|Barkley says the Lakers are the favorites. (Getty Images)|
Charles Barkley's NBA analysis is always so well-regarded because he manages to strike a balance between nuance and simplicity. His opinions aren't overly dumbed-down to where they're lacking context or relevant points, but they're also not so convoluted that you'e reaching to avoid the obvious.
Take for example his comments on radio this week about the favorite to win the West next season, courtesy of Sports Radio Interviews. Barkley puts the Lakers at the top of the list, and explains why he doesn't think the reigning Western champs will repeat:
What team he thinks is the favorite in the Western Conference on paper:
“The Lakers. Host: Over Oklahoma City? Yeah. I'm not a big Oklahoma City fan because I don't think they get any easy baskets. Like last year I didn't think they could win and the reason I picked Miami to win the championship, the only way you're going to beat Miami is beat them up inside. That's what their weakness is. You're not going to beat them on the perimeter shooting jumpers with Westbrook and Durant. The only way to beat them is the way the Mavericks beat them, with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler down low. Unless Oklahoma City gets some low post scoring, they're going to win a lot of games because they have two terrific players and James Harden is terrific also, but you're not going to win the championship just shooting jumpers.”
While Barkley is concerned with the offense, the bigger issue may be what sunk them in the Finals, their defense. The Thunder never faced a team which could impact their offense until the Finals, because no team had that kind of skill and athleticism. But the Thunder still produced enough offense to get the job done. But their defense wasn't at the level it needed to be.
The Lakers bring Dwight Howard to their defense, which is a game changer on a lot of levels. Even with Steve Nash's problems on defense and the slip of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol with age, Mike Brown's system, along with Howard's ability to impact both drives at the rim and covering the pick and roll should vault the Lakers into pretty lofty defensive territory.
If the Thunder want to be able to maintain their place at the top, they're going to have to improve systemically. It's true that Kendrick Perkins will help with defending Howard and they have the length to bother and challenge the Lakers otherwise as they did in the conference semifinals last season. But the incline has been increased and they have to play better systemically on both sides of the ball. Talent and athleticism won't be enough to carry them with the Lakers' firepower now so stacked.