Charles Barkley is no stranger to saying ridiculous things on Inside the NBA. Maybe that’s why Thursday night’s diatribe about analytics, 3-point shooting, and the state of the NBA was a bit more palatable?
As the TNT crew discussed big men, Barkley piped up by saying he thought that posts had been relegated out of the modern game.
That was his jumping off point for at two-minute diversion on how the quality of the NBA product, in his opinion, is “the worst it’s ever been”.
If you’re not able to watch, here’s the meat of what Barkley said:
If you look at the NBA now, it’s the worst it’s ever been, in my opinion. Everybody want to use analytics, everybody want to shoot threes. Threes are great if you have a Steph Curry, a Klay Thompson, guys like that … But now, if you look around the NBA, everybody is trying to go small. We got a bunch of guys shooting threes who are not good shooters. Now we’re trying to to relegate the big man out of the game.
If you look at the big picture — and this ain’t no ‘old guy hating on the young guys’ — the NBA is the worst it’s ever been, top to bottom. We got one or two, three or four good teams, and the rest of the teams stink.
People think I hate analytics. I hate analytics when you try to justify a way to figure out how you’re going to win.
If you go back and look at the NBA for the last 30 years, you know who won the championship? The team with the best players.
Chuck got about a minute into his diatribe before Kevin Garnett cut him off to let him know it was only a 30-minute TV show, causing the entire crew to bust up laughing.
Barkley continued on for a full minute after that, zig-zagging around by saying people only like analytics “because they need a job for their son-in-law” (whatever that means) before finally coming to a graceful landing as the producers played music over his talking as though it were the Oscars.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but at this point I think we have to start with the probability that Barkley is continuing to say these things only to get people like me to write about them. He injects himself into the news it feels like on a weekly basis by saying something contrary to what has been common basketball knowledge around the league for something like a decade.
Then again, it seems possible that Barkley does believe these things. Of course, that doesn’t make much of what Barkley said even partly true.
One small example: NBA teams winning the championship have not always had the best players, given that “best” is a subjective term. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the championship in 2016, but many would argue the Golden State Warriors had the better players: a 2-time MVP in Stephen Curry, an all-time great shooter in Klay Thompson, and one of the league’s most crucial multi-talented players in Draymond Green.
There’s lots more to dispute here, and it’s tiring to get into it all. For example, Barkley contends the league has no parity, which is sort of hilarious when compared to the eras in which he played.
Meanwhile, there isn’t a championship contender in the modern NBA that doesn’t use analytics as a heavy influence on everything from personnel to in-game tactics. The biggest issue here, as it usually is when analytics are discussed by those who have not bothered to delve into its actual use is the perception of how it is used.
Barkley, like many others opposed to math in basketball, appear to believe that things are black or white. That teams only make decisions based on the numbers, or they don’t. That somehow teams never cross into the grey, to inform one about the other, or vice-versa.
Of course, meddling in the grey is exactly how it works in the NBA.
Teams — good teams — use a combination of analytics, lineup data, personal knowledge, sports psychology, tape review, interviews, feel, and good old-fashioned wits to decide everything that happens to an NBA franchise. Some teams weigh these influences differently than others. Some are good at weighing them, some are bad.
But there is not a single team in the NBA, even at the most extreme end, who are using analytics as sole judgement on decisions for their multi-million dollar franchise. Nor is there a team going entirely by feel or “the way it’s always been” or whatever non-alternative Barkley isn’t actually offering here.
There’s simply too much at stake, too much competition, and too many people involved in the decision-making process for that to be even remotely possible, much less true.
Yet this is obviously how Barkley appears to feel given his comments on TNT. He seems to put us down this rabbit hole deeper and deeper every month, and there’s nothing to do now but report on it, refute it, and hope his position isn’t doing too much damage to the league.
The NBA is perhaps as good as it’s ever been. The product is stellar, revenues are up, interest in the league is spiking, and the players are as well-trained, prepared, and analyzed as they’ve ever been.
I don’t know what Chuck is seeing, but we’re not looking at the same game. For Barkley, maybe that’s the whole problem.