Basketball Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley is the guest on the latest episode of “The ETCs with Kevin Durant” podcast.
Anytime you have Chuck in an interview setting there’s always an opportunity for fireworks or a moment. But Chuck with a current player of Durant’s caliber is gold. The combined basketball knowledge and IQ between these two men is incredible.
They touched on a variety of topics, including the use of analytics. Barkley, long known for his disdain of analytics, continued with his usual rhetoric. Although he did get a good line in about the use of analytics being so prevalent because NBA owners want to give jobs to their sons and son-in-laws.
Well played, Chuck.
However his overall points about analytics are the same things he’s been regurgitating for years, and they’ve been proved wrong. He pointed to the 2018 Western Conference Finals where the Houston Rockets famously missed 27 consecutive three-pointers in a Game 7 loss to Durant and the Golden State Warriors.
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Analytics, or the analytical approach to NBA offense, isn’t shoot a bunch of threes. The approach prioritizes the easiest and most efficient shots. Those include anything at the rim (layups and dunks), free throws, and open threes. The idea on the latter is if the percentage of making a particular two-point shot is as likely as an open three, you take the three because three points are more than two.
The goal is to score the most points and win the game.
But Chuck is a television character on a basketball show. He is the famous ex-player whose job is to elicit laughs and play “back in my day.” He’s excellent at it, and TNT’s “Inside The NBA” is a legendary show that ESPN and others have tried, and failed, to mimic and beat in the ratings.
The thing is, Chuck is smart. A basketball savant in many ways. He knows that’s not what analytics is. Durant knows this too, and to his credit he pushed Chuck on his “definition” of analytics.
Durant pointed to the fact that his team (Nets) and others look at points per possession and how they generate offense. Of the Rockets shooting and missing 27 consecutive threes, Durant said, “but that’s what the offense is designed to do.”
That’s true. Many of today’s NBA offenses work to generate open threes. But because the three is a high variance shot, you’ll sometimes see wild discrepancies.
Think about it like this. Player X is a career 40 percent shooter from three over seven seasons. He may start out the first two weeks of the season shooting 18 percent. Then he goes on a tear of 60 percent from deep for another two weeks. Eventually the ups and downs of a season will average out to somewhere around 40 percent.
But in the highest-level moments (playoff series) you don’t have 82 games to get to your average. If you slump in those moments, your team goes home. In the Rockets’ case in 2018, you become the poster team for why “analytics” don’t work.
Never mind the fact that the 2014 San Antonio Spurs used an analytical approach to destroy the LeBron James Miami Heat and win the NBA Finals.
Chuck and Durant actually spending a few minutes of their 45-minute conversation getting surgical on NBA offenses, and how you identify and take the easiest and most efficient shots, was an opportunity that was present but missed.
Two master craftsmen giving us mere mortals a peek behind the curtain would have been riveting.
Still, the two shared some laughs. Including why Chuck does not have any social media accounts. But would he be on social media if he made the amount of money Durant makes?
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The two greats also shared a moment congratulating each other on being named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team.