One of the great debates in the NBA statistical community is the issue of clutch play. The conventional wisdom is that Kobe Bryant is awesome in the clutch — did you see the dagger jumper he hit over Randy Foye Wednesday — but the statistics say he misses far more than he makes in that setting.
Part of the problem is that you can define clutch a million different ways.
I think the reality is that no one is any good at crunch time. I think if you’ve got a guy who can create his own shot then you’re better off than not.
I think the biggest misnomer people have … I’ve seen a lot of things like, ‘You should run a play. You should just do your normal things.’ Well, the reason why teams go with a particular isolation play, even though that often has a low efficiency because it’s just hard to score for anybody, I don’t care how good you are, is not because teams think that’s optimal for scoring, it’s because it’s optimal for controlling the amount of time the other team has after the play. If you’re just running a set and a team jumps it or tries to disrupt it, it can really change the timing of when your shot goes off and it’s a massive, massive difference how many ticks are left when the other team gets the ball.
So a lot of what people want to criticize coaches for which is ‘Don’t they know that guy is bad in isolation; don’t they know this?’ — it’s really because they’re not, in my opinion, thinking about the big picture which is controlling the clock the other way in terms of when your opponent gets the ball back. Even three seconds with an advance of the ball is a huge difference versus only having one second. The efficiency drop based on you controlling the clock the other way is a massive difference.
Basically, in the clutch you have fewer fallback options — double-team Kobe and the Lakers don’t have the time to make two or three passes to get a good look right at the end of the game. So Kobe or the first relief valve has to go up with the shot. Percentages drop when that happens.
Still my favorite thing to remind people about clutch play — the best teams do not win a lot of close games, they avoid being in them in the first place. The best teams win a lot of blowout games, not a lot of games in the final minute when random things can happen.