Barkley and Shaq vs. Blake and Dwight

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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.

Age 23-24:

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.

Age 20-28:

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.

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9 Responses to “Barkley and Shaq vs. Blake and Dwight”

  1. boyer Says:

    It’s hard to take Chuck/Shaq seriously. They are so off base so often, who knows what they’re saying is actually good analysis. Anybody can come up with accurate analysis once in awhile.

    After briefly analyzing Griffin vs. Chuck over their 1st 4 years, they seem pretty equal, maybe slight edge to Griffin. Griffin will have 4 AS appearances in his first 4 years. Barkley only had 2, though probably should’ve had 3. I don’t understand your statement of Barkley playing way more possessions. Barkley averaged 36.2MPG over his first 4 years, while Griffin is at 35.6MPG. They both entered the league at 21. Griffin can’t control for a slower pace in the NBA today. Also, when Barkley entered the league, which was the mid 80s, offensive efficiency/scoring was at its peak. It’s a much different game today. There’s no magical formula to calculate between eras, but this needs to be seriously considered.

    I thought Barkley was 6-4 maybe, though it says he’s 6-6. And Griffin is listed at 6-10, though might be closer to 6-8. Either way, Griffin’s probably at least 4 inches taller, which is a huge factor to consider. Obviously, they both needed to work on defense more. Griffin is a much better athlete than Barkley ever was, so he should be able to play better defense.

    Griffin/Howard are both 2 of the very top offensive players for their positions today, though both have huge holes in their offensive games. They’re similar to lebron, to his credit has worked to limit his weaknesses, but still doesn’t have a consistent outside shot. Shaq also had glaring weaknesses, but was so much stronger than everyone else, he could play to his strengths almost every time. But at ends of games, he was often completely useless. It’s always ironic to especially hear Shaq criticize someone for not working hard enough and not doing this or that, because he was one of the laziest players in nba history.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      I was only looking at ages 23-24 for Charles and Blake, that’s where the minute / possession and production favors Barkley. I wanted to get a look at player progression rather than the entire lengths of the career to that point. Not really considering AS games or other “accomplishments” either as I’m trying to establish who plays better rather than who has had the most “success” or in the case of AS games the most popularity.

      Something I left out that heavily favors Barkley is the free throw shooting. Nobody ever thought to sit Charles in crunch time. In fact the offense was run through him in tight games. Blake on the other hand used to get benched in favor of Odom because he couldn’t hit free throws.

      The only significant edge I’d give to Blake is that he works harder on defense. I’m not convinced he’s really that good defensively, and he sometimes gets himself in foul trouble, but he does put forth more effort.

      • boyer Says:

        Barkley was probably better at those ages, though extremely undersized for a PF. I think even if Barkley focused more on defense, he still would never have been that good defensively. Blake should be better given his larger frame than Barkley and being an athletic freak. With Doc in LA now, his defensive prowess should improve even more. But, maybe not, time will tell.

        Blake isn’t that awful of a FT shooter, not good, but so bad that you’d sit him. Odom wasn’t any better of a defender, and a much worse offensive player. And why would you bench Griffin, a 66% FT shooter in 2013 in favor of Odom, a 48% FT shooter in 2013? Plus, Odom only had a 40% FG pct. last year as well. I don’t understand what your’e saying here. There’s no way you’d want Odom in for Griffin in crunch time. Barkley was only a 74% FT shooter, much better than Griffin has been, but still below average. Griffin is 61% for his career, and take away the lockout year, which adversely affected pretty much everyone offensively, even FT %, and Griffin is right around a career 64% FT shooter. Still not that good, but nowhere near the awful range. And his midrange shot is actually not too bad.

