Henry Abbott vs Mark Heisler, on crunch time performance, Kobe Bryant and ‘advanced’ statistical analysis for basketballMonday, July 11th, 2011
A prime example of first-class work by Henry Abbott:
So, without all those “soul-crushing misses,” the Lakers would have won 12 titles since 2000 and not merely five?
First, I should note I’m not Kobe’s PR guy. If you ask Kobe, he’d tell you I’m more the reason he needs his own PR guys and such a long list of them, which I have already published.
You’re absolutely right. There were a lot of people from Jerry Buss to Gary Vitti who had to do their job.
On the other hand, there’s a clear hierarchy among the soldiers, with generals like Kobe and Shaq, and colonels like Pau, Andrew, Lamar and, on my list, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Rick Fox, too.
Shaq, Pau, Lamar, Drew et al. had to get Kobe to crunch time, close enough to make a difference.
As you note, their job was made all the harder by Kobe, whose contribution was impressive but mixed, with all the dizzy shots he took and the open teammates he missed.
Nevertheless, in crunch time, the ball was his and his alone.
It couldn’t go to Shaq, who would be quickly put on the line, where he might hurt someone.
It was never Pau, Lamar or Drew, whose names didn’t occur to Phil Jackson in those circumstances.
In the last 12 seasons, the Lakers appeared in seven Finals (to next-best San Antonio’s four), winning five titles (to the Spurs’ four).
That required a lot of playoff wins, many of which were close with the ball going through Kobe at the end of all of them.
The Lakers went 118-63.
If the bottom line is a clumsy metric, with the anecdotal evidence that goes with it, I prefer it to a finely-tuned statistic that says shooting percentage in stipulated circumstances means someone else is more clutch, even if the games they win aren’t as big as the ones Kobe’s teams won, by definition.
(The closest anyone came to the Lakers’ 118 playoff wins over 12 years is San Antonio at 88-62.)
The Lakers weren’t like the Spurs, who could go through Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan or Tony Parker.
If some other Laker was winning those games, we’d have noticed (I think).
I’m not arguing this for Kobe. I’m arguing it the way I’d argue the sun rises in the East.
Bottom line, no one gets to be a great player without being clutch.
Some are more clutch than others.
If they’re good in every other way, but that’s missing in your game, you can be Scottie or Iggy but they can’t ever be AI or MJ.
If you have it all, but haven’t been able to do it the last two seasons, you can be Bron.
If you’ve got that, and just led the league in “clutch shooting percentage” by the old (dumb) definition — last five minutes with the teams within five points — but don’t defend or rebound and have won two playoff series in your entire career, you can be Melo.
I was impressed by Alok Pattani’s analysis, first and foremost because it went back and included MJ, whom we had better be able to agree was a clutch player, or what’s the point?
However, why is shooting percentage the standard?
Would you rather have Kobe’s seven in 25 attempts than Tayshaun’s three-of-five?
Aren’t we leaving out free throws drawn and converted, traditionally the way superstars always prevailed?
How about passes for assists? Kobe has some of those, too (lob to Shaq vs. Indy) although not as many as Mike.
With all the conclusions being thrown around like anvils from modern hoop “analytics,” I think we need to talk a lot more about the assumptions going into them.
First, there’s a general question of whether it works as well in basketball as baseball, where Bill James et al. changed the way the game was played (taking pitches, tiring pitchers, giving them a chance to fall behind in the count, etc.).
Basketball is fluid, zero-sum and, I would argue, less susceptible to being broken down mathematically.
Baseball had a valid mathematical assumption: each base you reach, on the way to the plate, has value.
I’m not sure you can assume that any number in basketball except the raw, obvious ones (points, shooting percentage, rebounds, etc.) is that fundamental.
Analytics lean heavily on efficiency statistics (per minute, per possession).
Not that they mean nothing but who says efficiency is as important as the raw total?
There’s an old NBA fallacy about per-minute production.
On one hand, it’s how you notice a player is doing a lot in limited time.
On the other, it often turns out that if you start someone like Leon Powe, who has been getting eight rebounds in 17 minutes against the other team’s reserves, he’ll get eight rebounds in 34 minutes.
Of course, if your assumptions are wrong, or arguable, it’s more like numerology than analysis.
Yours truly – in this instance, and despite acknowledging the truthfulness of at least some of the valid points which Henry raises, as well – is firmly in Mark’s corner.
Kudos to both men for providing this wonderful exchange of ideas!