Charles Barkley cannot seem to let the Warriors alone.
Golden State won the 2015 NBA championship, a record 73 victories last season, and came within a good Game 7 fourth quarter of going back to back. Yet, Barkley told reporters at a TNT luncheon Tuesday that he deserves credit for saying the Warriors couldn't win with their small-ball approach, because, once again, "jump-shooting teams can't win."
"Man, let me tell y'all something," Barkley said. "I know it's hard for y'all to let it roll off your tongue and say, 'Charles was right.' When I told you they couldn't play that little small ball and win a championship if everybody they played was healthy, they'd wear down, and they did. I told you Cleveland was going to beat them, and they did. ... They have the same issues: Can that type of play hold up? The one year they won, they got lucky. Everyone they played was hurt."
"I just believe in playing basketball the same way," he added, echoing what he's said before about the Dubs. "The game's going to come down to defense and rebounding. And easy baskets down low, that's just my philosophy. If they win, maybe next time they can go get LeBron, then they can win that way, and y'all can still think that analytics [expletive] works."
Let's unpack this a little, because Barkley rolls a lot of ideas into one big idea -- the Warriors were frauds -- and tries to sell them all together.
1. OK, so he says the game 'comes down to defense and rebounding," and on this point, Barkley's 100 percent on point. Those analytics he likes to deride so often have shown a strong correlation between points allowed per 100 possessions and wins. Defense does in fact help you win championships. And other research has shown defensive rebounding to have a major impact as well, mostly because it limits possessions for the other team.
The problem with lobbing this criticism at the Warriors is that they were the league's best defensive team in 2015 when they won the title. Last season, they slipped to sixth. Beneath the veneer of that unbelievable offensive performance and the wins that followed was the fact that Golden State wasn't quite as good on the other end of the floor. You saw signs of that in the playoffs as the Trail Blazers lit them up, the Thunder pushed them to the brink ... and the Cavaliers beat them.
Barkley's not wrong that a team needs to start with fundamental defense, and the Warriors strayed from that as they began to believe every shot would fall no matter what they did. That may have been a reasonable expectation given how they played for seven months, but the damage was done regardless.
2. But of course, Barkley mucks all that up by equating the Warriors as a finesse team that only takes jump shots, and that this was somehow the problem. Here are the problems there:
a. It's just not true. John Schuhmann set this narrative on fire early Tuesday:
On the myth the Warriors are a jump-shooting team, here's a restricted-area scoring comparison between GSW & LAC backcourts: pic.twitter.com/QzCQ20FcjZ— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) October 18, 2016
So basically, the Warriors don't take that many jump shots. Additionally, Curry was one of the best finishers in the league last year at the rim. They created open looks under the rim routinely with the gravity their shooters produced. This whole idea that they only take jump shots is just false. According to Synergy Sports, the Warriors were 14th in the league last season at jump shots per game. What they were, however, was a 3-point shooting team. And that's a good thing.
b. Championship teams shoot 3-pointers. Three-point rate evaluates what percentage of a team's shots are 3-pointers. The Warriors were second in the league last year. You know who was third? The 2016 NBA champion Cavaliers. Let's take a trip down memory lane:
2016 Cavaliers: 3rd in 3-point rate. Playoffs: 3rd.
2015 Warriors: 7th in 3-point rate. Playoffs: 1st.
2014 Spurs: 16th in 3-point rate. Playoffs: 10th.
2013 Heat: 5th in 3-point rate. Playoffs: 8th.
2012 Heat: 21st in 3-point rate. Playoffs: 4th.
2011 Mavericks: 3rd in 3-point rate. Playoffs: 2nd.
Teams that shoot a lot of threes are winning championships. They're winning playoff games, regular-season games, all sorts of games. It should not take a Ph.D to discover that three points is more than two and that in a game decided by the number of points scored by one team vs. another, getting more points with a shot is better.
The Warriors are a well-balanced team that features a versatile offense, the greatest range of any team in history, and, when fully actualized, a ferocious defense. The Warriors' shot selection is not a weakness by any stretch of the imagination.
Finally, lost in all this is how this demeans what the Cavaliers accomplished. They came back from down 3-1 vs. the team with the best record in NBA history, and did so in thrilling, emphatic, unbelievable fashion to deliver Cleveland its first basketball championship. This is an incredible sports story, and to reduce it to "the Warriors played an inferior style" is an insult to what the Cavs accomplished.
We'll have to wait to see how this season plays out, but you wonder, if Durant unlocks the Warriors and Golden State wins with this style, winning two of three championships, will Barkley relent? Will anything ever get him off this idea, or is this less a conflict of ideas about basketball philosophy and more simple bloviation of dogmatic basketball traditionalism?