Why Charles Barkley hates jump-shooting teams


There is a craze sweeping the NBA; it’s a new wrinkle in the mechanics of shooting with the potential to completely revolutionize the fundamentals of scoring. It’s something basketball insiders are calling a “jump” shot.

Nowadays, many teams have at least one jump shooter. These curiosities can be a fun alternative to their more reliable counterparts — set shooters, pivot men, underhand free throwers — but obviously they’re not to be trusted in any kind of meaningful contest. Indeed, combining more than one jump shooter on a single team is not advisable, especially in the playoffs.

The world’s foremost expert on the jump-shooting phenomenon is, of course, Sir Charles Barkley. Prof. Barkley has done extensive firsthand research in the field of jump shooting, uncovering irrefutable evidence that a jump-shooting team cannot win a title.

Sir Charles Barkley “On the Origin of Jump Shots”

Sir Charles Barkley began his professional training in Philadelphia under the mentorship of Dr. J. Erving, from whom he learned about the hazards of jump shooting. In fact, only a few years earlier, the Doctor had invented a protocol for winning a jumper-free championship. Erving et al. employed the procedure with great success during their championship playoff run in 1983, relying upon 3-pointers for fewer than 1 percent of their total shots in the postseason, a smaller percentage than any other playoff team that year.

Read More: Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, and the cult of personality

When Sir Charles Barkley joined the team two years later, Philadelphia continued to use their patented no-jumpers offense, a strategy that carried them as far as the 1985 Eastern Conference Finals. True to form, the Sixers attempted only 12 3-pointers throughout the entire series. But in the deciding fifth game, a two-point loss to the Boston Celtics, Barkley deviated from the course. He hit three 3s — more than he had made in any other game during his entire rookie season — but despite his long range shooting he managed only 13 total points. Moreover, the esteemed Round Mound of Rebound swallowed up an uncharacteristically small number of rebounds — just three. The melancholy recollection of this performance prompted Professor Barkley’s First Theorem of Jump Shooting: A big man who makes 3-pointers is good for nothing.

Art by Todd Whitehead (@CrumpledJumper) /

Sir Charles Barkley would eventually leave Philadelphia for Phoenix, where he would conduct the most important work of his career. It was there, with the Suns in 1993, where Barkley reached the Finals for the only time. Over the course of the season, the Suns were prolific jump shooters featuring long-range specialists, Danny Ainge (taking 8.3 3-pointers per 100 possessions) and Dan Majerle (6.6) as well as Barkley, himself (3.7). Together, the Suns shot more 3-pointers than any other team and they accounted for the second-highest 3-point attempt rate in the league, at 15.4 percent.

By comparison, their opponents in the Finals, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, shot 3s much less regularly; posting a 9.3 percent 3-point attempt rate during the regular season (16th in NBA). However, in the deciding Game 6 of the Finals — a one-point loss for the Suns — the 3-point shot betrayed Barkley and his teammates. The Suns scuffled to a 4-for-11 (36 percent) outing from deep, including a disappointing 2-for-8 night from Thunder Dan. In contrast, the Bulls were nearly twice as efficient from 3; shooting 10-for-14 (71 percent) beyond the arc, with Jordan hitting 3-of-5, B.J. Armstrong making 4-of-5, and John Paxson converting 2-of-3. The surprising 3-point shooting in Game 6 inspired Professor Barkley’s Second Theorem of Jump Shooting: If you live by the 3, you’ll die by the 3.

At the start of the 1994-95 season, the league shortened the 3-point line from 23’9” to 22’ flat, all the way around the arc. The rule change paid immediate dividends for jump shooters, as 3-point percentages jumped from 33.3 percent the previous season to 35.9 percent league-wide. At the same time, the average number of 3-point shots per team increased from 9.9 per game to 15.3 — an equivalent of 414 extra 3s per team over the course of the season. No team embraced the power of the shorter line more than the eventual 1995 NBA Champion Houston Rockets. They led the league in 3-point attempt rate (27 percent) employing the original one-in, four-out offense that was designed to surround an intimidating interior force — Hakeem Olajuwon — with long-range marksmen. Indeed, before there was LeBron and the Heatles, before there was Dwight and the magician’s assistants, there was Hakeem and the Rockettes.

