Charles Barkley is known for giving some pretty bold takes on TNT alongside the likes of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal. While he may have been known for his dominance on the basketball court during his playing career, many sports fans know him more now for his work within the sports media world. However, his hot takes sometimes leave viewers — and even his co-stars — speechless.
This includes O’Neal, who recently seemed flabbergasted after hearing Barkley’s claim about James Harden.
Charles Barkley called James Harden the best one-on-one player ‘ever’
The Brooklyn Nets recently dominated the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, winning 141-126, and their big three really just showed off. Kyrie Irving had 39 points and 11 rebounds while Kevin Durant had 42 points. Harden ultimately added 23 points and 18 assists.
At halftime, though, Barkley made a bold claim about Harden after seeing him post 17 points and 7 assists through the game’s first two quarters.
“He’s the best one-on-one player I may have ever seen,” Barkley said, per NBA on TNT’s Twitter. “Now, he’s not as good as Michael [Jordan] and Kobe; I don’t want people to think I’m going crazy. But as far as the way he shoots, because those guys weren’t great 3-point shooters, he can even make a three anytime he wants to, he can get to the basket anytime, and he’s a great free-throw shooter. But I’m just telling you, the way the game is called today — he’s the best one-on-one player I’ve ever seen.”
Shaquille O’Neal had a strong reaction to his co-star’s comments
As Barkley shared his opinions on Harden, the always entertaining O’Neal seemed speechless and acted as if he couldn’t even look at him.
He then said: “You say the dumbest things sometimes. Just say he’s the best [in today’s game], not the best you’ve ever seen. … The title of your book was ‘He’s the best I’ve ever seen,’ that’s what you just said?”
Barkley tried backtracking a bit by reiterating that Harden is the best based on “the way the game is called today.” But O’Neal wasn’t having it.
“No, forget all that. The title of your book, what you just said: ‘He’s the best I’ve ever seen,’” the Lakers legend said.
This led to Barkley finally saying “yes” that Harden is the best one-on-one player he has ever seen, which made O’Neal seemingly so disgusted that he acted as if he was going to walk off the Inside the NBA set entirely.
The interaction between the two NBA legends was certainly comical. However, is Barkley correct?
Is Charles Barkley’s James Harden take correct?
So, since Barkley is so adamant that Harden is the best one-on-one player ever, is he right? It’s hard to give a definite answer.
According to NBA.com, Harden led the NBA with 8.7 points per game on isolation plays in the 36 games he played in for the Nets this season. In 2019-20, his numbers on isolation plays were unreal, as he was far and away the best iso scorer in the league. Harden averaged 15.8 points per game on that type of play last season, while Russell Westbrook was No. 2 in the league with 6.4 points per game on isolation plays.
OK, so Harden is clearly the best one-on-one scorer in today’s game, but there is no way to really compare him to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. This is because NBA.com only tracks isolation stats back to 2015-16. At that point, Jordan had, obviously, been retired for over a decade. Bryant, on the other hand, was in his final season.
The best stats we have to look at are their points-per-game averages and their player efficiency ratings (PER). According to The Washington Post, their PERs put their positive and negative accomplishments into a per-minute rating.
Here is a look at their career numbers:
- Michael Jordan: 30.1 points per game; 27.9 PER
- Kobe Bryant: 25.0 points per game; 22.9 PER
- James Harden: 25.1 points per game; 24.8 PER.
According to these stats, it’s hard to say that Harden is a better one-on-one player than Jordan was, but he may have a case against Bryant. That, of course, doesn’t mean he is a better overall player than Bryant was during his career, as the former Lakers star won five NBA championships compared to Harden’s zero so far. Harden may just be the better one-on-one scorer.
So, is Barkley’s bold claim correct? It’s hard to give a definite answer, but he may actually have a legitimate argument.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference