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Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith on the toughest players they had to guard

Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith are arguably the best trio of basketball analysts that talk about the NBA. Their banter is unrivaled, and the “Inside the NBA” has multiple Emmys validating the work those three do along with their brilliant host, Ernie Johnson.

Part of the reason those three are so good is the discussions they have. On Thursday, during one of the segments after the Los Angeles Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs, the panel discussed what players were hardest to guard when they played in the league all those years ago.

The answers are somewhat surprising. Barkley said Popeye Jones was the player he had the hardest time with.

“Popeye Jones used to drive me nuts,” Barkley said. “It was something about him. He became an All-Star every time I played against him. He had an unorthodox game, but I could not figure it out.”

Barkley was known as one of the best power forwards in the game in his heyday, so it’s interesting that he did not pick notable players at his position such as Karl Malone or Kevin McHale.

For Smith, Dana Barros and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf proved the hardest for him because of their size.

“I had trouble playing against smaller guards,” Smith said.

But Smith didn’t have trouble with the smallest guards in NBA history, however.

O’Neal’s answer may have been the most interesting. He cited Lawrence Funderburke as the hardest for him to guard. That answer is a little suspect, provided that O’Neal’s contemporaries were Hall of Famers such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Yao Ming and others.

Watch the entire exchange below.