Only the Houston Rockets (of 1994 and 1995) have ever led the NBA in 3-point attempts and also won the championship. The plot below shows the range of 3-point attempt rates by season with champions represented by the red line.

percent-of-shots-from-three /

When Sir Charles Barkley joined Houston for the 1996-97 season, he and the Rockets pushed the envelope of jump shooting even further, jacking more than 28 percent of their shots from deep. Prof. Barkley also conducted his own personal jump-shooting experiments — hoisting an eye-popping 5.3 3s per 100 possessions which was a career-high by a wide margin.

Barkley and his fellow jump shooters were the perfect complement for Hakeem and together the team reached the Western Conference Finals, earning a chance to face off with the Utah Jazz. It would be Sir Charles Barkley’s third and final trip to the Conference Finals and it would not go well.

After falling behind the Jazz two-games-to-one, Barkley lashed out at his teammates, reportedly complaining that “A lot of guys on our team have accomplished things they want to, and they’re kind of lackadaisical at times.” Of the veteran Rockets, the most likely target for Barkley’s veiled attack was Mario Elie, who had started the series just 2-10 from deep, scoring a meager 7 points in the game preceding Barkley’s comments.

For Prof. Barkley, Elie’s performance was just more evidence to support his Second Theorem, more proof that a 3-point shooter will always let you down in the end. By the conclusion of the series, the Rockets had basically matched the Jazz in 3-point field goal percentage — 34.4 percent vs. 35.1 percent — and they had a better effective field goal percentage overall — 50.6 percent vs. 48.8 percent — but they got killed on the boards. Karl Malone and the Jazz rebounded 30.7 percent of their missed field goals while Barkley and the Rockets collected only 25.4 percent of their own missed shots. The discrepancy on the boards gave the Jazz the ultimate advantage in the series, leading to Professor Barkley’s Third Theorem of Jump Shooting: Jump shooting teams are too soft for the physicality of playoff basketball.

A Test Case for Sir Charles Barkley’s Theorems

Based on the accumulated research from his esteemed career, Prof. Barkley has staunchly held that a jump shooting team cannot win the NBA championship. In 2016, Sir Charles Barkley had an opportunity to evaluate his empirical hypothesis — he asked himself, “Could 2016 be the year that a jump shooting team finally won it all”? And he answered himself “No”.

Ultimately, Barkley ended up being right…at least about the fate of one jump shooting team. The 2016 Golden State Warriors liked jump shots a lot and they sure didn’t win. But upon closer examination, there actually may have been more than one jump-shooting team in the 2016 NBA Finals.

Jump-shooting statistics (league ranks) for the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

jump-shooting-stats-golden-state-warriors-and-cleveland-cavaliers /

Golden State earned the label of a “jump-shooting team” by putting up more 3s than any other squad in the NBA and by converting these shots at a league-best 41.6 percent. But based on a few other jump-shooting stats — 3-point attempt rate and average shot distance — the Warriors and Cavs were essentially indistinguishable. What’s more, in the playoffs, the Cavs increased their 3-point attempt rate all the way up to 37 percent and they actually outshot the Warriors from deep — 40.6 percent vs. 39.3 percent.

So, yea, maybe a jump shooting team did lose the NBA finals, but on the other hand, a jump shooting team WON the NBA finals, too.

Okay then, based on this new data, will Sir Charles Barkley recalibrate his jump shot theories? Well, perhaps not.

But can you really blame him? Over the course of his career, he played for three teams that progressively shot more and more jump shots. By 1997, he was helping to push the Rockets to unprecedented levels of jump-shooting dependency as a part of the NBA’s first 3-point binge. But all that jump shooting never paid off for Barkley. None of his jump-shooting teams ever won a title. Then, in the twilight of his career he watched as the 3-point shooting percentages dropped and shot rates diminished across the league thanks to a once-again distant 3-point line. You can understand, then, why Barkley thinks the modern 3-point era is just another fad, a distraction from the real fundamentals of winning basketball.

In the end, Sir Charles Barkley will go down in history as the 34th-most prolific 3-point shooter of the 20th Century, with more than 2,000 three-pointers attempted thru the 1999-2000 season. During his career, he shot nearly as many 3s as Chris Mullin and more than his other contemporaries, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.

So, the next time Sir Charles Barkley tells you that jump-shooting teams can’t win the championship, remember to show him some respect. The man’s an expert in the field.