Charles Barkley likes to tweak Oklahoma City, as he does with many towns. During the playoffs, he entered the kabuki dance of pretending to have an issue with the small market, allowing the small market to fire back with light-hearted insults (See: Mayoral response).
Recently, he raised the ire of Thunder fans by explaining just why Los Angeles should beat Oklahoma City next season. Barkley said (via Daily Thunder):
Yeah. I’m not a big Oklahoma City fan because I don’t think they get any easy baskets. Like last year I didn’t think they could win and the reason I picked Miami to win the championship, the only way you’re going to beat Miami is beat them up inside. That’s what their weakness is. You’re not going to beat them on the perimeter shooting jumpers with (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant.
The only way to beat them is the way the Mavericks beat them, with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler down low. Unless Oklahoma City gets some low post scoring, they’re going to win a lot of games because they have two terrific players and James Harden is terrific also, but you’re not going to win the championship just shooting jumpers.
Oversimplifying the critique of the Thunder to just “they shoot too many jumpers” isn’t fair. Because while OKC might not have a traditional back-to-the-basket big man, they scored plenty in the paint in transition, by attacking off the dribble and by cutting and slashing. Harden and Westbrook were two of the top rim finishers in the league last season. Westbrook ranked 10th in the league in points in the paint and Durant 14th.
I believe what's happened here is that Kevin Durant became so alarmingly good at shooting outside shots that it came to define just how Oklahoma City scores. Yes, this team can shoot jumpers quite well. No, this isn't all they do.
The Thunder finished first among teams in free-throw rate (meaning, free throws drawn), and they viciously attack the rim. Also, in Barkley's reference to Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler, he's citing a team that didn't exactly thrive on post scoring.
The title-winning Mavs were third in the league in three-pointers attempted (via Hoop Data). They created matchup problems with Dirk as a three-point-hoisting stretch-4 and left Chandler to fill defensive gaps.
The league has changed, in part due to new rules, in part due to new players. The legalization of zone fundamentally altered this sport, and many pundits are playing catch-up.
The NBA commentary class is rife with guys who laced it up back in the day, and it's hard for them to grapple with the reality of new defensive rules. No longer can plodding bigs just keep the ball in the post, unencumbered. They'll be swallowed up by a swarming zone attack.
Necessity has facilitated "small ball," or the inclusion of three-point shooters in formerly "big-man positions." This isn't a gimmick, this isn't a trick, and if anything, the Thunder could be criticized for lacking such players.
Jump shooting wins games. "Being soft" is what works. The last two championship winners spread the floor and fired threes. We're a long way from the days of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and even Tim Duncan.
If you're choosing the Lakers over the Thunder, there are good reasons at your disposal. Denigrating one team for the sin of "shooting jumpers" isn't a valid one.