COMMENTARY: No, Hakeem Olajuwon was not better than Tim Duncan

Robert Horry is starting to lose it in his old age.

In a recent appearance on ESPN's The Jump, the recent inductee into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame (can we take that back, now?) took shots at Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

(For app users, click here to watch the video.)

In talking about how good Hakeem Olajuwon was, Horry, out of nowhere, offers this up:

“When we played San Antonio one time and Tim was killing me in the block, Phil refused to double-team Tim to get the ball out of his hands. And Dream was 20 times better than Tim Duncan.”

The rest of the panel, rightfully, lost their minds. Horry responded by doubling down, attacking Tim Duncan's work ethic in practice (we talkin' 'bout practice?)

He erroneously throws out an easily debunked free throw stat saying that he'd rather have "Dream" at the end of a game over Duncan because he's claiming that Hakeem would shoot 85 percent from the line as opposed to Duncan's 70 percent, even though the two have comparable free throw numbers over their careers.

So let's look at the regular season to start. Every time the Rockets' legacy comes up, it's always mentioned that their only two titles came between Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls runs, but that doesn't tell the whole story. That is an effective excuse for the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, who had to played in the same conference as Michael. That's not the case for Houston.

Olajuwon only played in four Western Conference Championship series in his career. As a reminder, Tim Duncan won five titles, so he obviously played in more (9). And he played some of his best basketball at the end of his career, not falling off the way Olajuwon did.

If Hakeem was so good, why didn't his team have more success in the Western Conference? In his years with the Rockets, Houston won more than 50 games just five times. Meanwhile, after the 1999 strike-shortened season in which the Spurs had the best record and won the title, the Spurs won 50 game EVERY YEAR of Tim Duncan's career.

Rockets fans can't really use the argument that the Rockets had a better coach, because Horry thinks that Rudy T was the best coach he ever played for. I've often heard that Tim Duncan had better teammates, Hall of Famers, that put him over the top and that should count against him in this argument.

But that sounds more like a failing of Olajuwon's leadership than an unfair advantage for Duncan. Duncan had a reputation for being as much of a coach on the court and in practice, becoming a leader that fostered the growth of the players that the Spurs plucked from years of smart draft picks and free agent deals.

As we've seen from the regular season records, it's not like the Spurs were picking high either. The Rockets were drafting higher than the Spurs every year. Tim Duncan mentored future Hall of Famers Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard. The Rockets were short of young talent for Hakeem to take under his wing. If Duncan gets knocked for having great teammates, Olajuwon should have to take the hit for not leading promising young studs to, at least, great regular season success that translated into being in the hunt for a title.

There's also the fact that Tim Duncan was far better at sharing the basketball than Olajuwon, which would account for why his teammates were better. For his career, "Dream" averaged more turnovers than assists with 2.5 assists per game to 3.0 giveaways per game. In fact, of Olajuwon's 18 career seasons, there were only five in which he averaged more assists than turnovers.

As for Duncan's sharing numbers, after his first three seasons, Duncan never averaged more turnovers than assists the rest of his career.

(I only clipped a little bit of the above video, but I implore you to watch the whole thing because, for all the accolades and praise Duncan gets, he was absolutely underrated as a passer over the course of his career.)

Then there's the argument that Olajuwon faced tougher competition in the playoffs and beat them all. Well, that's not the case either. The three names that get thrown out are David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O'Neal. Yes, "Dream" destroyed The Admiral in the '95 Western Conference Finals, and beat Ewing and the Knicks for one title and beat Shaq's Magic for the other.

But that is plucking tiny examples over a long career. The Seattle SuperSonics had the Rockets' number in three series (only the last of which featured Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton). By the time Houston finally beat them, Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz eliminated Houston from the playoffs two years in a row.

After the 1997 season, the Rockets never won a playoff series again with Olajuwon on the team. They lost to Malone's Jazz in '98 and then Shaq's '99 Lakers before Kobe Bryant hit his prime (the year the Spurs swept that same Lakers team in the playoffs on their way to their first title).

Houston missed the playoffs or lost in the first round 10 times with Olajuwon on the roster. The Spurs never missed the playoffs and only lost first round series four times with Tim Duncan.

As our good friends at Basketball-Reference.com show, the advanced statistics make Duncan look even better.

Over his career, Tim Duncan had a better offensive rating, defensive rating, VORP (Value Over Replacement Player, which adjusts for the era they played in), win shares, and box plus-minus.

Those stats almost across the board for the playoffs as well.

So the next time someone tries to argue that Hakeem Olajuwon was better than Tim Duncan, just remember this article, and you can accurately tell them that they don't even belong in the same conversation.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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