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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Kobe Bryant in the Clutch...the Rest of the Story

Much has been said recently about Kobe Bryant's proficiency in "clutch" situations. I offered my general take on this issue last year in an article titled Being a Clutch Player is More Significant than Just Making Clutch Shots.

An interesting article digs deeper into a much cited stat--that Kobe Bryant has made just six of 22 game-winning field goal attempts during his playoff career--and shows that when those 22 shots are placed into a larger context Bryant actually performed well overall and the Lakers were very successful for the most part even in the games when Bryant missed a late shot that could have potentially tied or won the contest. For instance--just to cite the most recent of Bryant's misses--it is more than a bit of a stretch to say that Bryant was not "clutch" after he produced 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists with just two turnovers in a 103-101 Lakers victory over the Suns in game five of the 2010 Western Conference Finals; Bryant's "sin" in this game (according to those who mindlessly categorize all late game shots the same way regardless of distance, time remaining, etc.) was that he missed a desperation three point heave with just two seconds left in the game: two Suns crowded Bryant to contest his shot, leaving Ron Artest free to gather the miss and convert the game-winning putback. Maybe someday the "stat gurus" will figure out that the defensive attention that Bryant draws creates scoring opportunities for Bryant's teammates. NBA TV's Chris Webber has shown a refreshingly clearheaded grasp of this concept in several recent comments, repeatedly declaring that all of the Lakers other than Bryant were "mere mortals" prior to coming to L.A. and they would be "mere mortals" now if they were not playing alongside Bryant.

I don't expect biased or foolish writers to ever figure this stuff out--but don't fans deserve better than the recycled, nonsensical garbage shoveled out by the "big names" who cover the NBA? Are there really no editors who have the sense/guts to buck the establishment, shock the world and provide a forum for someone who has not been officially vetted by the would-be Don of NBA blogging/writing? Or is ESPN going to ultimately achieve a Pravda-like monopoly on NBA coverage because so many people are afraid to challenge the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader" for fear of not being invited to blog for ESPN(Chicago/Boston/fill in the name of your hometown).com?

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:56 AM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Sunday, February 06, 2011 7:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks David for fresh breeze and unbiased comments about Kobe and so called advanced stats all the time!Much appreciated.

 
At Sunday, February 06, 2011 5:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

wen will kobe haters end the madness personality wise im not big kobe fan but he is one of the seven best players in nba history. he is very clutch and been great player but. i dont understand, why kobe haters can t embrace that fact and let this whole nonsense go on kopbe me and my dad both have. wat ur sayin about kobe is not true and u kno it henry abbott and others. lol people need to let the kobe hate go. i kno kobe fans think kobe a little better than he is thinkin he as good or better than mj but he is great player.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 3:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

Within the mainstream blogging community, they seem to have some self important notion that they are "bucking the trend," on conventional sports wisdom. Of course, the irony is that bloggers like Henry Abbott draw paychecks from ESPN (the network which perpetuates "conventional sports wisdom").

The Kobe Bryant hatred in the media runs strong. I was looking at the voting results for the 2006 MVP award. While Kobe received the second most votes for first place, he also received the most fifth place votes and was entirely left off more ballots than Nash, Dirk and Lebron put together. People either really like the guy, or they can't stand him.

Bryant rationalized it pretty well though, I think. I remember reading a comment he made saying that he felt the reason that Jordan was always admired and Kobe disliked, in spite of their similar demeanors, is because of the different eras they played in. Basically, Jordan's early years (where he said a lot of divisive things about teammates) weren't subject to internet coverage.

"You ever hear of a guy, six-eleven maybe and two hundred sixty pounds, a guy big and fat like that and he can't get but two rebounds, if that many, running all over the damn court and he gets two rebounds? Big guy like that and he gets one rebound. Can't even stick his ass into people and get more than that...Big, fat, fat guy. One rebound in three games. Power forward. Maybe they should call it powerless forward." - Jordan talking about Stacy King

I mean...seriously? Lebron is getting torn to pieces for little comments taken out of context here and there. Imagine how people would have reacted to THAT.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 5:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

You're welcome.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 5:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

The "haters will end the madness" when editors stop hiring them and readers stop visiting their websites/buying magazines with their articles. The public is not powerless and the publishers will respond if a strong message is sent that the public demands a higher quality product.

This really has nothing to do with saying that Kobe is better than MJ or even comparing the two of them at all; as you well know, I have never said that Kobe is better than MJ and I generally restrict myself to comparing Kobe with his contemporaries.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 5:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sharp:

Abbott is as "mainstream" as they come and has been anointed an unofficial Don of the bloggers; he has bragged that everyone who has gotten a full time NBA writing gig in the past year or so came out of his True Hoop Network. Basically, he elevates nonentities to professional status in exchange for loyalty; everybody links to everybody else and boosts each other's traffic, while quality work by outsiders is ignored (just check out the comments thread to my recent post about the decline of journalism and click on the link where Josh Tucker describes how Abbott would call him up and try to dictate to Tucker what to write and what not to write).

I wrote about the absurdities of the 2006 MVP voting shortly after the results were announced:

"Kobe received 22 first place votes in the MVP balloting, second only to Steve Nash, but only finished fourth overall because more than 20 voters left him completely off of their ballots. I was glad to hear Barkley, a frequent critic of Kobe's, say that those people should lose their voting privileges. Approximately one sixth of the voters picked Kobe as the MVP of the league and approximately one sixth of the voters did not even place him in the top five. I don't have a big problem with Nash winning but anyone who left Kobe completely off of the ballot either does not understand basketball or is motivated by factors other than what happens on the court."

MJ received a lot of media coverage, particularly for his era, but the negative stories about him never really damaged his reputation; Sam Smith's book Jordan Rules described how hard MJ could be on his teammates and even quoted Bill Cartwright lamenting that as talented as MJ was he simply did not understand how to play team basketball: in one game MJ missed eight or nine opportunities to pass to an open Cartwright and then-Bulls Coach Phil Jackson joked at least MJ was under double figures in that game. Years later, MJ actually punched Steve Kerr in practice and gave Kerr a black eye! Jackson kicked MJ out of the practice and MJ apologized to Kerr but can you imagine the fallout if Kobe had done something like that? There used to be a guy who commented here and kept saying that Kobe was a bad guy because he supposedly argued with one of his teammates on the team bus!

MJ has been associated with some off court scandals, too, but nothing really seems to lessen his popularity.

Meanwhile, Kobe is held to an almost impossibly high and yet contradictory standard that demands that he simultaneously involve his teammates at all times but also be ready at the flip of a switch to completely take over the game and never miss a shot with less than five minutes remaining.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 6:43:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
Like i said before, In the last three years with 24 seconds remaining on the clock, Kobe has had the best shooting percentage. But Henry Abbot didn't use these numbers because it didn't fit his M.O. Every year he writes the same article and then makes the rounds on the radio circuit.

Plus it is funny how he put kobe's career numbers against players who only have been in the league for 7-8 years or less than that.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 7:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JackF:

I recently mentioned those same numbers as well.

There are two larger issues, though:

(1) It is ridiculous that Abbott exercises such influence in this field.

(2) There is such a small sample size of "clutch" moments (however one defines "clutch") that it is foolish to draw sweeping conclusions based on a handful of plays or on statistics culled from 150-200 minutes of play over the course of an entire season. It is much more relevant to determine which players have the ability to control games/playoff series than to obsess over small data samples.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 9:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MJ knew how to work the media. He knew who to charm and who to intimidate. He knew how to protect himself and his reputation.

Kobe isn't as good in this area as Jordan and the problem is compounded with the growing power of the media.

I don't think one is more arrogant than the other.

I don't agree that Kobe is as hated as you make it sound. A lot of fans in opposing arenas chant MVP for him. His jerseys are among the top sellers. He has as many fans in China as Yao.

People who don't spend a ton of time arguing about basketball with strangers online adore him as much as they did MJ.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2011 10:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I am not sure if by "you" you are referring to me or the previous commenter but I agree with you that Kobe is not "hated" by the majority of fans and I also agree with you that MJ was far more savvy about working the media--or at least more interested in doing so--than Kobe is. However, in general I think that the media is more critical of Kobe than it was of MJ or, at the very least, the media holds Kobe to some kind of higher--but essentially unfair and unrealistic--standard.

 
At Tuesday, February 08, 2011 12:01:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Kobe doesn't worry about fighting the media because he knows it's a losing battle.

People hate Kobe and they'll use any possible excuse to denigrate him. If he scores 62 in 3 quarters, they'll get on him for having 0 assists. If he tries to distribute the ball, he either sabotaged the game or quit. And of course, Shaq won the first 3 championships all by himself and Pau Gasol did it all by himself in the last 2.

Even if the Lakers win the next 5 championships with Kobe winning Final MVP all 5 times while shooting 100% from the floor, it will be because he played in a "weak era". And he'll never be as good as Jordan.

Kobe is smarter than that - he knows that the game is about winning. So he'll just focus on the winning part and let the naysayers spout whatever they want - and let the results make them look more and more foolish.

 
At Tuesday, February 08, 2011 2:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DanielSong39:

I think that you are right that Kobe has quite deliberately made the decision to not cater to the media the way that MJ did. When I covered All-Star Weekend for the first time (2005), I interviewed Kobe at a time when his image had been damaged by the Colorado situation and Shaq's departure from L.A. Kobe told me, "The truth always comes out, so I don't worry about it. I don't think about it. It's going to shake out. People who talk about me in a negative manner don't know me. They don't know me. If they had a chance to be around me and kick it with me and get to know me, then they can judge. I think that will come out as years go by. People will see how I truly am and what I'm truly about and everything will be all right." He was not worried about how the media was portraying him because he felt that in the long run the truth would come out; since that time, Kobe has won one regular season MVP, two Finals MVPs, two scoring titles and two NBA championships. This year he received the most fan votes in All-Star balloting, something that probably would have been unthinkable six or seven years ago. Most sensible people understand that Kobe is most motivated by his powerful drive for excellence, which he defines in terms of maximizing his skill set to help his team win championships--and, as you suggest, that will be his lasting legacy. MJ wanted to win just as badly as Kobe does but MJ also wanted to build a brand; LeBron obviously is trying to build a brand and the next five to 10 years will reveal how committed he truly is to winning championships.

 

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