly destroyed Kareem in handing the Lakers their only playoff loss between 1985 and 1988) to believe that if the Admiral had a better late game scorer around him (ala Pierce with Garnett), he couldn't have won the '95 series.

    Sorry if this rambled on. Also TRad, you got the comparisons backwards: Robinson had the stats like Wilt. Dream and Russell got the rings.

  32. Romain Says:

    To #31.
    Look at the teammates Hakeem had in 1994, they were not much better than Robinson's I would say: Otis Thorpe (legitimate starter, good rebounder, reliable for 13-15 ppg but no All-Star), Maxwell (trigger happy), Kenny Smith, rookie Sam Cassell, 2nd year Horry, Mario Elie and that's about it.

    Clearly one of the weakest supporting cast ever for a championship team.
    I think that says a lot about Hakeem's worth.

    That same year the Spurs were crushed by the Jazz in the 1st round and Robinson was a no show during the series: 20 ppg, 10 rpg, .411 FG. I was a fan of Robinson at the time and it was painful to watch completely collapse against the Jazz mediocre centers. Especially after scoring 71 pts in the last game of the regular season.

  33. Anon Says:

    "Frankly, Anon, I think that's a load of BS; Win Shares (like PER) is a subjective formula for interpreting objective stats; I'll take those unadulterated stats over treating WS like the Gospels any day..."

    You had better think again. Per game stats can be interpreted a BUNCH of different ways, and often without reason. That's way stats such as win shares, +/-, and PER are more useful to use; they're simply more informative metrics.

  34. AYC Says:

    "Per game stats can be interpreted a BUNCH of different ways, and often without reason."

    That's the point; WS, PER and +/- are subjective ways of interpreting real stats. I'm not saying it's not a worthwhile enterprise to develop these methods, but we shouldn't look at these metrics uncritically; WS and +/- are tied too much to how good a player's teammates are for my taste; PER assumes a linear correlation between minutes (and pace) and production, an assumption I don't share. I don't mind using these metrics to inform the debate, but let's not pretend that they end the debate. You wouldn't be willing to do that with ESPN's Player Rating System, would you?

  35. Tyler Says:

    For what it's worth, I think the major problem for Robinson in the playoffs was very much his face-up style versus Hakeem's backdown style (and Hakeem's greater range on his J).

    Robinson never flagged as a defender or rebounder in the postseason to any significant extent, but his scoring volume and efficiency (even if you exclude his years with Duncan) definitely dropped. He flat-out wasn't as good in the playoffs at putting the ball through the hoop as was Olajuwon. In the regular season, they were very much neck-and-neck.

    In the playoffs, I take Dream. EVERY time. You didn't lose anything on defense or the glass, but you gain so much with his considerably more advanced and effective offensive game. Robinson attacked the basket like a combo forward, not like a center, and at his size, that was not the optimum way to exploit his physical tools in a playoff situation, which is at least part of why he consistently failed to perform at a dominant level in the playoffs except against weak competition.

    That's not to say that he didn't do pretty well, of course. Even against Hakeem in the much-touted 95 series, Robinson did something like 24/12/3 on decent efficiency. He was a great player. But Olajuwon was definitely a far better playoff performer.

  36. GURU Says:

    Hakeem / DRObinson
    KMalone / CBarkley
    Pippen / CMullin
    Jordan / Drexler
    JStock / G Payton

  37. John Saucedo Says:

    Who was the only Center to post a 20, 20, 10 triple double and make every free throw attempt?

    That Center should be mentioned on this list!