Friday, January 28, 2011
Sports Guy Bill Simmons and Henry Abbott: 'Kobe Bryant Isn't Clutch'
"No country for stat geeks..."
That thought raced through my head while listening to the most recent B.S. Report from Bill "The Sports Guy" Simmons of espn.com. He and guest, Henry Abbott had crunched the numbers and deduced that despite what your lying eyes (and record books) may tell you, it isn't a great idea to have Kobe Bean Bryant take the reigns of the Los Angeles Lakers' offense down the stretch of a game.
"He's not good." Abbott said at around 2:50 into the podcast. "He's too selfish. He's too much of a ball hog, and the Lakers actually end up being an average crunch time team, even though they have the personnel to be the best offensive team."
Abbott, who presides over True Hoop Blog (also on espn.com), recently wrote that despite all the praise from his peers, opposing GMs, and even critics, Bryant is a bad option in the proverbial clutch.
"Ask me, though, (as Ryen Russillo did last week and Mike Trudell the other day)," Abbott wrote. "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."
On the podcast, both Abbott and Simmons almost sounded mystified as to why anyone would believe Bryant would be considered a viable option in the final five minutes of a close NBA game. They cited PER statistics, that placed Bryant below average in the crunch time statistical category. In fact, they deduced that Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki are both head and shoulders above Bryant in likelihood of coming through in clutch situations.
This despite, as Abbott surveyed, 79% of NBA's GMs saying they wouldn't want Bryant to have the ball against their team in a clutch situation. The ninth straight season that he's "won" that praise.
Abbott argues that Bryant takes a lot of tough shots, and dominates possessions, even going as far as to call him a "ball hog".
Simmons, a lifelong Boston Celtics fan, and an admitted detester of Bryant as a player and a person, says that the two are simply doing the sports world a service by "attacking a false narrative about their career."
Both Simmons and Abbott agreed Bryant was a great player, but "clutch" he was not.
My question: Do you really trust Carmelo or Dirk more in the clutch than you trust Kobe? Because I don't.
Bryant has a flair for the dramatic. Just last season, Bryant added six game-winning shots to his resume', further pushing the "narrative" that he is the NBA's premier clutch performer.
Abbott, an admitted stat geek, used a "Game on the Line" compilation that measured performances when "trailing by one or two points, or tied, in the final 24 seconds of regular season and playoff games since 1996-1997, with a minimum of 30 shots."
Anthony came out on the top of the list, connecting on 21 of 44 attempts, a 47 percent clip.
Bryant was 36 of 115, 31 percent. Case closed, right?
As Charlie Murphy would say, "Wrong!"
Bryant's stats by that particular measurement, aren't that impressive, until you realize that the total number of NBA titles won by the 26 players ahead of him is 5; four by Tim Duncan (23 of 62, 37 percent) and one by Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson (14 of 36, 38 percent). Throw Robinson's out since he didn't play in the clutch (or much at all) when the San Antonio Spurs won their last title, and all the titles are with two players who both shoot below 38 percent with the game on the line.
Another look at the list shows that aside from Anthony and Nowitzki, the list isn't exactly a sampling of the NBA's most elite players from 1997 to today. From 2-27 (Kobe) there is Chris Paul, Shawn Marion, Brandon Roy (decent start), Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Big Dog (WTF), Deron Williams (Okay again), Mike Bibby (Negro no), Dirk, Jalen Rose, Duncan, Eddie Jones (Really didn't see that coming), Karl Malone (Playoffs included? Really?), Ben Gordon, Chris Webber, Raymond Felton (Weirdest stretch), Lebron James (Hey, an elite player!), Ray Allen (No doubt), Gilbert Arenas, Vince Carter, Steve Francis, Damon Stoudamire, and Nick Van Exel.
Of those names, I would pull out four (Dirk, Ray, Lebron, and Duncan), maybe five (Vince Carter, because his 31 of 96, 32 percent is very close to Bryant's) can be included in an argument of being as clutch than Bryant. But none could be considered more clutch.
Much of Abbott and Simmons' criticisms of Bryant in crunch time centered around the degree of difficulty of the shots he takes.
"Kobe wins the 'who can take the most impossible crunch time shot and actually make it'," said Simmons. "He's the best guy since Larry Bird. One-point-eight seconds on the clock, double-teamed, falling out of bounds, he's the one you want taking (the shot)"
So what is your argument again? I thought you said he wasn't clutch.
Abbott was adamant that the Lakers high powered offense became below average down the stretch of close games, going from 109 points per 100 possessions, to 82 points per 100 possessions. He attributed the decline to Bryant's ball hogging and abandoning of the offense.
But what about the defense? Can it not be said that if a game is close, and a team is inclined to want the win, they step up the defensive effort? It's only logical that the offense won't operate as smoothly in that situation, but to a stat geek, I imagine it does not compute.
It has been said that you can get a statistic to prove whatever point it is you want to, and I find no truer NBA example than this argument. I love Simmons' work as a writer and a podcast pioneer. I know his passion for the NBA is genuine. I respect Abbott's tireless coverage of all things NBA. But we're all capable of being blinded by bias. Neither cares for Bryant's style of play, which is admittedly an acquired taste.
But it isn't dogma that leads people to believe Bryant is clutch. Clutch is subjective, and the subjective cannot be swayed by numbers alone. The times he's actually come through (36) are more than anyone else during his 15-year career. Add to that the fact that he's attempted more of those shots (115) than anyone else, and take for granted that people know what they're seeing when their seeing him play.
It's not about PER, or any saber mathematics, or being a ball hog. It's about getting the job done when all the chips are down, and Kobe Bryant has done it better than anyone else throughout his entire career.