With 0.6 seconds left Friday, the Lakers trailed the Grizzlies by three points. You know what must happen next: Kobe Bryant, the Clutch King, the Unicorn of Unicorns, the Bringer of Pain and Player Whose Hands You Want The Ball In.
Kobe Bryant needs the ball. Because he's going to shoot.
And so he did. And he missed it badly -- again. It was so off, it bounced up and over the backboard.
Kobe Bryant has now missed 13 straight game-tying/go-ahead FG in final 5 seconds of 4th quarter/OT. His last make was March 2012.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2015
Kobe Bryant has not made a single clutch shot in the final five seconds of a game in almost three years. Thirteen straight misses, which if you like sound effects goes something like BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG. BONG.
In you expand the definition of clutch to include the last five minutes of a game with the margin at five points or less, it does not help. This is generally referred to as "crunch time." Some announcers have been known to call it "Kobe Time." In "Kobe Time," our protagonist is shooting 35 percent this season. That is the fifth lowest figure among 22 high-frequency crunch-time shooters. For comparison's sake, Monta Ellis is at 56 percent on such shots this season.
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There's something in that list that explains why everyone considers Bryant clutch even though he hasn't made a game-tying or go-ahead shot with less than five seconds left in almost three years. One player shooting worse than even Bryant in crunch time this season is Kemba Walker, which is a surprise if you have only noticed his several ultra-clutch makes. Just better than Bryant is Brandon Knight, also a purveyor of some of the season's most clutch shots. Without the data, you'd think those two guys were heirs to Kobe Bryant, young unicorns, future clutch superstars. The data does support that they are heirs to Kobe Bryant, but in a much worse light: they are crunch time chuckers.
That's the thing about "clutch": there's so little data, it's so noisy and it's overly clouded by our audiovisual embrace of the makes. Consider that there are no Vines of Bryant's game-ending brick floating around on Twitter. If he'd hit, the definitive Vine would have 5 million loops already. There's nothing wrong with that -- who wants to watch another brick? -- but it's informative into why our considerations of who is clutch are often so wrong. We only remember the makes, and Bryant has had plenty of them.
If clutch exists, though, you must look at the fuller data. And right now it's impossible to argue that Kobe Bryant is anything approximating clutch, and in fact appears to be quite the opposite.