In my 25 plus years of following the NBA, one of the more fascinating phenomena to me has been the plight of those that I refer to as “Kobe Nation”. Now, I’m not referring to Kobe “fans” - Many of those are a dime a dozen, stuffing the All-Star ballot box, displaying their #24 jerseys during road games, and riding the Kobe-train as long as the Lakers remain on top. No, I’m talking about Kobe Nation – those who have repeatedly extolled the virtues of Kobe Bryant while partaking on a daily quest to defend his basketball legacy, game performances, and polarizing personality. They are his apostles, and their fervor rivals that of even the most religious of zealots. They respond to criticism, deserved or undeserved, with an inverse defiance that embodies the personality of their hero; the more you critique them, the more combative they will become, the less they will listen, and the more likely you will be called a “hater”. For every action, there is a reaction.
Earlier in the season, ESPN’s Henry Abbott questioned Bryant’s status as the most “clutch” player in the NBA, and as you can imagine, Kobe Nation responded with a fury. Specifically, Abbott defended his stance by citing the Game Winning/Game Tying Shot metric traditionally used by coaches and GMs when scouting opposing teams – shot attempts in the final 24 seconds of a game during which a player’s team is either tied or trails by three or fewer points. And during Kobe’s 15-year career (regular season and playoffs), the results showed that he made only 36 game winning/game tying shots while missing a stellar 79, or 36/115.
So why then is Kobe Bryant considered to be the unanimous first choice among GMs, coaches, and players for taking the game winning/game tying shot for all the marbles? Abbott cites the media’s propensity to exhaust the highlight reel, limitations of human memory, and our attraction to flashiness rather than substance as the primary reasons for why fans, coaches, players, and GMs are misguided. In sum, people usually remember Bryant’s makes, which are undoubtedly spectacular in nature, but not his misses.
So where do I stand?
First a plea to Kobe Nation…. Allow me to go on record by stating that Kobe Bryant is one of the 10 greatest players to ever play the game. By the time he retires, he will likely be top 5. He is a phenomenal all-around player in every aspect of the game, and possesses a unique combination of talent and skill, that in my opinion, can only be rivaled by Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Hakeem Olaujuwon. He also has a basketball IQ that is simply off the charts – a unique feel for the game that despite his numerous injuries, has allowed him to remain physically effective in a manner that is traditionally reserved for 20-somethings. Other than Michael Jordan, I have yet to see a player who displays the same level of ferocity, stubbornness, and will to win that Kobe Bryant does.
However, Henry Abbott is right. Kobe Bryant IS overrated in the clutch, and even more so when it comes to game winning/game tying shots. That’s right Kobe Nation, you heard me. In which universe does missing 79 out of 115 game winning/game tying shots constitute clutchness? Clutchness to me has always been defined basically and inherently. You either succeed and come through for your team, when your team needs you the most, or you don’t. And in 115 instances, during the time in which Bryant’s teams have needed him the most, he has succeeded only 36 times while failing 79 times. That’s a 31% success rate folks. It’s that simple.
We are not talking about a complex John Hollinger formula or algorithm. We are talking about a fairly straight forward metric – less than 24 seconds, time winding down, ball in Kobe’s hands, chance to win or tie, miss or make. All other variables are irrelevant:
- “Kobe is the most fearless”
- “Kobe wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game”
- “Kobe has the ability to make the most spectacular shots”
None of this matters. The only thing that matters is the result.
So that got me thinking – if the 36/115 stat includes both playoffs and regular season, how has Bryant performed in game winning and game tying shot situations during the playoffs alone? After all, playoff games are the ones that count the most, right? The pinnacle of pressure? The most important of time of the year when everything is at stake? Is there really a more clutch opportunity than a game winning/game tying shot in a playoff game?
The answer: Bryant is 7/25 or 28% -slightly worse during the playoffs than the regular season.
Keep in mind that the game winning/game tying shot is only ONE metric of clutch, and in a future article we will post additional data reviewing Kobe’s performance during the last 2 minutes, last 5 minutes, and the entire 4Q, which further substantiates my point. However, for now, we will focus on the game winning/game tying shot metric, which in my mind, represents the MOST pressure packed situations in a game.
Below is a breakdown of game winning/game tying shot attempt throughout Kobe Bryant’s 15 year career:
|1996||Utah Jazz||Game 5||Miss||Bryant misses a game tying shot with 4 seconds left.|
|1999||San Antonio Spurs||Game 2||Miss||Bryant misses a game tying shot at the end of regulation|
|2000||Phoenix Suns||Game 2||Make||Bryant makes a game winning shot with 2 seconds left|
|2001||Philidephia 76ers||Game 1||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 20 seconds left.|
|2002||San Antonio Spurs||Game 2||Miss||Bryant misses a game tying shot at regulation|
|2002||San Antonio Spurs||Game 4||Make||Bryant makes a game winning shot with 5 seconds left|
|2002||Sacramento Kings||Game 4||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 4 seconds left|
|2002||Sacramento Kings||Game 5||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 8 seconds left|
|2002||Sacramento Kings||Game 7||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning tip shot with 8 seconds left|
|2003||Minnesota Timberwolves||Game 3||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot in OT with 13 seconds left.|
|2003||Minnesota Timberwolves||Game 3||Miss||Bryant misses a game tying shot in OT with 2 seconds left|
|2003||San Antonio Spurs||Game 1||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 13 seconds left.|
|2004||Houston Rockets||Game 1||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 17 seconds left.|
|2004||Houston Rockets||Game 4||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 3 seconds left.|
|2004||San Antonio Spurs||Game 5||Make||Bryant makes a game winning shot attempt with 12 seconds left.|
|2004||Detroit Pistons||Game 2||Make||Bryant makes a game tying shot at the buzzer.|
|2006||Phoenix Suns||Game 4||Make||Bryant makes a game tying shot with one second left.|
|2006||Phoenix Suns||Game 4||Make||Bryant makes a game winning shot at the buzzer.|
|2006||Phoenix Suns||Game 6||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 6 seconds left.|
|2008||San Antonio Spurs||Game 1||Make||Bryant makes the game winning shot with 23 seconds left.|
|2009||Utah Jazz||Game 3||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 2 seconds left.|
|2009||Orlando Magic||Game 2||Miss||Bryant has his game winning shot blocked with 8 sec left.|
|2010||Oklahoma City Thunder||Game 6||Miss||Bryant misses game winning shot with .5 seconds left.|
|2010||Phoenix Suns||Game 5||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot with 3 seconds left.|
|2011||Dallas Mavericks||Game 1||Miss||Bryant misses a game winning shot at the end of regulation|
Our team had a chance to watch each and every one of these shot attempts on film, and validate their accuracy through ESPN’s recaps and game logs. In fairness, a small few of these shots were literally last second attempts, with an extremely high degree of difficulty, offering very little opportunity for success. However, every star player is tasked with these same types of shots, and every star player has the opportunity to either miss or make. No one is excluded. Moreover, in most instances, Kobe was afforded the time and opportunity to get a clean shot off. However 7/25 is 7/25, and a 28% success rate is a 28% success rate. The game winning/game tying metric is about the most basic, straightforward metric available.
The point that should not be lost in Abbott’s article is that he does not mention a clear cut alternative to Bryant. For example, Carmelo Anthony leads the list at 47.7% field goal shooting, but has taken far fewer shots, and demonstrated less of an ability than Bryant to create his own shot in crunchtime. Moreover, Shawn Marion, who is also at the top of the list, cannot create a shot for anyone, least of all himself. However, placing Kobe Bryant on a pedestal over every other player, especially those who can create their own shots (Lebron, Nowitzki, Wade, Roy), is completely misleading, and the byproduct of perception rather than reality.
So rest easy Kobe Nation. We are not declaring another king. We are simply saying that your hero is no clear cut choice for the throne.