Last year, the Round Mound of TNT Sound was pretty much Public Enemy #1 around here. The popular wisdom was that he was a moron who doesn't really know what he's talking about, as evidenced by the way he dismissed the Clippers despite "evidence" to the contrary. I've said this before, and was pretty widely shot down, but I'm going to say it again because I still believe it to be true: Charles Barkley might not be such an idiot after all.
Barkley's biggest complaints, if you'll recall, were a) that the Clippers didn't have a playoff-ready half-court offense; and b) that Blake Griffin was too "soft" and wasn't "imposing his will" on the game. But ... but ... but, came the cries from Clipper Nation: Look at our PPP stats, the offense is just fine. And what the hell does "imposing his will" mean, anyway?
Sometimes people with deep, meaningful experience in a certain field know what they know at a gut level, whether or not they can properly articulate it. Fast forward a year and I think we can all see what Chuck meant, and how different this team is in those ways compared to last year.
Here's what Zach Lowe had to say about the Clippers' offense in April of last year in an article about the latest defensive strategies:
Coaches with stale offenses — think Utah, Brooklyn, the Clippers — are hurting their teams, even if those teams have enough talent to produce some solid overall scoring numbers. ... Predictable offenses with otherworldly talent can still get a team far; the Clippers can win a lot of games with 45 Chris Paul–Blake Griffin pick-and-rolls and 45 Griffin post-ups. ... The margin for error drops in the playoffs against elite defenses geared toward a single opponent; stagnant predictability in that context can cost an offense just enough points to swing a game, and then a series.
Lowe obviously explains it better than Barkley ever could, but I don't think either of them were wrong. We can't really know definitively, since Blake got hurt halfway through the Memphis series when it was on-serve at 2 games apiece, but this is what my gut tells me: No matter how much we didn't want to admit it, and no matter how many times we pointed to the regular-season scoring numbers as proof that everything was OK, Vinny Del Negro's "offense" was not going to get it done in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, as for the Blake Griffin thing, could what we've been seeing the last two months be fairly described as "imposing his will"? Well, yeah, it could. The new-and-improved Blake Griffin isn't as "soft," mentally, as last year's version. He's less deferential. He's more confident. He's more decisive. He's more willing to step up and be the man. Just think about the one moment from last night's game against Portland when, for a just a second, he reverted to last year's Blake and passed up a wide-open shot in crunch time to set up a worse shot for Matt Barnes. It was kind of shocking, right? Last year we totally would've expected that. This year it was a jolt.
Getting back to Chuck, I think a key point to consider is that what we're hearing from him is different now, too. If he was really the idiot people say he is, it would be easy for him to still be dismissive. After all, the Clippers' record at the break this year is actually a game-and-a-half worse than it was last year. Our position in the standings is more or less the same as last year too. And the stats don't show much improvement on the defensive end either. But the tune we're hearing from Barkley is different. He's viewing us as more legit because what he sees on the court is more legit: We have a more diverse half-court offense that's capable of putting up points against good defenses, and we have a superstar power forward who's imposing his frickin' will on the game.
I'm sure this rant will still fail to convince a large number of you. After all, the guy does sound like an idiot, there's no denying that. And he certainly doesn't back up his opinions with anything resembling data, or even verifiable fact. But it's also dangerous to dismiss people with a wealth of expertise simply because they don't marshal their arguments well, or can't be bothered to "prove" something they feel in their bones. So I decided to take one more stab here at defending ol' Chuck, because when it comes to NBA basketball, I think he may be less idiot than savant.