Around the World (Wide Web): Is Kobe Clutch?

Phillip Barnett —  January 28, 2011

(Below, Henry Abbott takes a look at the reality of Kobe’s clutch time greatness, or lack thereof.)

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Ask pundits. Ask general managers. Ask players. Ask almost anybody. Who would like to have take the last shot with the game on the line? Kobe Bryant wins by a country mile. Every time. (In a general manager poll this season, he earned 79% of the vote, his ninth consecutive blowout.) There is not really any other serious candidate. Ask me, though, (as Ryen Russillo did last week and Mike Trudell the other day) and I’ll tell you I don’t know who’s the best, but with all due respect to Bryant’s amazing abilities scoring the ball, there’s zero chance he’s the king of crunch time.

From J.A. Adande, TrueHoop: It’s hard to upstage Phil Jackson when it comes to talking. Jackson’s whimsical ruminations have a way of turning into national news. I’ve seen him top a 10-minute Gary Payton rant with a mere two words. That’s why it’s unusual that the takeaway from an evening with Jackson and current and former Laker players at Staples Center Thursday was the emcee’s repeated references to Brian Shaw as Jackson’s eventual replacement. Bill Macdonald, the pre- and postgame host for Laker broadcasts on FSN West, introduced Shaw as “the next coach of the Lakers” and made a point of asking Jackson and players Derek Fisher and Luke Walton about Shaw’s ability to take over for the most successful coach in NBA history.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Having gone this route several times in his coaching career, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson understands the skepticism. He had mulled leaving the game multiple times during his storied coaching career, only to return rejuvenated and in most cases with another championship ring. An ugly divorce between Bulls management and Jackson led to his departure in 1998 after six championships. It was presumed the same fate would rest with the Lakers after his hasty departure following the 2004 season, capped most notably with his book, “The Last Season,” which exposed many inner conflicts within the organization. And Jackson appeared on the verge of leaving again after the 2010 title run, only to need a week’s  rest in Montana to find the lure of a fourth three-peat too tempting to pass up.

From Elliot Teaford, LA Daily News: At some point tonight, Kobe Bryant probably will swish a jump shot that will account for his 11th and 12th points against the Sacramento Kings, enabling him to tie Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It’s anyone’s guess how many points Bryant might score tonight against the lowly Kings. It might not be all that many because the Lakers might be way ahead and he might not play in the fourth quarter. But it’s a good bet Bryant will score at least 12 points and catch Olajuwon, who scored 26,946 during his Hall of Fame career. It’s also likely that Bryant will continue his climb, with an eye toward becoming the highest-scoring guard in league history. Michael Jordan is the only guard ahead of him, sitting in third with 32,292.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Thursday night, the NBA announced the starting lineups for February’s All-Star Game at Staples. Kobe Bryant was among those named. In other news, the sun rose in the east this morning, and taxes are due April 15th. Bryant led the balloting with 2,380,016 votes- his first win of the big popularity contest since 2006- almost 300K more than Orlando’s Dwight Howard. It’s the 13th straight season in which Kobe has been selected for the team. Only three players- Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, and Karl Malone- have played in 14 consecutive. Nobody has ever earned 15 in a row, but it’s pretty difficult to picture a scenario in which Kobe doesn’t get there. Even if he was hurt in the preseason and didn’t play a game, he’d likely be one of the two leading vote-getters among Western Conference guards. Not that I’m advocating he test the theory, but at this stage of his career voting for Bryant has become reflexive for much of the basketball public, particularly among international fans, and deservedly so.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Before the season, Sacramento was widely considered an up-and-coming team. Not one that would challenge for a playoff spot this season, but an intriguing group with young talent and a very good chance to improve on their 25-win 2009-10 campaign. Or, maybe they’d totally disintegrate as a team in the midst of serious questions about the future of basketball in our state capital. There’s always that option. And it’s the direction things have gone for Paul Westphal and Co. this year. They arrive for tonight’s game at Staples with only 10 wins in 43 games, tied with Minnesota for the second lowest total in the league and only two ahead of a Cleveland that has lost, at last count, 298 games in a row. To get a better feel for how and why things have gone so wrong for the Kings this season, we reached out to Zach Harper, host of Cowbell Kingdom (and ESPN’s raucous Daily Dime Live chats). He was willing to answer our questions regarding a team with few answers these days:

From Sekou Smith, Hang Time Blog: This is a direct message to the anti-Kobe Bryant crowd out there. Give it up! Give up the fight. And give it up for Kobe Bean Bryant. Seriously, stop hating on the man and surrender. There’s a good chance KB Bryant is going to leave this game with his face on the NBA’s version of Mt. Rushmore, alongside those idols from his childhood, specifically Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. You can’t win this argument. Despite all of your theories to the contrary and reasons for why he should not, could not and will not go down as one of the game’s top five all-time greats, it’s going to happen. There’s no stopping him now. He’s already got the championship rings (five of them, to be exact) and career longevity that has eluded so many other seekers of basketball’s holy grail (fame, fortune, rings and legendary status).

