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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Being a Clutch Player is More Significant than Just Making Clutch Shots

Even though game-winning shots are very exciting, it is much more important to be a clutch player than to simply hit clutch shots; it is more impressive and significant to be able to control an entire game--or at least large stretches of a game--than to hit one shot at the end, even if that one shot provides the final margin of victory. Kobe Bryant has nailed six game-winning shots this year but what really matters--as I noted in a recent post--is that he has carried the Lakers to victories in several games that they would have surely lost if he had not been so efficient and productive.

Still, I know that it is fun to look at highlights of game-winning shots. So, here is some video candy (6/4/21 Note: the original link no longer works; I have replaced it with a link from that season, but some of the shots described below are not depicted in this video):

Unless you hate the Lakers or you are a fan of one of the teams Bryant victimized then you probably enjoyed watching that clip--but from a skill set standpoint two things are more important than the simple fact that Bryant made those shots.

Regardless of where Bryant received the ball on each of those plays or what kind of shot he ultimately took, note how he squared his shoulders toward the target and utilized text book shooting form prior to releasing each shot. Even on the off balance bank shot that beat the Heat--a shot that Bryant called "lucky"--Bryant's shoulders were squared and his shooting form was correct despite the way that he had to contort the rest of his body to get the shot off. Bryant makes these late game shots for the same reason that he is so deadly during the first 47 minutes of the game: he has perfected his skill set in terms of getting open, squaring up his shoulders and shooting against even a well placed defender.

Although so much attention has been paid to these six shots, Bryant did a lot of work in most of those games prior to hitting those shots. Some morons--like a blogger who loves the Knicks, a team that plays defense about as well as he writes--say that if Bryant played better throughout the games then the Lakers would not need for him to hit game winners, but that idiotic contention is easily refuted by examining some brief back stories about several of Bryant's game-winning shots:

1) Bryant scored a game-high 33 points on 12-25 shooting against the Heat on December 4. He also grabbed seven rebounds, just one fewer than his big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum each had.

2) Bryant scored a game-high 39 points on 13-28 shooting against the Bucks on December 16. He added seven rebounds (tied for second on the team) and four assists (tied for the team high) while playing a game-high 49:59 just four days after suffering an avulsion fracture to the index finger on his right (shooting hand).

3) Bryant scored a game-high 39 points on 13-27 shooting against the Kings on January 1. He also led the Lakers in assists (five) and ranked third in rebounds (five) while playing a game-high 47:14.

4) Suffering through back spasms, Bryant scored just 10 points on 5-11 shooting against the Mavericks on January 13; for most of the game he was an effective decoy, not committing a single turnover in 35:00 and drawing double teams that provided open shots for his teammates.

5) Bryant tied Bynum for team-high honors with 19 points (on 8-20 shooting) against the Celtics on January 31. Bryant led the Lakers with six assists in a game-high 44:58.

6) Bryant scored a game-high 32 points on 13-19 shooting against the Grizzlies on February 23. He also had a game-high six assists and tied for second on the team with seven rebounds.

The game-winning shots look good in the highlight video but check out Bryant's overall statistics from those six games: 172 points (28.7 ppg) on 64-130 shooting (.492). Bryant had game-high point totals in four of those games while also posting excellent rebounding and assist numbers--and those figures would be even better if he had sat out versus Dallas instead of fighting through back spasms (earlier this season, Bryant said that he thinks that part of the reason many players miss games with injuries that Bryant plays through is that those players are trying to protect their statistical averages).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying highlight videos of game-winning shots--but truly being a clutch player consists of a lot more than scoring a few timely baskets at the end of games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 AM



At Monday, March 08, 2010 1:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great write-up,very objective,amen man!

At Monday, March 08, 2010 4:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you regard Derek Fisher as clutch? For example Im thinking of his 3 at the end of Game 4 in last years Finals. Although he is slowing with age, he still seems able to step up at critical moments. And conversly who wouldnt you want to have the ball in last couple of minutes?

At Monday, March 08, 2010 7:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Derek Fisher has hit several clutch shots during his career, including the ".04" shot versus the Spurs and his big three pointer versus the Magic in last year's NBA Finals. The larger point of this post is that it is more important to be able to dominate play for significant stretches of a game than to simply hit one shot. Hitting a game-winning shot is great and it is exciting but in order to win a championship--as opposed to winning one game--you have to have a player who can control the course of the game for a significant period of time. For instance, Kobe Bryant's 18 fourth quarter points versus the Magic yesterday are not made less meaningful because his toe was on the line during his last three point shot or because he missed a midrange jumper at the buzzer. It is shortsighted to evaluate "clutchness" purely on the basis of someone's shooting percentage on shots taken in the last 10 seconds (or whatever time frame is used in such studies) of a game; it is "clutch" to dominate a game during the final several minutes even though the opposing defense is focused on stopping you.

At Tuesday, June 01, 2010 3:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not very objective if you ask me. Kobe is a great player but in the stats you listed, in only one of those games did he shoot better than 50%. And just because you are tied for the team lead in assist or rebounds does not mean that you had a good game. Example, 4 or 5 assists to lead the team is not really setting the world on fire.
I think this is the only thing keeping Kobe from ever catching jordan. MJ had a much better all around game. For instance I can't believe that Kobe has never had a playoff triple double.

At Wednesday, June 02, 2010 8:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your comment makes no sense. Did you actually watch any of these games?

Due to the increased usage of the three point shot, it is very unusual for a "volume scoring" shooting guard in the current era to shoot over 50% from the field. It is actually quite impressive that Kobe is shooting .483 from the field during this year's playoffs; that is the second best field goal percentage of his playoff career. Kobe's 2010 playoff effective field goal percentage (which adjusts field goal percentage to include the extra point from each three point field goal) of .532 is also the second best average of his career and is better than all but three of MJ's 13 playoff campaigns (MJ had two .533 EFG postseasons and one .537 EFG postseason).

I have said many times that I consider assists to be a "semi bogus" stat because of the subjective way in which those numbers are tabulated but if you watch Kobe's assists you will note that most of them are legit even by "old school" standards: dishes to big men that result in immediate dunks and kick outs to three point shooters. The Triangle Offense is not set up in a fashion to enable any one player to get tons of assists, so it is significant that Kobe has led the Lakers in assists so many times not just this season/postseason but throughout his career. It is also very significant that Kobe draws so much defensive attention that on many plays one or more of his teammates are wide open; Kobe often does not get an assist on such plays but his presence created the open shot.

It is a bit of a fluke that Kobe has never had a playoff triple double; he has just missed on several occasions. Also, Kobe ranks third in NBA playoff history with 33 games of 30 points-five rebounds-five assists, a stat line which is more dominant than many triple doubles.

I have never said that Kobe is as good as MJ or that he can "catch" MJ but I do agree with those who say that Kobe is the closest player in today's game to MJ.


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