In the weekly TNT broadcasts, Charles Barkley and Shaquille Oneal have been highly critical of Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. Tonight Charles is announcing the Clipper’s game live, and his criticisms of Blake will come in real time. Are the gripes legit, or is this a case of retired player sour grapes?
From here I’m going to break this into two separate comparisons, Barkley vs. Blake and Shaq vs. Dwight.
In Chuck’s case, he seems to be genuinely frustrated that these two former slam dunk champions haven’t become more complete basketball players, which is funny because so many pundits were always harping on Barkley for not fulfilling his potential back in his playing days. Mostly the knock on Charles was that he only played defense when he felt like it and didn’t keep himself in great shape, and those were fair criticisms. Barkley’s hang-up with Blake and Dwight is more about offensive skillset and execution, and whether those are fair criticisms or not is debatable (I happen to agree, but it isn’t a no-brainer question).
Statistically, Barkley at Blake’s age was further along.
Barkley – PER 26.4 WS/48 .233 VORP 5.65
Griffin – PER 22.3 WS/48 .193 VORP 3.97
Charles was way more efficient on a per possession basis, and he played way more possessions. From a production standpoint, Barkley was the better of the two, and if that proves to anyone that he has a legitimate claim to be able to give Blake advice, then so be it.
In terms of skill set, Charles and Griffin are actually similar in a lot of ways. They both play that 3-4 swing forward role, able to match up effectively against small forwards because of their superior agility and power forwards because of their superior strength. Both have the same weaknesses defensively, namely they are a little slow of foot to chase speedy small forwards off of screens or keep guard-forwards in front off the dribble, and they are a little bit short to contest the shots of the taller power forwarders (Griffin is listed at 6’ 10” but looks closer to 6’ 8” and tends to play in a crouch – Randolph and Pau shoot over him easily).
On offense I’d only consider looking at them over the same age range, 21-24. There are some stylistic similarities. They both love to get out and run and finish above the rim. They both have superior ball-handling skills for their size and strength. They both like to spin off the blocks and have good touch when finishing around the rim. Griffin has more ability to catch and finish above the rim. Charles had more ability to carve out space and get shots off in the paint. The big difference, and the reason that Barkley is always harping on Blake’s lack of a post game, is that Charles was a dominant force in the post, while Blake is not.
Barkley had an unusual post game because of his height. He rarely used a hook shot and instead based his post game with all it’s countermoves off a power move towards the middle of the floor. Longer defenders would seem to be a problem, but he had such a leverage advantage that he could usually root them out of position and use his quickness and explosiveness to get into position for easy layups. He also had a bang and quick spin drop step, a one handed jumper to the middle, a turnaround over the opposite shoulder, and very reliable up-and-under reverse. Blake has two post moves he likes, a spin move off a quick dribble and a hook / scoop going right. He’s shown flashes of having a turnaround but rarely uses it.
I think what Charles wants to see from Blake is a commitment to establishing low post position and a quick, decisive attack out of that space. This is not bad advice, but Charles needs to take into consideration that Blake does a lot of his work on cuts and off the pick and roll. Getting better is of course a good idea. But getting better hitting midrange jumpers off the pick and pop and getting better at making free throws would be a much better idea. Blake has that Barkley-like combination of strength and agility, but actually needs to work on the same skills that Karl Malone developed over his career. Playing with Chris Paul seems to be a lot like playing with John Stockton.
Shaq’s over-the-top expectations of Howard may be a little bit pettier. He puts down Dwight as a way of maintaining his own legacy as the last great behemoth in the game, or that’s how it comes across. From disputing the Superman nickname to calling for ridiculous 28 points 15 rebounds per game averages, Shaquille’s constant disparaging remarks have a personal undertone. That said, Shaq is correct that it seems like Howard could achieve more if he was a little more determined to get post position, demanding of the ball, and polished in his moves.
Statistically Shaq was much better than Dwight.
Shaq – PER 28.2 WS/48 .227 VORP 5.92
Dwight – PER 22.7 WS/48 .186 VORP 5.18
Dwight actually has a higher TS% than Shaq, by 2%, but Shaq has a much higher usage, a much higher assist rate, a slightly higher offensive rebound rate, and much lower turnover rate.
Shaq and Dwight are a less apt comparison than Chuck and Blake even though they may be a more obvious one. Shaq was 7’ 1” and ranged between 325 lbs and 375 lbs when he played. He was incredibly massive and very agile for that size, but most of his game was predicated off of brute strength. Dwight is listed at 6’ 11” but is probably closer to 6’ 9” and while he’s very powerful physically, he probably weighs in the 260 range, gigantic but not otherworldly so. It is possible to keep him off the block and hold position against him. His game is largely predicated on speed and hops. Frankly so much of O’Neal’s success came because he could establish position against anyone and the width of his shoulders made him unfrontable, and Dwight will never have that.
O’Neal is basically looking for Dwight to improve in all areas on offense from running the floor, to crashing the boards, to posting up. Again, these are great things to improve, but it’s unclear how much growth Dwight really needs in these areas. Could he run the floor better? Sure, but other than Karl Malone, you could say that about all big guys. For a center with rim protection responsibilities, Howard changes ends very well. Could he dominate the offense glass better? Maybe. He doesn’t have the advantage that Shaq did where Shaq was able to get his own rebounds because his power moves cleared out the paint for him and his standing reach didn’t require second jump effort to haul them in. Dwight generally makes an athletic move when he shoots on his own, so he’s not necessarily on balance to follow that up with a tip in.
Post play is an area where Dwight is underrated in terms of his efficacy but could obviously still improve a lot. Howard is an efficient scorer in the low blocks. He has a reliable hook with either hand and an explosive first step to the middle. He needs to develop a baseline turnaround and a quick drop step with touch as his counter moves. Shaq actually had all of those things. He had a finesse skill set to complement his power game. Where Dwight could improve even more is on his passing out of the post. He passes well when he’s set but not as effectively when the double comes as he makes his move.
So is it fair for Barkley and Shaq to criticize Blake and Howard. Sure it is. They are talking heads on a sports show who actually played the same positions as these guys did and actually did the job better. If Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith criticized two NBA players like this we wouldn’t question their right to do so, though their knowledge of the game is certainly not at the level of two hall of fame players. Are Chuck and Shaq focusing on the right things when they complain about the youngsters? I’m not so sure. The game has changed, and post play is more difficult to execute and less efficient as a scoring method than it used to be. That said, champions usually have post players, whether it’s LeBron James or Dirk Nowitzki in the mid-post, Pau Gasol or Kevin Garnett in the low post, or Kobe Bryant or Paul Pierce in the high-post, the last 5 title winners have gone to the post up when necessary (and prior to those years it was always Timmy, Shaq, or Rasheed in the post), so getting better back to the basket play is never a bad idea.
Tags: Barkley, Blake, Blake Griffin, charles barkley, comparison, criticism, dirk nowitzki, dwight howard, Karl Malone, kevin garnett, kevin mchale, kobe bryant, LA Clippers, lebron james, pau gasol, Paul Pierce, PER, post game, Rasheed Wallace, Shaq, Shaquille O'Neal, Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, tim duncan, VORP, win share, Zach Randolph