Kobe missed some free throws and the Lakers did not beat the Magic in game 3 of the somewhat anti-climactic NBA Finals. (I barely watched the game, and I'm one of the last 11 NBA fans left in the United States but that's not the point). Watching Sportscenter, I saw Kobe saying that he's used to making game winners and carrying his team to victory. Part of that is true. Kobe carries his team on a nightly basis. It's hard to argue he's not one of the best players of this generation, if not of all time. He's surely in the conversation of top 5 to 8 guards of all time. Some of his teams have been less talented than others, but the Lakers have been contenders more often than not with Kobe on the team. Largely because of Kobe. Like him or dislike him (he is a polarizing figure, one way or another [and if you disagree with that, you're drinking just not being objective]) Kobe is incredibly talented.
But let's talk about clutch. How do we define clutch? Let's define it as a game winning opportunity. Not just buzzer beating shots, as that would be statistically insignificant. Let's define clutch as:
- With 24 seconds or less, then it truly is a "last possession" situation potentially
- With a margin from tied to down 2, the team can take the lead with a made basket (including 3's)
- By excluding a down 3 situation, we don't have the "gimme two point buckets" that defenses will sometimes yield to the quick bucket/intentional foul strategy option you often see exercised.
Who has made the most of these game winning shots in the past 5 years? I'm glad you asked. It's Lebron James, with 17. We all remember the shot he hit against Orlando with hands in his face. Trey (allegedly) celebrated by imitating Lebron's chalk throwing. It was an incredible shot, without a doubt. What is the King's percentage on these shot? .340. Better than league average. Lebron also has 6 assists in these situations. So, one could argue he has created 23 game winners, when adding shots and assists.
Where is Kobe on this list? Well, he's fourth with 14. Certainly nothing to sneeze at. What is his percentage? Again, I'm glad you asked. It's below league average at .250. How many turnovers does he have in these situations? 5. He leads the entire NBA in that category. How many shots has he taken? 56. Wow, that's a lot. He leads the NBA in that category as well. Kobe also leads the league in misses, with 42 game winning shots missed. How many assists does Kobe have in game winning opportunities? One. In 62 chances (56 shots, one pass, 5 turnovers).
This is not to say Kobe is terrible. Clearly, I'm not saying that. I'm saying he's not infallible. But when you hear people say Kobe is the best finisher in the league, re-think that. He's not the most clutch. He doesn't pass to his teammates in those same clutch moments.
I thinks we can all agree that superstars get calls in the NBA. Michael Jordan did, Kobe does, Lebron does, Wade does. Just like in baseball where the tie goes to the runner, the borderline call goes to the star. This is nothing new. But I wonder how many of these calls were bail out calls, or touchy calls, or borderline calls, or superstar calls?
Bottom line: Kobe's good. Very good. He can absolutely finish a game the Lakers are winning by hitting jumpers and getting to the line. But, he's not the best at winning games in the clutch. And he's surely no MJ. Remember when MJ passed to Kerr and Paxson? Those were the plays MJ made. Who besides Kobe has made a game winner for the Lakers? Horry, on an amazing shot that he took after getting an offensive rebound and Fischer, who made an insane shot on an inbounds play. Both of these were against the Spurs in different years.