Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley fire back at Zion Williamson’s ‘grown man’ comments: ‘He ain’t ready’

Zion Williamson’s commitment to conditioning and overall fitness has come under fire over the past few weeks, with many sectors of the basketball media criticizing the Pelicans star for his perceived unwillingness to change his body type to better deal with the rigors of the game.

The scrutiny reached a fever pitch on Tuesday, as Basketball Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley — two of Williamson’s biggest critics — offered a rebuttal to comments made by Williamson a little over a week ago after the 23-year-old was presented O’Neal and Barkley’s prior critiques.

The “Inside the NBA” hosts discussed the fifth-year forward ad nauseam. New Orleans’ clash with Memphis — which coincided with Ja Morant’s return to the court after serving a 25-game suspension — was set to be broadcast on TNT.

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And when host Ernie Johnson asked the former superstars how they felt about Williamson’s frustrations, they didn’t appear to be too pleased.

“When it comes to being a dominant big man, I am the authority, I am the go-to guy,” O’Neal said. “I sat there and watched him, you know, I said he doesn’t run hard, he doesn’t create easy baskets for himself and it looked like he’s not ready. That was me telling him ‘If you do this, you can get to the next level.’

On the season, Williamson is averaging 22.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per contest on 58.3 percent shooting. That’s a marked departure from the 26-7-5 he averaged in 29 games last season.

“We only criticize people that we like, we only criticize people that we believe in,” O’Neal said.

Williamson’s remarks, which came after a dominant 36-point, 13-of-17 display against the Timberwolves on Dec. 11, took the NBA by storm. He questioned the intentions of those who have been directing criticism at him, some of which he feels are legitimate, others that are unproductive and border on insensitive.

“At the end of the day, I can’t control what no grown man do,” Williamson said. “I can’t control what no grown adult does. All I can do is control the things I can control, lock in on myself, lock in on my teammates, coaches and everybody with Pelicans, the city and try to win.”

Barkley and O’Neal didn’t agree.

“Why would he worry about where it’s coming from?” Barkley said. “It’s coming from a place…like, we want him to be great.”

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“If you say something about me and I don’t get mad, that mean I’m not ready. His response is telling me he ain’t ready,” O’Neal added. “I would’ve been like ‘F— Shaq and Charles, watch this for the rest of the season.’ That’s how you respond. Because actually when I say certain things, I’m egging you on to see what you’re gonna do.

It’s all about that look and he still don’t have that look today.”

Williamson’s production has tailed off in the games since his mid-December scoring outburst. He missed New Orleans’ 20-point win over the Wizards (rest) and has only tallied up 36 points combined over his last two games (wins over the Hornets and Spurs, respectively).

Barkley isn’t too surprised. In fact, the former MVP said, he experienced similar doldrums during his playing career. That is, until he slimmed down some 50 pounds in the hopes of taking his game to another level.

“You see this kid got so much talent but he’s a yo-yo guy because he’s not in good shape,” Barkley said. “I had to go through that early in my career. I couldn’t play back-to-back games until I lost 50 pounds. That’s why he’ll get 35 one night and 15 the other night. Because he can’t sustain it.”

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