Kobe Bryant faces the Knicks at Madison Square Garden tonight, just 24 hours after carried the Lakers in the fourth quarter against Boston Celtics. And Thursday, in addition to a huge win for L.A., offered a reminder as to why, exactly, Kobe can be so polarizing. Just when you think he's overrated and all hype... He goes and kills the best defense in the league.
Mind you, I've been buried in an NFL wormhole for most of the past month, so I wasn't able to comment on this debate when it emerged a few weeks ago. Henry Abbott crunched the numbers at TrueHoop and found that, contrary to popular opinion and numerous player polls which say that Kobe's the preeminent shooter in NBA crunch time, he's actually nowhere near the best.
In making his argument, Abbott explains that Kobe has gone 36 of 115 shooting with less than 24 seconds left in games that are either tied, or within one or two points. That's good for 31.3 percent, a stat that's lower than such basketball luminaries as Raymond Felton, Eddie Jones, Glenn Robinson and 20 or so others. He's taken more than any of them, yes, but that's because he generally refuses to pass in those situations, according to Abbott. In the end, though, Kobe's no better in crunch time than any other player. Maybe he's worse.
His argument culminates with this:
Remember when SUVs first came into existence? People went crazy for them. They were, it turned out, what a huge percentage of drivers felt they had been waiting for. ... Malcolm Gladwell explains more than anything people liked how these big strong trucks, riding up high, slathered in airbags, made everybody feel safe. You go out there, on those crowded, scary roads, and very little can hurt you. Everyone just knew that. The SUV matched a picture in our brains: This is how a safe automobile feels.
Only it was a crock. ... How did we learn that? With a commonsense look at some stats, specifically by comparing the number of fatalities to the number of cars of a certain model on the road. A safe car is one you don't die in, right? That's useful.
Similarly, Bryant looks like a great crunch-time scorer. He has the right skills, the right demeanor, the right highlights, the right jewelry. But as it turns out, Bryant's clutch like an SUV is safe.
It's a wonderful analogy, even if it's ultimately a little misleading. And before we get to the crux of his argument, I should mention that the post inspired some strongly-worded rebuttals, and then some rebuttals to the rebuttals, like this one from Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer:
But when it comes time to separate what you've seen, from what paid observers have seen, you seem loath to do as much. And this is where you have to take a step back.
Call it elitism, and I'll point out that we've done the work. This is Toy Department work, I fully submit, but we have done the work. And though you have a pretty good idea of where that noise is coming from deep inside your engine bay, and you've researched enough online to possibly diagnose the problem with your persistent cough, you still should probably give the pros the benefit of the doubt when a disagreement pops up.
And I don't want to piggyback on any side's argument here (including our own expert here, Tom Ziller, who put together the Black tlas and noted that Kobe's the most selfish player in the league). It was a pretty great example of what the internet can provide to basketball fans. Agree or disagree, Henry's piece gives us a lot more to think about with Kobe.
As a matter of fact, I was thinking about it last night, when Kobe Bryant was methodically picking apart the Boston Celtics throughout the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Save for an offensive foul during that stretch, Kobe was pretty much perfect. When he entered the game, the Lakers were up 3 points. He then hit two twenty-foot jumpers, a lay-up, and then, when he was double-teamed, hit Pau Gasol for a wide-open lay-up. He followed that with hanging jumper from the free throw line, giving the Lakers an 8-point lead, and effectively killing the Celtics for good.
None of those shots came in the final 24 seconds, but they were all about as "clutch" as it gets. So, it's just a reminder that stats can be as relative as reputations. Numbers may diminish Kobe's myth a little bit, but he's still Kobe, and he's still one the NBA's most deadly assassins. And mind you, none of what Kobe did in Boston on Thursday would be relevant in Abbot's study at ESPN.
Is Kobe Bryant clutch? Maybe, maybe not. But with the number of teams I've seen him kill over the years, including Boston on Thursday, I'm not going to bet against him anytime soon.
Besides, isn't missing game winners every bit as important as making them?
2. ...Or Did We All Forget About Michael Jordan's Best Commercial Ever?
