Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The myth of Kobe's clutchness

Bryant did not succeed in closing out Sunday night's Game 2, a nine-point victory by the Boston Celtics. Still, if Game 3 is on the line, the Lakers will give the ball to Kobe. Not that it should surprise Boston: In a 2009 Sports Illustrated poll, 76 percent of NBA players chose him as the player they'd want to take the last shot with the game on the line. (The next closest, Chauncey Billups, received 3 percent of the votes.) Chances are the players didn't pore over the encyclopedic basketball stats Web site 82 Games before weighing in. If they had, his colleagues would have found that while Bryant does excel late in games, his clutchness is definitely overrated. ...

According to 82 Games, Bryant missed the most potentially game-winning shots (42) of anyone in the NBA from 2003-04 through the middle of the 2008-09 season. (In this study, a game-winning shot was defined as one taken with 24 seconds or less remaining and the score tied or the team with the ball down by 1 or 2 points.) While Bryant was fourth in the NBA in game-winners (14) over that period—behind LeBron James, Vince Carter, and Ray Allen—his .250 game-winning shooting percentage was below the league average of .298. ...

In a study, Ariely asked a group of professional coaches who they thought were the NBA's best clutch players. Not surprisingly, the same set of stars kept coming up, including Bryant, James, Wade, and Duncan. Ariely then compared the performances of alleged clutch players with those were not explicitly identified as clutch. "As it turned out, the clutch players did not improve their skill; they just [shot the ball] many more times," Ariely wrote in a recent piece for the Huffington Post.
--Alan Siegel, Slate, on why I hope Kobe gets the ball for the Lakers at the end of Game 3

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