Many people don't realize it, but Robert Horry is one of the most unique and valuable players in NBA history. I don't believe people understand what makes Horry so valuable and why he has been so "lucky" his whole career.
Most people would probably point to Horry's clutch shooting and solid defense and call him a role player. But I believe there is something about Horry that not only makes him successful, but also makes the stars he has played with successful.
So what makes Horry different, and what makes him the perfect complementary player to dominant big men?
It's his ability to shoot the three-point shot at the power forward position, which spreads the floor, allowing his centers to operate with the lane cleared.
Having a power forward that can stretch the floor in this way is invaluable. The only way to match it is to have your own dominant low-post player and your own Horry.
But there's only one "Big-Shot Bob". This gives Horry's teams an advantage that can't be matched.
Horry pulls a big out of the paint, allowing his team's post player unfettered access to the rim, as the opposing power forward is forced to move to the three-point line. It's either that, or Horry is wide open to shoot threes. And he loves game-winning threes.
Would those aforementioned big men be considered so great without Horry?
The simple answer is "no." Post players like Hakeem, Shaq and Duncan could never have been near as dominant as they were if they hadn't had Horry.
And what about Robert; would he appear as great without those big men?
I don't think he'd even be close.
What we have with Horry and these pivots is a symbiotic relationship. They both need each other to be their best.
I would contend that Horry was far more valuable to Shaq as a role player than Kobe was as a co-star. Horry's unique skills at the power forward position are more rare than Kobe's as a scorer.
Dirk takes Horry's unique game and takes it to a superstar level. To put it in an analogy: Dirk is to Horry as Shaq is to your average post playing center, or Dirk is to Horry as Jordan is to your average shooting guard.
It's as if you took Horry's skills and made a franchise player out of him.
So who would optimize Dirk's skills the way Horry did Shaq's?
Dirk's "Robert Horry"—his perfect complementary player—needs to be the role-playing version of Shaq. Dirk needs the "Robert Horry" of centers: a guy who can play enough of a post game to pull the defense inside, opening up the perimeter for Dirk.
If Horry, a poor man's Dirk, if you will, can make guys like Hakeem, Shaq and Duncan look so great, imagine what Dirk could do with a "Hakeem-lite."
If Horry could win seven championships with those dominant centers, imagine what Dirk could do with his own complement.
At the same time, Dirk would turn that post player into a star (the way Horry has transcended via his role-playing). It's that "symbiotic" thing at work again.
Too bad Nowitzki hasn't had anything close his entire career. No one even really understands how dominant he could be because he is so rare and such a unique talent.
Dirk has redefined the power forward position with his shooting ability and his ability to take guys his size off the dribble. If only he had the right kind of player playing with him.
Dirk does what Horry does so well, he can sometimes suffice with just a guard posting up. He pulls a man out of the paint, allowing even smaller Mavs to dominate inside.
Guards like Nick Van Exel, Steve Nash, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris, and Jason Terry have been able to attack the rim while in Dallas because Dirk pulls the defense out to the three-point line even more than Horry.
Dirk needs his "Robert Horry" at the center positon: a role-playing post-up man who can block some shots and protect the paint.
Of course, it doesn't have to be a role player. Dirk could do this with a star center, as well, as long as he is the type who keeps defenses honest on the block. If you had a center as dominant as O'Neal playing with Nowitzki, their team could be more dominant than probably any team ever.
Dirk has struggled his whole careeer because he's rarely had a center at all. And the ones he's had have been terrible: Shawn Bradley and Erick Dampier? Neither of these guys has an offensive game, let alone a post game.
Think of Shaq playing with no jumpshooters: It would allow the defense to completely collapse on him. That is what defenses have done with Dirk: taken the ball out of his hands completely. He has no opening to even attack the basket. He is just taken out of the game completely.
Just like Duncan would be triple-teamed on every play if he didn't have Manu and Parker to spread the floor for him.
But instead, Cuban has been wasting time. He has never gone to the draft for a big guy, and this is the only way you can get quality centers. They are too valuable to trade for and Dallas has yet to entice any through free agency.
Dirk is a unique and misunderstood talent. Robert Horry, even with less raw skill, has been so successful because he plays with the same style at the power forward position.