3. The Best Player Blog In The Whole Damn League
That belongs to Timofey Mozgov, thank you very much. He's blogging for a Russian sports website, and thankfully, there's someone on the internet who's been kind enough to translate for us:
I wanted to tell you about our home win vs. Miami. I even had the title for my blog post ready – "Sunstroke". And then that thing happened – we played against Detroit. So it didn’t work out. But of course I don’t regret it)))
I did a lot of interviews with journalist out of Russia after the game. My phone was ringing all the time. I barely managed to have a snack))) It will be hard not to repeat myself here. But I’ll try. My emotions calmed down a bit. I’ll try to recall the facts, which I could have forgotten in the heat after the game.
As the translator dutifully notes, "multiple closing parentheses is the way Mozgov puts smileys."
So, yeah. If you're into reading about what happened in Philadelphia (I satisfied my heart’s desire) or how Knicks teammates relate to him (They were also having fun: they spoke with a terrible accent impersonating Ivan Drago – like, the Russian destroyed everyone)))) or his unintentionally biting critiques of American media ("What’s coming next?" I really want to learn the answer to this question, which American journalists asked me.) then you should probably just bookmark this site and never look back.
(And thanks to Katie Baker for sharing this with the world in the first place)
4. Don't Look Now, But Dwight Howard's (Maybe) Looking Elsewhere
You know how the Cleveland Cavaliers panicked and tried to appease LeBron James by adding high-priced, overrated talent that might convince him to stay in Cleveland? Yeah, it's as insane as it sounds, but that's what happened. How else do you explain trading for Wally Sczerbiak? ... Anyway, CBS' Ken Berger sees a similar pattern in Orlando, only Magic GM Otis Smith freely admits it:
So the Magic are on the clock -- the way the Cavs were with LeBron and the Raptors with Chris Bosh, and the way the bill has come due for the Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony. But if you ask Magic GM Otis Smith -- and I did -- there isn't some knee-jerk plan to deal with Howard's future. Smith has been planning for the next year and a half for the past seven years.
"He's been a free agent since he’s been here," Smith said. "Meaning I'm not going to wait until he's a free agent to become worried about free agency. Who are we kidding? When you have one of the top five players in this league, you're always trying to retain him, I don't care who you are. So there's nothing I would do differently. Nothing. Zero. I've pretty much done it for seven years, since he was a rookie."
In that regard, Smith has found himself in the same boat Danny Ferry was last season in Cleveland, only a year earlier. With the second-highest payroll in the league and a new arena to fill, Smith had to do something -- and he took a calculated risk by trading two defensive players, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, to the Suns for two offensive players, Jason Richardson and Turkoglu. But the biggest gamble was Arenas, whose career Smith hoped to resurrect along with the championship hopes of his team.
The result? Don't know yet, but the Magic are no closer to competing with Boston and Miami -- not to mention Atlanta -- than they were 26 games ago.
I'm not going to say I predicted this three months ago (prompting Magic fans to attack me about it on Twitter), but... Yep, when the hopes and dreams of your franchise are directly tied to the rehabilitation of Gilbert Arenas, things are headed in the wrong direction. Take it from a Wizards fan.
(And who could forget Gil getting served with a subpoena at halftime? AMAZING HAPPENS.)
5. Hey, Speaking Of Cleveland...
From the Onion:
As part of an effort to help at-risk youths turn their lives around before it's too late, organizers of a local "scared-straight" program exposed a group of at-risk teens to the horrors of a Cleveland Cavaliers practice Wednesday.
"You want to end up like me?" said forward J.J. Hickson, screaming at the teens. "Broken down, hopeless, and barely able to complete a bounce pass without turning it over? Then you just keep living your life they way you have been. Look at this. This is you in 10 years."
"What are you laughing at?" added Hickson, staring directly at a snickering 14-year-old. "You think getting blown out by the fucking Toronto Raptors is funny? That's what I thought once..."
