Charles Barkley played 16 seasons in the NBA. He is a Hall of Famer and one of the most remarkable athletes to ever play basketball. As a 6’6″-ish power forward, Barkley is 25th in NBA history in points scored and 18th in total rebounds. He’s 23rd in rebounds per game at 11.69. He was a beast on the court and more often than not he’s very entertaining off it. He’s a cornerstone of “Inside the NBA,” arguably the greatest sports studio show ever. Still, when his prejudice against the current NBA versus his era comes out, it is frustratingly bad. Not to mention inaccurate.
Last night, in reference to the Golden State Warriors, who have been to two straight Finals and won in 2015, Barkley said he didn’t like “girly” basketball where you had to “outscore” your opponent. As we pointed out last night, the goal of basketball is always to outscore your opponent, but that’s not why Barkley’s so wrong. He’s constantly pining for the days of yore when teams focused on defense instead of offense. Who better to tell us about that than a guy who once averaged 28.3 in a season.
Let’s start with Barkley’s most successful team, the 1992 – 1993 Phoenix Suns that won 62 regular season games and made the NBA Finals. Barkley misses the days when teams didn’t try and “outscore” their opponents so he can’t possibly remember that season fondly. The Suns most certainly beat opponents by outscoring them. Paul Westphal’s team led the NBA in scoring (113.4 ppg) and 3-point attempts (13.4 per game). The only team scoring more than that Suns team this season is the Golden State Warriors.
So how about that defense? The ’92-’93 Suns gave up 106.7 points a night (18th out of 27 teams) and allowed teams to shoot .479 from the field (17th). Only 7 of the league’s 30 current franchises are giving up more than 106.7 points a night. Teams are currently shooting .475 against the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s the worst mark in the league.
The 1989 – 1990 Philadelphia 76ers won 53 games and lost to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. They scored 110.2 points a night in a league that averaged 107 points per team per night. This year teams are averaging 103.9. The Sixers gave up 105.2 points per game that season which was actually the 8th best scoring defense in the league. This year 105.2 would put them right in the middle of the pack with the defensive-minded Sacramento Kings.
The ’96-’97 Houston Rockets won 57 games and lost to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals. They were 5th in the league in scoring (100.6) and 13th in points allowed. Second in three-point attempts per game with… 8.2. Do not pine for this kind of basketball. It was ugly. Barkley, a career 26% three-point shooter who only played in 53 games that season, took 3.9 three-point attempts a game (47th in the league). When Charles Barkley was playing he took nearly half his team’s 3-point attempts. Stephen Curry, one of the greatest shooters ever, took 34% of his team’s attempts last season.
And let’s talk a little about Barkley’s love of the deep ball. He shot 2020 3’s in his career. That’s more than Larry Bird or Michael Jordan or Warriors coach Steve Kerr ever took. Among players who have shot more than 2000 3-pointers in their career, Barkley is the worst shooter by far. He’s .043 below the next worst – Jerry Stackhouse.
Three-point attempts steadily rose during Barkley’s career. During his rookie year in 1984-1985 teams were shooting 3.1 a game. By ’93-’94 teams were shooting 9.9 a game. Barkley was already attempting 2.9 in ’92-’93 – two seasons before the 3-point line was moved closer to the hoop. In ’95-’96, when he took his career-high 3.9 per game, teams were up to 16.8 a game. Mind you, at no point was there ever a statistical advantage to Charles Barkley shooting those threes. Barkley helped show big guys that they too could shoot 3-pointers, even if they really couldn’t.
In the 1995 – 1996 season Barkley entered the post-All-Star portion of his career and the league backed away from 3’s as rules changed and the line was moved back. As his body broke down he still managed to shoot about 1 three a game. He made about one every five games.
Maybe the weirdest stat when it comes to Charles Barkley shooting 3’s is that he made 7-of-8 during the 1992 Olympics when he led the Dream Team in scoring. Perhaps that’s where he got it in his head that he could shoot 3’s. You’d have to ask Barkley, but odds are he doesn’t recall ever shooting any.