Since the dawn of basketball, there have been a handful of players that completely changed the way the game was played, and up to this day, young ballers are still trying to copy their moves to make it to the NBA.
Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon are a couple of those kinds of players, a couple of big men that took the league for assault and dominated in both ends of the floor, and whose game is pretty difficult to emulate.
There will never be another Shaq or Hakeem, but who was better between them? Shaq himself has already called Hakeem the toughest opponent he ever faced, and he challenged him to go 1-on-1 after losing to him in the Finals.
We would be thrilled to take either of them, but for the sake of the argument, let’s break them down to try and see who’s the best big man in the history of the game.
Inside Scoring - Shaquille O’Neal
Nobody could ever stop Shaquille O’Neal down low. Shaq was simply the most dominant scorer from within close range this league has ever seen besides Wilt Chamberlain. Shaq was big, quick, strong and crafty, and not even double or triple teams could contain him below the rim. He shot 58% throughout his career and all but one of his buckets were 2 pointers.
Outside Scoring - Hakeem Olajuwon
Shaquille O’Neal went 1/22 from three-point land throughout his entire career and while Hakeem wasn’t much better, he still logged a 20% percentage from three. While Hakeem made most of his damage in the post, he had a good jump-shot and could also pull up from the free throw line.
Playmaking - Hakeem Olajuwon
While they both averaged 2.5 assists per game throughout their careers, Hakeem was a slightly more willing facilitator and better creator than Shaquille O’Neal, who was mostly asked to be on the finishing end of the play. Also, Shaq’s career-high for dimes is 10 compared to Hakeem’s 12.
Athleticism - Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t just incredibly strong, but he was also vastly athletic, and that’s one of the reasons why he was so difficult to stop when he took off. Shaq made the most of his athletic gifts to posterize all of his opposition. He used his body to gain and maintain position even when giving up inches, and he was one of the most explosive dunkers of his time.
Defense - Hakeem Olajuwon
While Shaquille O’Neal was a great defender, he only made it to 3 All-Defense teams compared to Hakeem’s 9. Also, Olajuwon was way better at guarding the perimeter than Shaq. Moreover, The Dream won a couple of Defensive Player of the Year awards and led the league in blocks 3 times. He also averaged 1.7 steals per game compared to Shaq’s 0.6.
Rim Protection - Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon is the greatest rim protector in the history of the game. Even though Shaq was great and dominant in the paint, The Dream was the ultimate shot blocker. He holds the all-time record for most blocked shots with 3830 swats. He led the league in blocks 3 times and averaged 3.1 throughout his career compared to Shaq’s 2.3. Nonetheless, his career-high for blocks is 12 compared to Shaq’s 15.
Rebounding - Hakeem Olajuwon
Shaq never led the league in rebounding, while Hakeem did it twice. Shaq’s career average for rebounds per game is 10.9 and his season-high is 13.9. Hakeem, on the other hand, averaged 11.1 and had a season-high of 14. Still, his career-high for boards in a game is 25, while Shaq’s is 28.
Clutch - Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal is one of the clutchest players ever. He came huge in crunch time in both ends of the hardwood, and just ask the Portland Trail Blazers if you don’t take our word for it. We’re not saying Hakeem wasn’t clutch, but just a handful of players have ever been as dominant in late-game situations than Shaq.
Leadership - Hakeem Olajuwon
Shaq was always a loud and vocal guy, but that doesn’t always translate to good leadership. Hakeem was way more of a team-effort kind of guy, while Shaq thrived under the spotlight. Olajuwon led his Rockets to back-to-back Championships following Michael Jordan’s first retirement, while Shaq had more help next to him.
Basketball IQ - Hakeem Olajuwon
Shaq was incredibly smart, but, given his strong frame, he settled for bully-balling his way into the paint more often than not. Hakeem, on the other hand, always knew how to shake his defender off, how to move, when to post up, when to dish the rock, when to attack the lane. His dream-shake move is still unstoppable nowadays, and his defensive awareness was just off the charts.
Scorer - Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq was one of the most unstoppable scorers in the world during his prime. His career average if 23.7 compared to Hakeem’s 21.8. Also, his career-high for points scored is 61 while Hakeem’s is 52. Shaq led the league in scoring twice and had seasons of 29.3 and 29.7 points per game. The Dream never averaged more than 27.8 points per game.
Impact - Shaquille O’Neal
While Hakeem’s impact was truly felt on both ends of the floor, Shaq is one of the top 5 most impactful players ever. His sole presence made defenses make a lot of in-game adjustments, his presence down low scared the living hell out of opposing big men. Shaq dominated from the jump ball and got into your head even before the start of the game.
1 on 1 Game - Even
Both players are virtually unstoppable playing 1-on-1. Hakeem is more of a craftier scorer and his footwork is the best we’ve ever seen, especially in the post. Shaq’s huge frame and strength make him impossible to contain. Both of them are outstanding rim protectors. Both could put every defender in the world in a poster, neither of them could get bullied down low.