Blog Entry

So Kobe isn't clutch but really, who is?

Posted on: January 28, 2011 4:42 pm
Posted by Royce Young

Want to start a debate? Say something about Kobe Bryant not being clutch. That's what TrueHoop's Henry Abbott did today and everyone went wild with it.

Honestly, you could probably start your own news channel centered entirely around Kobe debates. Fox News, CNN and MSNBC can argue about politics all they want. The real debate is centered around No. 24.

I know what you're saying, "Tell me more Royce. Why again is Kobe Bryant not clutch? I've seen him make so many big shots." Well, here's Henry's point:
ESPN Stats and Information's Alok Pattani dug through 15 years of NBA data (see table below) -- Bryant's entire career, regular season and playoffs -- and found that Bryant has attempted 115 shots in the final 24 seconds of a game in which the Lakers were tied or trailed by two or fewer points. He connected on 36, and missed 79 times.

One shot for all the cookies. And the NBA is nearly unanimous that this is the guy to take it, even though he has more than twice as many misses as makes?


Bryant shoots more than most, passes less, and racks up misses at an all-time rate. There is no measure, other than YouTube highlights and folklore, by which he's the best scorer in crunch time.
It's hard to argue with the numbers. Because you see, numbers and stats and facts are sort of hard to disprove. I agree with people that say, "But, but, he's Kobe and he makes so many!" because I've seen him hit big shots. It's hard to forget those. Thing is though, he's missed a lot. A whole lot.

My issue is, what the heck even is clutch? What makes a guy clutch? Just because he dropped a few game-winners? In my mind what defines "clutch" is a player that can perform his job at a high rate despite incredible stress. That might mean Bill in your office is super clutch because he got that memo finished before five on Friday afternoon so you all got to go home early.

Everyone wants to define clutch as the guy making the shot. But what about Dwight Howard? He pulls down some big-time defensive rebounds in crunch time. What about Chris Paul? He's set up David West for some big-time shots in crunch time? What about Steve Nash? He's iced some big-time games at the free throw line in crunch time. Aren't all those plays clutch, game-winning plays? Or do we only define it as "buzzer-beating game-winners?" Most do and since Kobe has a lot of those on his resume, he's Mr. Clutch, right? And that's why you want him taking that shot every time, right?

However, any basketball coach and they are telling you what they want is the correct basketball play in those moments. On top of that, you'd prefer your best player taking the biggest shots because there's a reason he's your best player. That's just not always possible.

I remember a few years ago how everyone was yelling about LeBron James passing up game-winning attempt by instead hitting Anthony Parker or Daniel Gibson for a wide openlook. Yes, you want LeBron taking that shot because he's your best player, but LeBron was making the right play. He found an open shooter who had a better look than him. That's what you want, right?

People forget, all the players on the floor are in the NBA. They are all capable of scoring (unless Adam Morrison happens to be on the floor, but that's a whole other point). Michael Jordan is famous for his big shots, but he also hit Steve Kerr for an open 3 and John Paxson for a big 3. Why? Because they were the correct plays.

At the same time, getting that clean look in crunch time isn't easy. Referees let more go, defenders play a little tigher and players' hearts start pumping a little faster and that follow-through gets a little tougher. So what you want first and foremost is a good player to get a good look. I would guess that happens about one percent of the time. What you're left with the other 99 percent of the time is relying on your players to make a great player.

That's what separates these classes of "clutch" scorers. Take Kevin Durant's game-winner against the Knicks for example. That play was horrible and the shot was bad. But that's why you want players like Kobe, Dwyane Wade, Durant, LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki -- they can make those horrible shots. They have that ability to knock it down when everything goes wrong. It's why you have the ball in their hands over Carlos Arroyo or Luke Walton.

At the same time, it's also a reason their clutch numbers aren't that wonderful. Because they are the ones taking them. You know why Tiger Woods is considered so clutch? Because he's had a lot of opportunities. (Now you've got a chicken or the egg thing. Is the reason he had the chances because he's clutch or is he clutch because he has the chances. My take: It doesn't matter. Clutch or not, maybe he's just good at what he does.)

So again, in Durant's case, because of a bad play and bad execution, he was left taking a fadeaway 3-pointer to win the game. If he clanks it, his clutch numbers take a hit. Since he drilled it, everyone is saying how wonderfully big-time he was. And when you're the designated Big Shot Taker, you're going to be stuck with a lot of those. And you're going to miss a lot of them.

Consider this: Most of the time, you get 24 seconds on your possession. That means you have the typical, normal amount of time to run your set and get your shot. What it also means is that you have time to go to a secondary option if the first is shut down. But in crunch-time situations, sometimes there's only 12 seconds on the clock when you inbound the ball. Sometimes two. So you've got to hoist the shot no matter how good a look you end up with. That's why while you can't argue with the numbers, in a lot of cases, there's a bigger story to them.

