While Charles Barkley made the Hall of Fame for his skills on offense, he was a below average defender. He did not have a natural defensive position and struggled to guard both quicker and longer forwards. Only Sir Charles’ outstanding rebounding kept him from being a truly bad defensive player.
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Charles Barkley on Defense: Stats
Advanced statistics are a good way to get an unbiased look at historical players’ skills. They have their limits. They are not as effective at measuring defense as they are at judging offense. But they are often a better judge of a players’ abilities than our memories, which can suffer from our own biases and the passing of time leaving making those memories a bit hazy.
Basketball Reference lists five defensive statistics in its advanced statistics section. They also list defensive rating in their per 100 stats, which attempts to measure a player’s defensive effectiveness per 100 possessions.
When we look at these statistics as a whole, we can get a good sense of how good a defender was. Generally speaking, great defenders will rank highly on these lists while weaker defenders will not.
Individual Skill Defensive StatsEmbed from Getty Images
One thing the Round Mound of Rebound could do was hit the glass.
Some might argue defensive rebounding is not really a defensive stat. But, since the offensive possession does not end until a defender grabs the ball, I like to count it
Chuck’s career 23.7 defensive rebounding percentage puts him 43rd on the all-time NBA list, slightly ahead of great rebounders like Shaq and Charles Oakley. Rebounding was far and away Charles Barkley’s biggest contribution on the defensive end of the basketball floor.
In addition to finishing ranked highly on the defensive rebounding percentage list, Barkley led the league in total rebounds in the 86-87 season at 14.6. The man could clean the glass.
In general, scouts look to two statistics to quickly gauge a players’ defensive ability no matter what level they are playing on: blocks and steals. Great defensive players tend to block more shots and get more steals than average or poor ones.
Barkley was slightly above average in both these areas.
Charles Barkley, listed at 6’6” but often believed to be in the 6’4” range, did not block that many shots. As a younger player, Sir Charles could get up and send it back.
Barkley’s career block percentage of 1.39% does get him on the all-time NBA top 250 list, but barely at 206.
For some perspective, he is not too far above noted floor-bound hall-of-famer Larry Bird who finished 239th at 1.22. Sir Charles was good for some highlight reel swats, especially early in his career, but he did not consistently reject NBA players.
Charles Barkley got some steals, but he was not in the same class as a John Stockton. Stockton got close to zero blocks but made up for not being able to block shots by stealing anything not locked down.
Sir Charles’ 2.09 career steal % puts him 151st on the NBA’s all time list. As an amazing athlete with great length, he got some steals. But not nearly enough to point to him being a great defender.
Overall Advanced Defensive Stats
Defensive rating essentially measures how many baskets a player gives up per 100 possessions. Barkely finished 199th all time on the NBA career list with a 105 rating, slightly behind average defender Magic Johnson. This is not great.
Defensive box plus/minus is an estimate of how many points a player gave up per possession when compared to a league average player & team. Barkley’s .78 rating leaves him 130th on the all-time list. He finishes well below Magic (49th) and even below James Harden on this list (107th). But Barkley is well ahead of Dirk, or should I say Irk, Nowitski at 228th.
Defensive win shares is a complicated stat that attempts to measure how much a player contributes to his team while on the floor. Barkley’s 54 defensive win shares place him 39th on the all-time list.
While that ranking seems high, and the top twenty in defensive win shares are nearly all excellent defenders, long careers tend to give a player more win shares. DIrk Nowitzki again stands out as a great example here. He was not a very strong defender but his long career allowed him to rack up many defensive win shares and he finished 25th, well ahead of Sir Charles.
When combined, Charles Barkley’s advanced defensive statistics point to a player who was not outstanding on defense. His best statistic is for rebounding where he was no doubt a positive for his teams.
But Sir Charles did not block many shots and, while he got some steals, he did not get some crazy number of them. Barkley’s big-picture defensive statistics point towards Barkley being a player who was mediocre on defense.
The Eye Test: Charles Barkley on Defense
While I am mostly in favor of using statistics to look at a player’s career, some people believe the eye test is the better judge. This opinion is not completely without merit. Statistics have their limits – they are clearly better at judging offense than defense.
These people will say look to those who watched him play: What did they say about Charles Barkley’s defense? In general, they said he was not very good.
Sir Charles had some real athleticism in his early career to go with his long arms. This combined to make him a half-decent rim protector early in his career. He made some incredibly athletic plays blocking shots in space and got some steals too.Embed from Getty Images
But, as I discussed above, this did not continue throughout his career. As he got older, Barkley put on more weight and the incredible lift he had for his size faded. With it, those incredible highlight-reel plays went mostly away.
Barkley became a more floor-bound player and he did not have the skills for this type of defense. He did not have the great defensive instincts of a Larry Bird nor the length-for-position of a Magic Johson.
Both of those legends slowed as they aged as well, but Bird was mostly able to play good position defense with his feel while both Magic and Bird had good length to hold up in the post.
Barkley did not. He was abused in the post later in his career by longer forwards and had neither the lateral quickness nor strong positioning to chase quicker forwards in space.
Barkley’s teams were generally bad defensively. Of course, this can be chicken and egg – was he the cause or the victim? But there is some evidence that Barkley, too short to defend power forwards or defend the rim but too slow to chase quick forwards and switch onto guards, was a large cause of his teams’ poor defensive performances.
Charles Barkley was a player without a natural defensive position in the NBA and it showed – especially when his freakish athleticism started to fade.
Barkley never made any all-NBA defensive teams nor was really considered for them. Outside of his rebounding, and even there his offensive rebounding was possibly his biggest outlier skill, Barkley was considered a poor defender. Even given his rebounding skill, most observers considered him a below-average defender.
Summary: Charles Barkley on Defense
Charles Barkley did not excel at defense. He was an outstanding rebounder who contributed little else on the defensive end. Barkley’s teams were generally bad on defense and he was a big part of the reason for that.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.