UPDATE: Lastly, LD2K gets us ready for the next round in the Lakers/Celtics rivalry coming up this Sunday. Enjoy.

Phillip Barnett

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32 responses to Around the World (Wide Web): Is Kobe Clutch?

  1. Abbott may be right that Kobe isn’t all that great in crunch time.

    But Kobe’s clearly doing SOMETHING right, isn’t he?

    I know most people point to his five titles as evidence, and so will I: it’s not like he’s just been along for the ride(s) … in reality he’s been – without a doubt! – either the best or second best player on each and every one of those five championship squads.

  2. I still would trust Kobe in that situation. I think if Melo or CP3 had taken anywhere near the volume of shots Kobe has according to that article, their FG% would surely drop.

  3. I don’t know why so many people are talking about the Abbott article. He posts this kind of “the stats say Kobe is overrated” argument every few months or so. It’s all old hat.

    BUUUUT, since the subject has already been broached: We get it, Henry. Kobe is only viewed as clutch because he takes a lot of shots with the game on the line. Blah blah blah Lakers suck go Blazers. By the way, based on your precious statistics, Anderson Varejao and Ronny Turiaf (among others) are more clutch than Kobe, because OMG higher percentages! Nope, that doesn’t fail the laugh test. Perfectly valid, perfectly reasonable.

    As far as the “ballhog” label goes, that ridiculous myth has been thoroughly debunked more times than I can count, including on this very website. Abbott, for those who don’t remember, is the same clown who parsed a Kobe dunk clip and said he was selfish for jumping over Steve Nash, slamming it home and electrifying the crowd… instead of passing to a “wide open” Kwame Brown. I… really don’t need to say any more after that, except that there is no such thing as a wide open Kwame Brown–not when there’s a 75% chance (I know Abbott loves his arbitrarily-determined numbers!) that Ol’ Butterfingers will botch the catch or the layup.

    So, yeah. Haters gonna hate.

  4. Am I crazy or is this about the 5th time Abbott has written about why Kobe isn’t clutch. And its always when Kobe starts to play well. Its like he has a mission to prove why Kobe isn’t great, it’s annoying.

    And basically Abbott is calling everyone crazy for thinking kobe is clutch. I like how he doesn’t mention clutch freethrows because I believe kobe is about 90%.

  5. @Amyable

    I remember when he posted that. I dont know how someone can call out a person for trying to dunk the ball (typically a very high percentage score). lol

  6. @Joel B. Also note the timing of this article: It’s the morning after Lebron goes 7-24 and chokes down the clutch. Abbott’s written a handful of posts about how people shouldn’t criticize Lebron for “The Decision” (actually, he focuses on the crappiness of the Cavs and totally glosses over the whole crap-on-Cleveland-on-national-TV issue). I think he’s a Blazer fan first, a Lebron homer second, and a Laker/Kobe hater third. Since the two cornerstones of the Blazers franchise have had various and sundry limbs fall off, he’s more and more indulging in the remaining compulsions.

    @Shaqfor3

    Exactly! I’d take a Kobe dunk attempt over a Kwame catch attempt any day.

    As an aside, I think I may have been wrong about the Turiaf comment (I was basing it off of what I remembered from the clutch stats of a couple years ago). This year, however, the leading clutch players by Abbott’s metric are the inimitable Kris Humphries-Kardashian, Marcus “Money” Camby and Demar “Better than MJ” Derozen. Still lol-worthy.

  7. Joel B. You are exactly right. I guess this way Abbott doesn’t actually have to come up with a new angle or write a new story….

    The great thing is that pretty much every basketball person (I mean those who actually play or coach the game) agrees, the olympic gold medal game pretty much decided for this generation who the go to guy was in crunch time, but we get this argument three times a year from Abbott.

    It is much of the reason I almost never read anything at ESPN anymore. There is zero insight coming out of that place anymore. They are going for entertainment not insightful reporting or interesting writing.

  8. He is right for a career. But stats over the last five years with less than twenty seconds left in a two point game… Kobe is miles ahead of anyone else.

  9. @VoR
    You mean the fact that they allowed LeBron to take over for an hour to publicly crush the collective hearts of Cleveland wasn’t enough of a clue? ;)

    And the short summary of Adande’s article up there shows exactly why no one is asking him. Some of the best basketball players and coaches in the world are in full agreement that if your life hinges on the last game’s last buzzer-beater, they want Kobe to take the shot. But Henry Adande knows that they’re wrong.

