Kobe isn’t as clutch as you think, but he’s not as bad as some think

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There is no middle ground when it comes to Kobe Bryant — you either worship him or you hate him. The shades of gray have been washed away and he exists only as the guy in the white hat or the black hat.

Of course, reality is never that clean and simple.

One think Kobe has the reputation for is being clutch — maybe the most clutch player in the NBA. For years running polls of players and league executives, they say Kobe is they guy they would want taking the last shot of the game.

Henry Abbott and the research team over at ESPN dug through the numbers — the numbers as they chose to define them, but we’ll get to that — and found Kobe really isn’t all that clutch.

ESPN Stats and Information’s Alok Pattani dug through 15 years of NBA data (see table below) — Bryant’s entire career, regular season and playoffs — and found that Bryant has attempted 115 shots in the final 24 seconds of a game in which the Lakers were tied or trailed by two or fewer points. He connected on 36, and missed 79 times.

That’s 31 percent — which is the league average for shots in that situation Abbott points out. In fact, defenses on the whole get better — or shooters tighten up, or the refs swallow their whistles, or some combination of it all — in the clutch and offenses struggle.

Over Bryant’s 15-year career, the Lakers have had the NBA’s best offense, and second-best won-loss record. No other team can match their mighty 109 points per 100 possessions over the entire period…. In the final 24 seconds of close games the Laker offense regresses horribly, managing just 82 points per 100 possessions. And it’s not a simple case of every team having a hard time scoring in crunch time. Over Bryant’s career, 11 teams have had better crunch time offenses, led by the Hornets with a shocking 107 points per 100 possessions in crunch time, a huge credit to Chris Paul…

The Lakers are not among the league leaders in crunch time offense — instead they’re just about average, scoring 82.35 points per 100 possessions in a league that averages 80.03.

This is a great and well-researched story for which Abbott will get hammered by those convinced Kobe can walk on water. Comes with the territory but those people are wrong.

The numbers don’t lie — when faced with being tied or behind with 24 second or less left in the game, the Lakers and Kobe are pretty much average. And Abbott makes a good point in that the Lakers end-of-game offense is almost always isolation Kobe, which leads to contested jumpers. I’ve said for years that they need to run different sets (or the triangle) to make teams defend other players more.

My one issue with the report — you can choose to define clutch in a lot of ways.

How a player shoots in this very intense situation — tied or behind with 24 seconds remaining — which Abbott has chosen is one way to define clutch. But a big three with less than 24 seconds on the clock and your team up one is also clutch. Coming into a tie game with five minutes remaining and taking over so it becomes a 10-point win is clutch. Getting a key defensive steal or stop with your team up two and 10 seconds left is clutch. Having a great Game 5 of a playoff series is clutch.

We can define clutch any number of ways, from certain times and situations in games to entire games in certain situations. Kobe’s reputation as clutch certainly has some overlooking his flaws in that setting, but the fact that all those basketball minds in the polls of general managers and players keep coming back to Kobe as the guy they want in the crunch has me thinking that in the broader definition of clutch, you still want Kobe on your team.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.

Lonzo Ball walks away from Lakers-Suns skirmish

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If you’re on the court when your team gets in an NBA “fight” — what the rest of us would call a shoving match where nobody really wants to throw a punch — should you run into the fray and help your teammates?

Friday night, with just more than three minutes to go in Phoenix’s eventual win, the Suns called a timeout, and Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one of those silly shoving matches. Players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up.

The Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson picked up a technical for his role racing in and escalating the matter.

Watch the video again, and you’ll see Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball just walk away from it all and head to the bench.

That has led to criticism of the rookie from some Lakers’ fans, who see a guy who didn’t rush in to protect his teammates — that’s seen as part of the sports locker room culture. A “band of brothers” or “us against the world” mentality. Ball, frankly, gave a more mature answer than that.

Ball is right, nothing was going to come of this. It was meaningless posturing. Walking away was the mature move.

However, the question is how is this perceived in the Lakers’ locker room? Do the players care that Ball shrugged and walked away? Do they think he needed to race in and try to look tough like everyone else? That can impact his standing on the team — as a guy Magic Johnson brought in to be a leader — more than anything.

Also, with all his shooting woes, is this the first sign of some Lakers fans starting to turn on Lonzo? It’s a little early for that.