Breaking: Charles Barkley doesn’t like the way the Thunder score points. And because of it, thinks the Lakers will win the West. Via Sports Radio Interviews:
Who do you like to win the West?
“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.”
People really respect Sir Charles and what he has to say. It’s why when he makes comments about something, you see it as a headline all over the place. It’s why I’m writing about what he has to say right now. But just because he has an opinion about it, doesn’t make it right. Or even intelligent.
Because to say that the Thunder lost in the Finals because they didn’t score in the paint is silly. They lost because LeBron James went to another level, James Harden didn’t play to his capability, they uncharacteristically shot poorly from the free throw line and the Heat exploited OKC’s matchup issues. Not to mention they got unexpected performances from Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. It didn’t have to do with the Thunder shooting too many jumpers.
In fact, there’s this: In the five-game series, the Thunder attempted 131 shots at the rim compared to Miami’s 133. For the series, OKC scored 194 points from nine feet or less. Miami scored 216 inside that range. Not some massive distinction. In what I’d call a jumper (10 feet and out), the Thunder attempted 218 in the series with Miami taking 200. That’s 43.6 per game for OKC and 40 for Miami. Again, not significantly different.
Besides, what exactly is “easy” about a low post basket? What makes that “easier” than an open Kevin Durant jumpshot or a stop-and-pop from Russell Westbrook? Both are high percentage looks. Like I’ve said all along, the way you win is by making difficult baskets, not easy ones. Because there are no easy ones in the postseason. To act like the Mavericks beat the Heat by easy buckets in the post from Dirk and Tyson Chandler is revisionist history. They won by spreading the floor, knocking down perimeter shots and relying on Dirk to get tough baskets down the stretch. Not by scoring easily on the block. That’s nonsense.
(For reference, the Mavericks ranked 12th out of 16 teams in points per game in the paint in the 2011 postseason. They made 11.9 per game under five feet, third to last in the playoffs. They made 5.3 shots per game from 20-24 feet and 4.4 per game from 25-29 feet, both third most in the postseason. Dallas took 22 more shots from 25-29 feet than any other team in the playoffs. So tell me more about Tyson Chandler scoring down low. I’m listening.)
The Thunder were darn close to winning a championship with a middle finger at Barkley’s formula. He didn’t think they could advance deep into the playoffs “just shooting jumpers” and there they were, in the NBA Finals. They won Game 1 and gave away Game 2 with seven crucial misses at the foul line along with a horrific first eight minutes. In fact, the Thunder out-shot the Heat from the floor in three of the five games. OKC lost Game 3 despite Miami hitting only 37.9 percent from the field.
Regardless, it’s not about how you can beat the Heat anyway. That wasn’t the question. You don’t have to be better than Miami to be the Western favorite. It’s about how you beat the Lakers and Barkley favors L.A. over OKC, I guess because the Lakers’ inside strength. Didn’t exactly do them much good against the Thunder last postseason and you could argue they were better offensively with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol than with Dwight Howard and Gasol.
Oversimplifying the critique of the Thunder to just “they shoot too many jumpers” isn’t fair. Because while OKC might not have a traditional back-to-the-basket big man, they scored plenty in the paint in transition, by attacking off the dribble and by cutting and slashing. Harden and Westbrook were two of the top rim finishers in the league last season. Westbrook ranked 10th in the league in points in the paint and Durant 14th. Four teams had two players finish in the top 20 of that: The Jazz, Lakers, Heat and Thunder.
OKC got their share of so-called “easy” baskets. They did it on the break or by straightforward athletic assaults on the rim. Or from Kevin Durant. He’s basically an easy basket in of himself.
(For reference: The Thunder ranked 10th in the league in points in the paint with 41.9 per game. Plus, don’t assume points in the paint equals wins either. The top 10: Nuggets, Jazz, Kings, Spurs, Grizzlies, Wizards, Lakers, Heat, Cavs, Thunder.)
OKC shoots lots of jumpers, yes. But that’s a convenient luxury when your primary scorers are terrific jumpshooters. Why would you go away from what makes you good? The Thunder were the second best offense in the league last season and were so very close to a title. Seems like the plan is working pretty well to me.