Charles Barkley Turns 50 – Best Power Forward Ever?

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The great Charles Barkley is turning 50.  I haven’t written a lot about Chucky B over the years on this site, which is sort of odd because he was one of my very favorite players to watch, and he’s managed to stay relevant thanks to his variously interesting, ridiculous, and hilarious works with Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson on TNT.  Double Dribble didn’t exist for his HoF induction where I generally do a player profile for the great ones, and he hasn’t landed as a prime example on any of the metrics we’ve experimented with either to date – though his numbers are outrageously great (more on that later).  I guess it’s about time we broke down the Round Mound of Rebound, Sir Charles.

First and foremost it should be said that Charles Barkley is a homegrown original whose game has never been approached by any other player.  Standing somewhere between 6’ 4” and 6’ 6” and weighing somewhere between 260 and 285 pounds, Charles is as difficult a player to fit into a conventional position as any we’ve seen including Magic and LeBron.  Widely considered one of the 5 best power forwards of all time, Charles actually started at the small forward next to players such as Rick Mahorn, Armon Gilliam, and AC Green for much of his career, and from an offensive perspective he really functioned as a center a lot of the time, working in the low post while his taller teammates stepped away from the paint. 

Barkley was an end-to-end one man dynamo on the fastbreak, a play-making point forward, and one of the most efficient low-post scorers the game has ever seen.  He had an effective face up game in the half court against slower defenders and employed good shooting touch out to 17 feet, a deadly first step, great court awareness, and superior ball-handing skills at his position.  No one ever had any real success trying to defend Barkley one-on-one because he was always either much quicker or much stronger than his opponent and had crafty scoring skills around the rim.  The only good option was to double him with length and hope he passed to teammates who missed shots or that he forced shot attempts over outstretched hands.  He was also an absolutely dominating rebounder who captured a disproportionate amount of offensive rebounds – probably because while his offensive game was largely played in the paint, his size and quickness equipped to play defense on the perimeter.

 Just as there’s no good comparison for Barkley as a player on the court, there’s no good statistical comparison for him on paper either.  Charles is the only player in NBA history to average over 4 offensive rebounds and 3 assists for his career (and he actually has a 3.9 assist average, so he’s closer to 4 ORBs and 4 ASTs).  Only Barkley and Moses Malone have career averages of 20+ points and 4+ offensive rebounds, and Charles shot 5% better from the field than Moses.  In fact in a career average comparison, Barkley is undeniably superior to Moses, who some pundits consider a top 10 player of all time.  Observe:

 

Player Barkley Moses
G

1073

1329

MP

36.7

33.9

FG

7.9

7.1

FGA

14.5

14.5

3P

0.5

0

3PA

1.9

0.1

FT

5.9

6.4

FTA

8.1

8.3

ORB

4

5.1

DRB

7.7

7.1

TRB

11.7

12.2

AST

3.9

1.4

STL

1.5

0.8

BLK

0.8

1.3

TOV

3.1

3.1

PF

3.1

2.3

PTS

22.1

20.6

FG%

0.541

0.491

3P%

0.266

0.1

FT%

0.735

0.769

WS

177.2

167.1

 

Per game, Charles scored 2 more points on the exact same number of field goal and free throw attempts (weird), shot the ball 5% better from the field, had 2.5 more assists, had more combined steals and blocks against the exact same number of turnovers and played 2 more minutes per game.

I realize that per game stats are the devil these days, so let’s take a look at Charles-only possession-based stats.  How’s this?  Barkley is the only player in NBA history to average a True Shooting percentage over 60, a Usage over 20, an Offensive Rebounds rate over 12, and an Assist Rate over 15 in the same season.  Ever.  He did it 4 times while in Phili.  And that is some pace-adjusted production right there, y’all.

If we cut out Charles’s rookie year where he rode the pine behind Doc and Bobby Jones and his injured years in Houston by setting our age range at 23 years old to 32 year old, he is 8th all-time in career PER and second among all forwards behind only LeBron James.

 

Rk Player PER

1

Michael Jordan*

30.1

2

LeBron James

30.1

3

Shaquille O’Neal

28.5

4

Wilt Chamberlain*

28.1

5

David Robinson*

27.8

6

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*

27.3

7

Dwyane Wade

26.3

8

Charles Barkley*

26

9

Tim Duncan

25.5

10

Kevin Garnett

25.5

11

Dirk Nowitzki

24.8

12

Hakeem Olajuwon*

24.8

13

Magic Johnson*

24.7

14

Kobe Bryant

24.6

15

Oscar Robertson*

24.4

16

Larry Bird*

24.1

17

Karl Malone*

24.1

18

Jerry West*

23.6

19

Moses Malone*

23.6

20

Julius Erving*

23.2

 

Over the same age range Charles also ranks 8th all time and again second among all forwards in Win Share per minute.

