Charles Barkley may have been in the news more during this NBA Playoffs than he ever was as a player. Whether the coverage has focused on him feuding with Charles Oakley, asking Dwight Howard to explain why people hate him, or just speculating on who will play him in the next Space Jam, Barkley has been in the news seemingly every day. No surprise for a Hall of Famer who always liked being the center of attention.
Today, he shared an unpopular opinion: that LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are the two best players in the NBA. Notably omitted from that top-two list: recently crowned back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry. The topic arose after LeBron questioned the meaning of "valuable" in Most Valuable Player: should the award go to the best player in the league or to the player who is most crucial to his team's success?
"Listen, Steve Nash won two MVPs, and Shaq is pissed every time it comes up, you know, because he knows he was the best player," Barkley said. "LeBron and Kawhi Leonard, to me, are the two best players in the world. Steph Curry is the best offensive player in the world."
Though you're probably tired of hearing from Barkley, don't write him off right away, because his logic has some merit: LeBron (a five-time First-Team All-Defensive NBA performer) and Kawhi (a two-time Defensive Player of the Year) are two of the best defensive players in the NBA, and they're also dominant offensive threats. Not as dominant as Curry, of course, but dominant nonetheless.
"They’re better all around," Barkley said. "Steph is the best offensive player, but if you actually watch the Warriors play, Klay Thompson always guards the best guard. That’s not a knock. Larry Bird wasn’t a great defender, Magic Johnson wasn’t a great defender, but they’re still probably two of the 10 best players ever."
There are quantifiable ways to measure a player's defense. Here's one example: Curry's Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM)—which compares a player's defense per 100 possessions to that of a league-average player—was 0.1. James' was 2.3, and Leonard's was 2.8. There are, of course, dozens of analytical categories that could be explored, but based on simple statistical logic: on defense, Kawhi > LeBron > Curry.
No one is debating that LeBron and Kawhi are better defensive players; the question is simply whether Steph is far enough behind that they're better as overall players.
"Steph is amazing, and that’s not hating on him, but seriously, if people actually watch the Warriors play, they do know that Klay Thompson guards the best point guard every night," Barkley said.
Barkley said he would have voted for Curry to win MVP, and that's what matters most. This is a mostly pointless debate. Let's save it for the end of the summer, when we're actually starved for NBA talk, and enjoy the playoffs while we have them.
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