Friday, May 18, 2012

Deconstructing the Kobe Clutch Narrative

Spurred by the likes of ESPN, and Tim Legler in particular, there exists a narrative in the NBA that Kobe Bryant represents if not the, one of the most clutch players. DBSF thinks this narrative is rooted in a deeper narrative fed by the NBA that there is a an intergenerational competition between Kobe and Michael Jordan. From a marketing stand point it makes sense to promote this narrative as it maintains a connection between the current game and a time when the NBA was at its prime and when Jordan--the league's JFK--reigned.

Unfortunately, people who entertain that narrative exhibit a certain degree of ignorance with respect to objective analysis. Save NBA titles where Jordan has only one more than Kobe, statistically speaking Jordan is the far superior player player. Simply Google "Kobe Bryan basketball reference" and "Michael Jordan basketball reference" and compare for more detailed support to this statement. There's also another side that's not captured  quantitatively, which for anyone who watched Jordan and followed his career would lead them recognize what an insult it is to put Kobe in his company. Jordan never demanded to be traded or openly called out the heart of his teammates to the media. Jordan simply led and while he was probably intolerable to deal with as a teammate because of his exceptional demands and expectations, he never made it a spectacle in the media or a That's So Kobe drama. It was always about winning.

Considering that one can easily debunk the Kobe-Jordan myth, it is reasonable to challenge the Kobe-clutch narrative as it is rooted in this notion that he is this generation's Jordan. Despite the fact that Kobe seems to miss all of his recent late-game-deciding shots (save the one against the Raptors earlier in the year, which because it's the Raptors only kind of counts) analysts on programs, like Sportscenter, continue to champion his clutchness. Therefore, review of objective efficacy deserves consideration to gain some measure of his aptitude in late-game situations.

Fortunately, there is an excellent website,, dedicated to measuring clutch performance. After what had to be absolutely tireless data collection, they present analysis on a range of factors, two of which are relevant to this topic. In this first data set they collected statistics on game winning shots that occurred between 2003 and February 2009.  They defined game winning shots as "24 second or less in the game and the team with the ball is tied or down by 1 or 2 points".While Kobe has the fourth most makes he also has the most misses with 42. In fact of the 76 players listed, Kobe's FG% in these scenario (25%) is tied for fifth to last.

For the 2011-12 season collected data on 5 minutes or less in the 4th quarter or OT where neither team is ahead by more than 5 point (all stats are extrapolated over 48 minutes). Similar to the previous analysis, Kobe seems a reasonably clutch player as he averages the 12th most points. However when we look at FG% Kobe ranks 102nd out of 140 players. Further Kobe averaged the 15th highest number of turnovers. There's no denying that Kobe Bryant is an all-time great shooting guard. But the belief that he merits comparison to Jordan is specious and the notion that he is one of the league's more clutch players lacks objective, statistical support.

1 comment:

  1. Well constructed, Mista Bamma -- BHML Team 5 Champs