“Girly” Basketball is Here to Stay

More than four decades ago, singer songwriter poet Gil Scott-Heron wrote and performed a protest song called The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It was a song about justice that some forty-six years later is the opposite of what happened in the NBA. Its revolution was telelvised. The perimeter scoring and three point shot making was readily available for massive consumption and for a select few to hate. Count Hall of Famer Charles Barkley in the hate category. Recently, he snidely referred to the revolutionary stlye as “girly ball.”

Language isn’t without context and Barkley is a master at the put down. In fact, “girly ball” is an offensive and sexist way of marginalizing the product by calling it feminine. Barkley implied that a lack of toughness when teams center their style around the 3-point shot is ruining what the product used to be. He explained last night on TNT he doesn’t like basketball when teams are trying to outscore their opponent. He called it “girly ball.” What Barkley didn’t say when he anointed the San Antonio Spurs the best team in the West because they don’t play “girly” basketball was that every single team has as their goal to outscore the opponent and, more to the point, they create multiple actions for that to happen.

Barkley really means he hates three point basketball. He hates it because, for the most part, it renders big men, and his former position of power forward, a bystander and by default, paralyzed in an offense where big men without much range are more spectator than participant. No more dumping the ball into the paint and letting a big man go to work. It’s about moving and scoring on the run or dribble penetration or pull ups or catch and shoot deep bombs. To Barkley, that is a feminized form of what basketball should be about. It should be about the tangle of bodies down low and up and unders and rebounds and put backs and asserting your will through the physical strength of your body. It should be a 91-89 game and not a 126-119 game. You must dominate with size and in the paint.

Barkley’s opinion notwithstanding, the revolutionary style of play is so incorporated in the NBA structure it is becoming traditional and no longer rebellious. Every team has legitimized what the Warriors did in 2014-15 when they won a title because of their perimeter scoring talent, not to mention the most wins in NBA history a year later.

The Warriors losing in the Finals in June did nothing to alter how the game is constructed on the strategy level. But it doesn’t mean that Barkley has to like it. He calls the Warriors a great “offensive team” as if that is a bad thing. He just doesn’t believe that style of play wins when that style of play did win. So the irony is palpable.

Here are some numbers.

18 of 30 NBA teams put up at least 25 three pointers a game. 9 of those teams make 10+ threes (Rockets, Cavs, Warriors, Nets, Celtics, Blazers, 76ers, Hornets, Clippers). Last year, 9 of 10 teams who took the most threes made the playoffs. The 76ers were the only three point volume shooting team that stayed home mid-April.

Last season, the Pistons made 9.0 threes per game. That was good for 10th best. This season, the 10th most threes is courtesy of Dallas who make 9.4 threes a game. Over a decade ago, in 2003-04, the tenth most threes was made by Memphis who took 5.4 threes.

Currently, only one Western Conference winning team doesn’t take 25 threes a game, the San Antonio Spurs. They fit the model of what Barkley believes is a NBA winning team.

What Barkley is implying is that the top three point shooting teams can’t defend. They are offense only. Is it true?

The Rockets, Cavs, Nets, Warriors and Celtics take the most threes, between 31 and 36 threes per game. Defensively, none are in the top-10 in points allowed. The Celtics are 14th, the Cavs are 15th and the Warriors are 21st in points allowed. The Nets and Rockets are abysmal.

However, the Warriors are a top-10 field goal percentage defensive team. They rank 5th. Meaning they rotate, defend and contest shots, making it difficult for offensive players to reach their average. The Celtics are 11th and the Cavs are 17th.

The Warriors and the Celtics are in the top-10 in 3-point defense. The Cavs are 17th.

So Charles Barkley is wrong in theory and in fact. The Warriors and other volume three point shooting teams are not just offense only. It just looks that way because big men aren’t throwing elbows and jabs on their way to the rim. Small ball is the in thing because it works. The cumulative records of the top 5 three point teams is 60-37, a winning percentage of 61.8%.

The issue regarding three point shooters is familiar. Can they make it deep in the playoffs without legs getting tired. In June, the Warriors looked exhausted.They took 250 three pointers in the NBA Finals. The Cavs took 170. In 2015, the Warriors took 186 three pointers in the Finals. This year’s team has less depth than the past two NBA Finals participants. That is the biggest hindrance to a special season for the Warriors and the lone question mark, aside from injuries taking a toll. It is fatigue and a lack of depth that will keep the Warriors out of the Finals, not “girly” basketball.

 

photo via llananba