That's why I think when you start going inside these type of things, it's really hard to pin down the truth. That's why really, it makes me wonder what the heck "clutch" really is and why we're so fascinated by it. Can't Kobe just be a great basketball player?

Kobe Bryant makes some, he misses a lot. Does that make him not clutch? By what the numbers say, most definitely. But then again, who really is?

Since: Sep 27, 2006
Posted on: January 31, 2011 4:06 am

So Kobe isn't clutch but really, who is?

Yeah, Kobe's percentages aren't exactly astounding. But that's because many times he is forced to jack up a shot, no matter how bad, because that is the only option. There isn't always time to make that extra pass, or get his feet set, or dribble more for a better shot. With 3 seconds or less on the clock the options are limited. Kobe has made the extra pass at times and set up a teammate for the game winner. But I wasn't talking about that. When there's time for only 1 shot, He is the best option on the floor no matter the circumstances. When there's only time for 1 shot, it doesn't matter if he's double teamed, tripple teamed, or the whole team is guarding him. If you only have time for 1, just 1, want the ball in Kobe's hand.

Since: Aug 23, 2006
Posted on: January 29, 2011 2:53 pm

So Kobe isn't clutch but really, who is?

Um Hello if the Lakers need a basket at the end of the game they are going to go to Kobe.  I know this, you should know this, the Lakers know this and the teams they play against know this.  Yet he still has 30 whatever makes your terrible stats came up with.  I can guarantee you all these shots are highly contested and aren't set shots.   If you let him go to the left elbow, the game is over.  But so much for being clutch when Lebron and your boy KD won't even get close to what Kobe has accomplished.

Since: Nov 9, 2010
Posted on: January 29, 2011 11:16 am

So Kobe isn't clutch but really, who is?

In an ironic sort of way, the attention this subject seems to be getting might be good for players like Kevin Durant. He was starting to take some heat about not being "clutch" at the end of games, which is nonsense. But hitting that you've-got-to-be-kidding-me shot against the Knicks silenced all that. For now. But maybe something like this could help take some of the pressure off players like him thinking they always have to be "the man" at the end of a game. Too much is made of that.  
I always thought the criticisms of LeBron James passing the ball to an open teammate that time were ridiculous. I'm no fan of James. But that was the right play. Last spring when Bryant whipped it over to Artest for that big-time 3-pointer against the Celtics in game seven....if he misses it, does Bryant take heat for not taking the shot? Think about that one for a moment. Kobe Bryant, catching heat for passing up a shot in crunch time. Didn't happen because Artest made the shot. And Bryant made the right play instead of forcing something. For a change. But the thing is, it was the right play to make, period, regardless of the outcome. 
It comes down to a simple question: Is is about being "the man," or is it about winning the game? I think for Bryant, the two are one and the same in his mind. The numbers say he should re-think that. Or rather, that he should have re-through it years ago. But maybe the stark, unemotional numbers behind the article on Bryant, and all the screaming that seems to be resulting, will make some other players realize that if you make the right play at the right time, even if it means that someone else takes the shot, that's really how you get to be "the man." And what it means to be "clutch."

Since: Nov 9, 2010
Posted on: January 29, 2011 11:06 am

So Kobe isn't clutch but really, who is?

"He doesn't always make it, but he has a better chance than anybody else!"
That's kind of the point though - he doesn't. The numbers say so. He *takes* more of those shots than anybody, even when he shouldn't. But going by his track record, if you bet against him making that shot, and do so every time, you're going to come out ahead. Way, way, ahead. Perception is that he almost always makes those shots. Reality is, he usually doesn't. And it's not even close. 

Since: Sep 27, 2006
Posted on: January 29, 2011 10:36 am

So Kobe isn't clutch but really, who is?

When you're talking about being clutch, stats have nothing to do with it. Like said, many times a guy is forced to jack up an awful shot, just trying to get it off on time, hoping it will go in. The simple fact is, when the game is on the line who do you want with the ball. 90% of people who have any idea what they are talking about would put that ball in Kobe's hands. He doesn't always make it, but he has a better chance than anybody else!

Since: Sep 4, 2007
Posted on: January 28, 2011 10:06 pm

So Kobe isn't clutch but really, who is?

OK give me a break.  I dont like Kobe.  He quit on his team on several occasions.  He still is one of the most clutch players I have ever seen.
My definition of clutch looks at several factors.
1. Heart or willingness to do what is necessary to win.  Success is on the other side of failure so your percentage really doesn't matter that much to me.  That certainty that your team will win by what you decide.
2. Ability to make the play.  This can be a pass, a rebound, a shot, or a good basketball play.
3. Inspiration.  Does everyone watching think you are going to do it?  Self fulfilling

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