 

Rk Player WS/48

1

Michael Jordan*

0.286

2

LeBron James

0.283

3

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*

0.271

4

Wilt Chamberlain*

0.261

5

David Robinson*

0.261

6

Magic Johnson*

0.234

7

Shaquille O’Neal

0.232

8

Charles Barkley*

0.23

9

Dirk Nowitzki

0.226

10

Jerry West*

0.226

11

Tim Duncan

0.223

12

Oscar Robertson*

0.221

13

Manu Ginobili

0.217

14

Kevin Garnett

0.216

15

Larry Bird*

0.216

16

John Stockton*

0.213

17

Karl Malone*

0.209

18

Dwyane Wade

0.203

19

Bill Russell*

0.2

20

Julius Erving*

0.199

21

Adrian Dantley*

0.197

 

So for prime production years, Charles ranks as the best “Power Forward” ever by the two metrics we have here, and the second best forward ever.  Now obviously there’s a defensive adjustment to be made on the PER list in particular, and Chuck doesn’t enjoy a very large advantage over Duncan or KG, but the point still stands.

 As good as he was, I’ve wondered for years what Barkley could have been with a great motivator to keep him in better shape and enforce some additional defensive intensity / discipline.  I don’t think there are many coaches who could have harnessed Charles’s brilliance and demanded anything more of him.  He’s not a follower, and he’s not a guy a coach or captain can intimidate.  I think Magic or Jordan could have gotten to him because he liked them both, and they were so competitive.  They would have turned fitness and defense into a challenge instead of a chore.  Phil Jackson could probably have accepted Charles’s foibles and got the most out of him as he did with Rodman and Shaq. 

I’m not sure about Pat Riley.  A very young Barkley tuned out Bobby Knight at the 1984 Olympic team trials.  If he had the gall to do that prior to becoming a set-for-life millionaire, it’s hard to imagine a firm disciplinarian getting through to him in his NBA years.  But a demanding teammate who was as good or better might have been able to lift Chuck to even greater heights.  He’s a tinge of work-ethic away from being listed among the most talented players of all time, and having a teammate to keep him in the gym like Jordan and Pippen did for each other or Stockton and Malone would probably made the difference.

 He was also a tinge of luck away from being considered the second best player of his generation.  Had his Suns teams managed to survive the Bulls in ’93 or the Rockets in ’94 and ’95 (both 7 games series with clutch performances from jumpshooters in red and white), he might be a multi-time champion right now.  A little more talent around him.  A different matchup at center.  A couple bounces here and there.  You could say that for a lot of players, but for Charles it’s true. 

He didn’t underperform in the finals (though he was injured on his shooting arm).  He played great and ran into Michael Jordan playing at an unconscionably high level.  I don’t know if any player ever could have led those Suns past the Bulls, and I’m not sure that Duncan’s Spurs beating an 8th seed Knicks team, an underwhelming Nets team, a star-less Pistons team (and they needed a hero-three from Horry to win it), and a one-player Cavs team makes him a better player than Charles.  Or that KG winning a chip with Pierce and Allen on his team makes him better, or that Dirk beating an imploding LeBron and Wade while shooting a godawful percentage from the field makes him better.  I’m not saying they aren’t better players (especially Duncan, who definitely is better), but having jewelry does not make it so.

Actually considering how super-duper role player Robert Horry turned those Suns / Rockets series to take a ring from Charles and so many series for the Rockets, Lakers, and Spurs to help provide rings for Hakeem, Shaq, Kobe, and Duncan, I’m pretty sure Big Shot Bob owes Charles a ring.  A role player instrumental in the defeat of an all-time great and the success of his rivals owes that all-time great one of his 5 or more championship rings.  It’s called the Steve Kerr Bylaw (formerly the Satch Sanders Rule).

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One Response to “Charles Barkley Turns 50 – Best Power Forward Ever?”

  1. Gtr Says:

    Actually during his prime, injured free self. He is the best Pf there is. And he don’t need no side kick like Stockton or Parker. 😉

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