On that note, I'm looking forward to Sunday's Wizards-Cavs game, a matchup between a team that's winless on the road, and a team that's quickly approaching 30 losses in a row. I'm not ready to pick a winner just yet, but I can honestly say I'm going to enjoy it more than the Super Bowl. IT'S BASKETBALL SEASON, BABY.
6. Khloe Kardashian Is Ruining Lamar Odom's Life
Listen, we've all done embarrassing things to appease our girlfriends. I once pretended to like baseball for an entire relationship. It happens to the best of us, and it's completely understandable. But having said that, this commercial might be the saddest thing I've seen in my entire life.
"There's something sexy about a couple sharing a scent." No Khloe, there's nothing sexy about a couple sharing a scent. In fact, watching this commercial made me want to swear off relationships forever, lest I run the risk of becoming ensnared by someone like Khloe Kardashian.
I'm telling you, this is tragic stuff we're witnessing right here. Someone needs to step in and save Lamar while there's still time. She probably even made him stop smoking weed in the house.
7. You Will Hate Blake Griffin One Day
I don't agree with this essay at all, really, but it's well-written, and gives a compelling argument, the theory is that, eventually, we'll get sick of marveling at Blake on the court, and when we focus on who he is as a person, we'll be disappointed:
Not too long ago, people were just as in love with Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Lebron James as they are now with Blake Griffin. Bryant was loved for his merciless scoring ability, Iverson for his fast twitch crossover that could make Michael Jordan look stupid, Garnett for his unyielding passion and intensity, and LeBron for his inability to hide how much fun he was having on the basketball court. [...]
But after awhile things became routine, and we started searching for things other than their games to talk about. Soon it wasn’t enough just to talk about them as players, it became necessary to start talking about them as people.
Is Kobe Bryant actually a selfish, maniacal asshole?
Is Allen Iverson actually a disrespectful thug?
Is LeBron James actually an arrogant, soulless shithead?
Of course, that assumes that Blake Griffin will a.) be accused of rape b.) release a rap album, alienate every coach he ever has, and get arrested on several occasions (Love you, AI) or c.) engineer the most self-indulgent media spectacle in the history of sports.
Yes, if Blake Griffin does any of those things, he's likely to become more polarizing. Until then, he and Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant and Chris Paul and Dwight Howard will remain among the most likable superstars in all of sports, reminding us that as easy as it is to be cynical, there are just as many examples that remind us why we watch in the first place.
8. Speaking Of Blake, Who Says Basketball Can't Save The World?
Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt on Friday, ending a weeks-long string of angry protests, and a decades-long regime founded on repression and rigorous government regulations. Jerry Sloan stepped down as coach of the Utah Jazz, ending months of unrest among Jazz players, and a decades-long regime of his own.
Are these two events related? Perhaps.
An omnipotent regime founded on rigorous regulation and repression of individuals, you say? Sounds familiar. Resigned after a series of angry protests (from Deron Williams)? Hmm. Known to use assistants to maim and imprison skeptical media members?
Okay, so perhaps they're not related. By all accounts, Jerry Sloan's a wonderful man, and Hosni Mubarak is pretty wretched. Besides, if we're going to make any comparisons between Hosni Mubarak and someone in the NBA, it's not Sloan we should look to. On that one, the answer is obviously Donald Sterling.
He's been quietly treating Clippers fans like crap for multiple decades, and much like United States turned a blind eye to Mubarak's exploits throughout much of his reign, David Stern has stood by during Sterling's reign of terror without much action.
Mind you, it took a month of violent protests in Egypt for the United States to pressure Mubarak into resignation. I'm not saying it, I'm just saying... It could work for Clippers fans, too.
So should Los Angeles Clippers fans turn next weekend's All-Star Game into a series of increasingly unstable and chaotic protests, forcing David Stern to finally do the right thing, and command Donald Sterling to finally sell the L.A. Clippers?
I don't know, but talk to me about THAT, Anderson Cooper.
And in keeping with today's theme... Congratulations to the Egyptians on their newfound emancipation, and here's to hoping Blake can somehow do this to Donald Sterling next weekend.
(Photo via the legendary Got 'Em Coach)