    He could at least have the courtesy to present a solid reason for why he is better qualified to make this judgment.

    And that’s a great video from Game 7, by the way Let’s start building the hype for Sunday! :)

  10. I know this is kind of an aside, but did anyone on here sign up to be a volunteer for the all star jam session?? If so, did you recieve a confirmation letter yet?? I just want to know if I was chosen or not because I doubt they will tell you if you weren’t..

  11. And look what I did. I typed “adande” instead of “abbott”.

    That’s… that’s… that’s hilarious and hugely embarrassing. Please assume I meant Henry Abbott all along! :D

  12. My biggest problem with using stats like this exclusively is the supporters claim that anyone who refuses to accept the possibility of their conclusions is biased and has an closed mind.

    Which I would agree with a lot more except hard core stats defenders refuse to admit the limitations of their models. If there’s such a wide disparity between what we see with our eyes and feel with our hearts and what the stats show, maybe we need to look at both. Not just the eyeball but the numbers model too.

    I don’t worry about how numbers might rank someone 1 and I think they could be 2, because that’s pretty close, that’s just tolerable variance.

    But to have such a wide gulf in conclusions means both sides have to have an open mind. Not just the people who think Kobe is clutch. The numbers people need to look at their model too and see if their are missing factors. It cuts both ways. If you ask me for an open mind, then you need to give me the same courtesy.

  13. I think Abbott’s “statistics” go a long way to debunking the myth that Kobe is god-like in crunch time; he clearly makes mistakes, more than half the time, but his sheer number of attempts allow his made shots to seem more salient.

    However, I think the poll of GM’s says that if you had one shot to win the game, who would you want taking it. In that regard, you can’t look at teammates, or a coach, or an offensive system, or a play, or anything like that. You can only look at one guy, with some sort of defense against him. And Kobe makes more extraordinarily difficult shots than anyone in the league (probably because he takes more and thus has more practice).

    Assuming this hypothetical defense is one of the best defenses in the league, you can’t expect your play to run perfectly, so you have to assume that your player will be forced to take a difficult shot. For that purpose, Kobe is your guy, no question.

  14. @exhelodrvr
    That article makes the point in a much better way, not only because it’s making a point of spelling out all the non-stat factors (refs swallow their whistles, players are tired, etc), but because it presents the whole casein a way that doesn’t focus on “Kobe isn’t as good as you think!”.

    And regardless of whether you agree that it’s fair or not, anyone who wants Kobe-lovers (like me!) to listen to them when they level harsh criticism at him, need to be careful in how they phrase it. And Adande has been doing it as a habit, for so long and in such a dry and Kobe-focused manner, that most of us who don’t pay much attention to statistics simply assume that he doesn’t have any valid points.

  15. Besides last second shots (Which Kobe has made a ton) How many times has he just takin over the game in the 4th with
    4 or 5 straight buckets and ended the game right there. Abbott and the other stat heads just do not seem to get it. Basketball is Jazz not math.

  16. wouldn’t it be great to have a lakers-fan writer as high in the sportswriting ladder as the abbotts and the simmons, to counter some of their nonsense?

  17. Han,
    The only ladder that Abbott is on is a step ladder.

  18. I thought Abbot was a comedy writer. We’re supposed to take him seriously? That’s funny!

  19. @#17 Han, David Friedman over at http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/ is a superb writer who has written a lot of balanced Kobe articles debunking many of the myths held against him. The Kobe section alone in the side index is huge. Great read for anyone who thinks Kobe is shortchanged by these types of Abbot articles.

    Friedman’s written for a lot of major publications. His problem is he comes across as abrasive and is completely disdainful of Dwyer and Abbot. Thus he doesn’t get any exposure from two of the biggest sporting blog outlets. A few years back he would actually get linked at BDL and True Hoop ocassionally. But he got into a dustup with both and claims that Dwyer was personally attacking him in emails.

    If you look at his index and read his comments, he’s got a deep history of writing and interviews. But he’s also called out many prominent publications and writers when he sees something he thinks is weak. Look at the article where he just broke down weak writing and reasoning from other name bloggers and publications.

    He’s adamant that he won’t kiss up to anyone and I’m sure that abrasiveness has stopped him from getting many jobs.

  20. With all due respect to Darius, who I know is a part of Henry’s network,

    Henry is, for lack of a better word, an idiot. He makes this point repeatedly and it’s gotten quite old.

    The talking heads repeatedly say they love making negative points about the lakers, especially the lakers, because it draws in HUGE numbers of readers.

    Let’s not give them what they want and move right along. Celts Lakers on sunday? Should be fun.

