If there is one thing former NBA superstar and current TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley has been consistent about, it has been crapping on Oklahoma City. When the Hornets were in town, he ripped on the 405 using tired, cliche assumptions about Oklahoma.
These days, instead of making social commentary about the state being unfit for black people, he reserves his digs for the basketball court. Primarily, he leads the charge of the media downplaying the Thunder’s chances at winning the league championship. While this is an improvement, it still ends up seeming petty.
I will explain.
Last year, his explanation was that the team was not among the league’s elite because they lacked defense and rebounding (despite being 3rd in the league in rebounds per game and 4th in rebound percentage). With the addition of Kendrick Perkins and move to get Serge Ibaka in the starting line-up, Barkley’s desire to see a more traditional style was satiated.
So rather than complimenting the team, he came up with a new line of attack. The Thunder–despite the best record in the league–are not even the best team in their conference, he insists, because 1) they rely on three primary scorers and 2) they shoot too many jumpshots.
Does he have a point? It is true that the Thunder’s top 3 scorers (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden) account for 65.8% of the team’s total scoring. This makes their team the third most reliant on their top three scorers. Only the Lakers (66.8%) and Miami Heat (66.2%) have more concentrated scoring. Then again, the three teams at the top of this ranking are the Lakers, Heat, and Thunder who are all, to put it mildly, doing pretty well.
However, since Barkley thinks this is such an important distinction, it is nice to know that he remains consistent with his application. For instance, listen to the horrible things he says about Miami’s chances. “Miami is the best team in the East.” LeBron and company will definitely be clipping that to the bulletin board for motivation.
This is interesting. Miami has the same lack of balanced scoring (sidenote: every team relies heavily on their top-3 scorers–except for New Orleans and Phoenix), but Barkley thinks they are a far superior team. In an interview he gave to The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry, Sir Charles elaborated:
“They get layups and dunks,” Barkley said. “Your guys shoot jumpers. That’s the big difference.”
He is right, that is a big difference, but probably not in the way he insists.
The insinuation is that the Thunder sit around the perimeter and just jack up long shots while Miami goes to the basket and gets easy buckets. Obviously, the first place to look is at free throw attempts. That’s generally the best indicator of where players are shooting the ball. Guys who take long jump shots are rarely fouled while guys who take shots near the basket get plenty of attempts.
Miami’s Big 3: 20.3 free throw attempts/game
OKC’s Big 3: 19.4 free throw attempts/game
That is not a significant differential. Just in case that was misleading, I went to Hoopsdata.com where they chart shots by distance. In comparing the top-3 scorers of the two teams, it was clear that Miami does get more dunks/layups. The Heat attempt three shots more per game “at the rim.” Meanwhile, the Thunder stars do attempt nearly nine more three point shots per game. This is all true, but what is the significance?
Barkley’s argument is that the Thunder team is not made for playoff success while Miami is because of their shot selection. To his credit, playing style does change during the playoffs. Namely, defenders are not as inclined to get out of the way when a player goes to the basket during a prolonged series. While Kendrick Perkins is singled out for actually trying to block a dunk that gets him “posterized” during the regular season, that mentality is shared by all big men during the second season. When an offensive player dares to come into the lane, they will end up on their back before they ever get a clean look at the rim. The only way a guy can dunk in the playoffs is to be ready to take the punishment.
So, what makes Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh so spectacular during the regular season is bound to be nullified when play gets more physical. Meanwhile, it will make outside shots more important. And this is where it really gets better for the Thunder.
Miami is in love with the worst shot in basketball. Their three stars take an inordinate number of shots between 16 and 23 feet from the basket. Unlike shots from 23 feet and beyond, a successful attempt at this distance is only worth two points. A three point shot is worth 50% more, and only a slightly lower percentage shot. The Heat scorers take 16 shots per game (31.7% of their shots from the field) from mid-range while Oklahoma City takes only 10 (22%).
From my perspective, I would rather have Oklahoma City’s shot selection. Miami takes the same number of jumpshots, they just aren’t good jumpshots.
So why is Sir Charles so down on the Thunder while simultaneously being high on Miami? My guess: wishful thinking. In the past, knowing that the studio he ordinarily work in will move to the cities that host the Finals, Barkley has openly cheered for big market teams to win. For instance, when San Antonio played Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, he explicitly whined that there was nothing to do in San Antonio.
We already know his feelings about Oklahoma City.