        Interesting article I just found today here. Just a few stats, which doesn’t necessarily prove anything, but at least show that Griffin gets unfairly criticized for a lot things. Maybe mostly because he’s in LA and that expectations for him are higher than some of other guys.

        http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/11/22/the-extra-pass-busting-myths-surrounding-blake-griffin-and-thursdays-recaps/

      • jpalumbo Says:

        It was 2012 I think when De Negro was sitting Blake in favor of Odom. It really happened. Not a hypothetical.

        Charles was better (in his youth) at defending small forwards. He actually started at the 3 for almost his whole Phili career (Mahorn started next to him for a while and then Gilliam). Pippen had some nice things to say about Barkley as a swing forward defender when Charles went into the HoF.

        I think Blake is playing great this year and last. He’s a mismatch most nights, and he plays with tremendous energy. He’s got that pick and pop j falling now too which is crucial for CP3′s game.

  2. boyer Says:

    Odom never played with the Clips in 2012. Are you thinking of someone else? Odom was absolutely garbage as a player in 2012 and 2013. Nobody in their right mind would bench Griffin for Odom, especially when Odom wasn’t even on the team and was a worse FT shooter than Griffin. There must’ve been some special situation that you seem to remember in 2013 that Odom was playing in favor of Griffin, but this had to be an extreme exception.

    Griffin is a beast in the pick n roll. And he can pick and pop or pick and roll. Whereas before, Paul had teammates who could mostly only do one or the other.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      I think Odom left the Mavs in 2012 and signed with the Clips for the 2012-13 season. Honest to god, Lamar closed out games ahead of Griffin. Maybe that’s why Del Negro lost his job.

      Jason Palumbo

      Sent from my iPhone

      • boyer Says:

        Ok, I can’t say for sure but highly doubt it, or else they were both in at the same time, or this happened a few times, but wasn’t the norm. You had the years mixed up then. If you say 2012, that means the 2011-2012 season. Or like I said there was some special situation. Maybe Griffin was hurt or in foul trouble etc., or maybe Odom had actually scored in the first 43 minutes. But the reason you mentioned because of this was FT shooting, and Griffin was actually a lot better of a FT shooter than Odom in 2013, so FT shooting couldn’t have been the reason.

        Del Negro wasn’t a great coach, but still a good coach. But, when expectations are so high, this is what happens. And look what happened to Hollins in Memphis. The Clips are still no better than 3rd best in the west. Unless they’re major injuries to the thunder/spurs, they have almost no chance of making the conf. finals. They currently sit tied for 6th. They’ll have a hard time making it out of the first round. So far Paul is like Nash for his career. Fans/stat gurus love him so much, but it hasn’t translated in the playoffs. He’s had several good teams now, but yet to even make the conf. finals. It’s well past time for him to step up.

  3. Eric Says:

    Yeah, Shaq always comes off bad when he goes into that 28 and 15 average junk. He acts like he averaged those numbers but he never even averaged 14 rebounds in a single season and he only averaged 28 points in 5 of his 19 seasons. Prime Shaq was more of a 28 and 12 guy which is significantly different than 28 and 15. Shaq was better than Dwight but he exaggerates his greatness.

    • boyer Says:

      Shaq was definitely awesome, and possibly had the greatest 3 years of anyone in history, though he was still mostly irrelevant late in close games, which cannot be overstated enough. But, while he and Barkley are funny, they are still idiots most of the time. They, like most athletes, have huge egos, and a lot of what they say is protecting their legacies. And Shaq has an ongoing feud with Dwight and pretty much everyone else in the NBA. Kobe was right about history showing itself in the end.

      If you look at Dwight’s and Shaq’s #’s, Dwight measures very well against Shaq. Shaq was a career 24 and 11 player. Dwight’s at 18 and 13. Dwight entered league 2 years before, while Shaq played a full career, so the #’s are pretty accurate in comparison. Shaq was bigger and a better scorer. But, Dwight isn’t lazy like Shaq. And Dwight is a better defender as well. It’s more than the #’s, and Shaq was clearly better than Dwight, but it’s a lot closer than you’d think.

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