Charles Barkley was one of the original stretch-4s

Inside the NBA followed a pretty poor matchup between the struggling Dallas Mavericks and the young Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. As the program often does, the conversation did not center on the game at hand. It centered on a favorite topic of the crew, the current state of the league. And with Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley on the dais — as well as Kevin Garnett and Kevin McHale in “Area 21” — the discussion for the first part of the show was about the state of the league’s big men.

Barkley has hidden nothing on his opinions of the current state of the league. He has consistently said he hates “analytics” — or whatever his understanding of analytics is — and does not believe 3-point shooting will lead to a championship. This despite the work the Golden State Warriors have done the last two years and the Cleveland Cavaliers penchant for shooting with a stretch-4 in winning it last year.

O’Neal is famous for his criticisms of Dwight Howard, one of the last true traditional centers in the league that could lay a claim to the MVP award, and lamenting the lack of a traditional post-up game. The conversation quickly changed to the current state of big men and how so many big men are shooting 3-pointers. Kenny Smith argued it is less important for centers to shoot 3-pointers than it is for centers to be able to defend the 3-point line, a statement that is probably more accurate since versatility is important for the switching defensive schemes.

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Barkley disagreed and doubled down on his take the big man’s “death” and the emergence of 3-point shooters of all sizes has made the NBA worse. In fact, the worst it has ever been.

Perhaps, the amount of 3-pointers are a bit out of control — the NBA is set to smash its record for most 3-pointers taken in a season — but that is beside the point in all reality. The character of big men has changed, but that is neither good nor bad. It is just the evolution of the game.

It does not take anything away from Barkley or any legacy he created, or whatever he feels he is defending by trashing the current players in the league or the current style of play continuously. Evolution is evolution. Coaches adapt to the talent on their roster. Don Nelson was a maverick (literally) in playing Dirk Nowitzki as a power forward and center. But there were always other outliers, and Barkley was one of them.

Barkley was always a bit of a tweener. At 6-foot-6 (some actually say he was 6-foot-4), he was undersized to be a power forward. Throughout his career, he was a bull, though. Physically, he was stronger than he looked and the “Round Mound of Rebound” was able to move players down low. He upsized to become a perennial All Star. But he never experienced much playoff success until he arrived in Phoenix, which is when he became something of a different player.

When Barkley won his lone MVP award and reached his lone NBA Finals in 1993, he vastly improved his jump shooting by taking more than 200 3-pointers for the first time in his career. Barkley was never a primary 3-point shooter. He was not a stretch-4 in the way anyone understands it today. But he was one of the first traditional power forwards to step out behind the 3-point line.

It was a natural evolution of his game. Or, at least, it seems natural now. Imagine how much better Barkley could be if he came up in today’s NBA with offenses that could spread the floor for him in the post and position him to develop a better jumper. Or maybe he would just be different, which is the whole point: No era is better than any other. They are different, part of the natural evolution of the game as players change and search for an edge.

The 3-pointer is in vogue now. Its use will likely never go away, but someone will find some strategy to slow it down or do something different that everyone else will try to copy and mimic. That next evolution will not make it better than the current era or Barkley’s era. But Barkley cannot deny he had a hand in making the 3-pointer a weapon for big men. Everyone saw the potential with his size, speed and versatility. The Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns used it in the best way the team knew how.

Eventually, the league figured out how to use players like Barkley in a new way. And that is perfectly okay.

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