  21. Anyone read the new Simmons story on Kobe and others playing so well deep into their careers? It was an interesting read, though he lost a little at the end when he suggest LeBron will continue to be a wrecking ball as he gets older.

    Nash, Kobe, Pierce, Dirk and Ray Allen all have skills and their success has never been the direct result of simply being a better athlete than the next guy. (Yes, early Kobe was a better athlete than most. But he also brought so much more than that to the table.)

    LeBron’s the size of a power forward and has been in the league for seven or eight years now, yet he shows no more low-post skills than Derek Fisher. Can anyone really believe LeBron will be a great player when he has to rely more on skill and guile than simply putting his shoulder down and charging toward the rim? Unless he suddenly learns to play basketball, I don’t see it.

  22. I understand all the fascination with who is clutch and how one performs in the late moments of games, but isn’t the whole point to put the game away early and not have to deal with the close ones? based on my reading of Henry’s numbers – thats exactly what the Lakers have done during the Kobe era. The article states that over the last 15 years the Lakers have had the NBA’s highest offensive efficiency. So if he wants to say Kobe is merely pedestrian in the clutch – fine, whatever. But then you also have to accept the other side of the coin – that he’s damn good in the other 47:36 and more often then not puts his team in a position where you don’t have to worry about the final 24. Which should be every team’s objective in the first place.

  23. With our knowledge of Henry Abbott, (you did it again Mimsy) exactly why would readers of this thread even link to his column. I have a suggestion Darius – even if he is an ESPN compatriot of yours – how about not including his comments in your threads? There is no point in stale garbage being included in our commentary.

  24. MICHAEL ZARABI aka ZERB January 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    is today BASH KOBE DAY?

    i love him and im glad hes on our side

    haters can hate all they want

    and by the way … i went to boston to watch that game above where kobe made the game winner … one of best games i have ever been to

  25. Since nobody else has raised the point: it’s not uncommon that Kobe makes up for a miss on the offensive end with disruption on the defensive end, but I’m not sure that the same can be said of the other candidates for being ‘Mr. Clutch’. An analysis of clutch play which focuses only on offensive statistics is going to be one-sided.

  26. Again?? Dammit! :D

    My argument for not including links to Henry Abbott (finally!) isn’t so much that his writing is stale garbage, but rather that several readers here seem not to enjoy reading his work. Yes, there are a lot of Kobe-myths and hero worship going on, and I think rational and mature fans would welcome a rational and mature reality check, provided that it’s actually making a good argument and backing up that argument with sound reasoning. But I think it’s clear from the comments here, that Henry Abbott isn’t coming across as rational and mature, with sound reasoning and good arguments, to those who bothered to comment on his article.

    Friedman’s blog or the SI article exhelodrvr linked to have been making the same points that Abbott fails to make in much better ways, I’d enjoy links to them a lot more. And those I would actually click on and read. ;)

  27. Why must we relegate “clutch” to the last 24 seconds rather than say, the last 3 minutes or so. I can’t even tell you how many times where I’ve seen players (Kobe more than most) make HUGE shots shortly before that 24 second mark that basically decided the outcome of the game and ultimately rendered the last 24 seconds irrelevant. Does that make those shots any less meaningful as they relate to “clutchness”?

  28. This is at least the 5th time Henry Abbott has written about Kobe “not” being clutch. Even in a season when Kobe hasn’t needed to make a game-winner, he’s still re-visiting the subject and trying to hammer it home over and over again. So it’s pretty clear Henry has a strong anti-Laker/Kobe bias (as evidenced by him always picking the other team to beat LA in his predictions).

    Number two is the fact that, yes, numbers do lie. Michael Jordan wasn’t putting up the best statistics in the league during his final years – even ignoring the Wizards debacle – but there was no argument about who was the best in the NBA at the time. Intangibles and other plays that don’t make it to the stat sheet play a much bigger factor than percentages and ratios. Kobe makes the baskets when they count, as evidenced by his 5 championship rings. Just like MJ, his numbers alone may not seem impressive when compared to other players, but so much more goes into Kobe being clutch than what happens to the ball after it leaves his fingers. Drawing defense, boosting morale of teammates, destroying the other team’s, “willing” the game to his favor, etc. are all traits of great players that don’t make it to Hollinger’s and Abbott’s anti-Kobe number-crunching.

    There are so many worse offenders of misguided hype and nonsense, the biggest one of all being LeBron James. Write about all of his failings. There’s much more material there than trying to say Kobe isn’t clutch.

    Fail writer is fail.

  29. ha ha — u idiots quoting chasing23 and the rest of the haters out there, they just put up a post killin abbott andall the other haterz!! http://chasing23.com/2011/02/the-ball-dont-lie-but-sometimes-stats-do/