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Study: Hakeem Olajuwon is the greatest playoff player ever

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A deep statistical analysis has The Dream as the best ever.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, the GOAT. It’s that never-ending argument that can be looked at any number of ways.

Is it the man with the most titles? Might it be the guy with the best stats? The player with the most MVPs? Some, in-our-head, combination of all these things? The argument is as subjective as it gets, and ask any number of fans from any number of different cities, and you’re sure to get a wide variety of answers.

Well, one normally business-analytics-centered website recently made an attempt to answer that question using a purely analytics-driven viewpoint, and the answer turned out to be what all of us Houston Rockets fans have known all-along: Hakeem Olajuwon is the true GOAT when the chips were down in the playoffs.

Ben Hinson of data website Hickam’s Dictum put together an extremely cool (and extremely labor intensive!) statistical analysis of a number of NBA all-time greats starting in the mid-1970s and up to today.

It’s a pretty comprehensive list of players with just a few caveats. First, it starts in the year 1973, which was the year the league began tracking blocked shots and steals. Both of those categories, along with turnovers, which were tracked starting in 1970, play a pretty big part of this analysis. Guys who played the majority of their games before 1973 were left off this list, because there’s simply no stats for them in three of the categories (Bill Russell would likely be at or near the top if he were included).

Second, it deals strictly with playoff performance, and third, it’s entirely based on numbers. So that means NBA titles don’t count and neither do MVP Awards. According to Hinson in the piece:

“This analysis is NOT designed to assess subjective debate themes. What it will answer is which player was the best performer on the court based on holistic, objective weighted scores I will generate for each player based on career playoff stats. We’re looking at performance data, and nothing else.”

Here’s the full list of players that were looked at.

Next, it’s important to know what stats are being considered for this analysis, and it’s a pretty comprehensive one. Rather than looking simply at PER or the Dean Oliver 40-25-20-15 method, this one looks at the following categories, all equally weighed by the percentages listed next to them.

  • Points per 36 minutes % — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Effective Field Goal % — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Turnovers per 36 minutes — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Total Rebounds per 36 minutes — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Free Throw % per 36 minutes — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Assists per 36 minutes9.09% (9.1%)
  • Steals per 36 minutes — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Blocks per 36 minutes — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Personal Fouls per 36 minutes9.09% (9.1%)
  • Usage Rate — 9.09% (9.1%)
  • Win Shares per 48 minutes — 9.09% (9.1%)

After what I’m sure was an absolute nightmare of an Excel spreadsheet to put together, the final rankings ended up extremely tight, but there was a clear winner: The Dream, beating out No. 2 Michael Jordan, followed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James. Here are the final numbers on the rankings:

This was a super-cool project by Hickam’s Dictum, and it fits right along with what many of us (myself included) have long been preaching: as an all-around basketball player, Hakeem was tough to beat and is frankly underrated by many in terms of his complete skill package.

I’m also happy to see Shaquille O’Neal as only the 13th-best overall and the fifth-best center. Something I’ve always thought about, and have preached whenever given the opportunity, was how overrated Shaq often was. Sure, he was an unstoppable scorer, and his over-sized personality both then and now have him etched into our consciousness as one of the biggest stars of the last couple decades. But as an all-around basketball player? He’s no Dream.

I was also surprised to see Tracy McGrady up at the 11th spot. I didn’t think he would be that high — he never was a major contributor to a team that won a playoff series — but his lack of playoff wins wasn’t weighed here.

Anyway, make sure you head on over to Hickam’s Dictum and read the full article from Hinson. He’s a stats guy, so he does a better job explaining everything better than I ever could (I have an English degree!).

And make sure to take some time to debate below in the comments how you feel about his conclusion.