The Los Angeles Lakers ran the New Orleans Pelicans off the floor in their In-Season Tournament semifinal matchup on Thursday. Thanks to a dominant performance from LeBron James, L.A. picked up a 133-89 win to set up a showdown with the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night with the NBA Cup on the line.
Zion Williamson was among the Pelicans players who struggled on the evening, going for 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting with three rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes of work. For a player who is capable of better, it was a tough game to watch, particularly for Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. And after the game, both Hall of Fame inductees took some time to critique Williamson for not playing like the guy that New Orleans is hoping can be the face of the franchise.
Kenny Smith asked Shaq about the players he looked up to and struggled against the most, and two immediately came to mind: David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon. His issue, he said, was that he didn’t work hard as he thought he was, which led to a series of takes about Williamson.
Shaq on the deficiencies in Zion's Williamson game:
"I was just like him." pic.twitter.com/bEWBwTvJuJ
— Oh no he didn't (@ohnohedidnt24) December 8, 2023
“Does not run hard — it’s not a diss, this is gonna be a lesson from one great big man to another guy that can be a great,” Shaq said. “Does not run hard. I had the same problem my first, second year — I thought I was running hard. Charles talks about this all the time, my talent’s gonna get me 20. When I start going to 20, 30, and 40, it’s because I started doing certain things.
“He doesn’t create easy points for himself,” Shaq continued. “I saw a couple times when he had a couple times at the basket, he don’t seal, right? He doesn’t demand the ball … and he doesn’t have that look. Like, I’m not the greatest athlete ever, but I know a look when I see it. In every sport, I know a look. Tiger Woods had that look, Jack Nicklas had that look. He just doesn’t have that look. And he doesn’t rebound. He does not rebound.”
Smith brought up that Shaq was only saying this because he believes Williamson can be the best player in the league, which led to Shaq saying that he used to be the same type of youngster that Williamson is right now. It was around this time that Barkley chimed in and expressed his disappointment in the Pelicans star.
"He's got two guys on his team that are better players than him and they shouldn't be."
Chuck was disappointed in Zion's play tonight. pic.twitter.com/y3IB3lYoQG
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 8, 2023
“The thing that disturbs me is he’s not a young kid,” Barkley said. “When Moses [Malone] told me I was fat and lazy, I was a rookie. He’s been in the league long enough — he’s got two guys on the team that are better players than him and they shouldn’t be. He was the No. 1 pick in the Draft. He should be a better player than [Brandon] Ingram, we like Ingram. Obviously we love C.J. [McCollum]. He should be the best player and he’s not close.”
Barkley then repeated his long-standing belief that Williamson needs to get in better shape before bringing up how he doesn’t rebound enough, which has meant he’s only accrued two double-doubles in the game.
“My grandma was alive, she used to call me every game I didn’t get double-figure rebounding and just kill me,” Barkley said. “A big guy that talented should never get less than 10 rebounds. He should be averaging 11, 12 rebounds a game, but he doesn’t run the floor at all.”
Barkley did make it a point to say some of the blame falls on the Pelicans for using him as more of a point-forward, and stressed that instead of being someone who initiates the offense, he has to be “a finisher.”