Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Response To Henry Abbott

A week or two ago, the notoriously belittling ESPN writer Henry Abbott decided to post a "earth-shattering" column on dissecting his assertion that Kobe was overrated as a clutch player. As soon as I read the article, I became defensive. Not because of his claims, but rather due to the erroneous evidence he uses to proves his points, as well as a brash ignorance to Bryant's abilities. 

Having had to argue with numerous nimrods who use this article as the basis of their "proof" to fans who think that Kobe is clutch, I've decided to break down the article and prove it for what it really is - a way to get page views to ESPN by taking a controversial position.

The truth is, Kobe is a clutch player. Clutch doesn't mean he makes every single shot - but over time, he has won the game in enough situation that his reputation is justified. However, when you use stats misleadingly to prove your point and readers don't analyze what you're saying, its easy to get bamboozled in the process.


First, let's be clear that Abbot's premise of being clutch is based on 24 seconds or less left in the game, and the team with the ball is either tied or down by 1 to 2 points. 

[Update: If you want a more accurate measure of statistics that determines Kobe's level of clutch, look no further than the feature linked below, which determines clutchness with the definition of "4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points". This criteria is a lot closer to my own of 6 minutes or under, and not surprisingly, Bryant is at the top, or near the top for all the years that it has been documented.

By this category, Kobe comes #2 in 2010, #2 in 2008, and #1 in 2009. I couldn't find the numbers for years prior to this on the website, but the list of players included in these lists resemble who is generally defined as "clutch" in the NBA, and is a lot more accurate than the list Abbott uses. The likely candidates (James, Wade, Ginobili, Roy, Paul) are on the list, when most of these players were missing from Abott's list or were not in the Top 5]

Right off the bat, the argument is a VERY inaccurate window of time to judge clutchness by. To me, clutchness is not just in the last 24 seconds; it is when the momentum is swinging to the other team in the last 5 or less minutes of the 4th quarter, and you make baskets that either give you further cushions on your lead, or leave you fighting for chances to win, putting pressure on the other team to execute. By Henry's definition of clutch, if Kobe Bryant makes a 3 pointer with 10 seconds left and his team down 3, its not clutch because it doesn't fit the criteria of "1 or 2 points". Nor does it account for times when Bryant (or any player) stretches his team's lead from one to three, and gives them further cushion in the last 24 seconds. Stupid, no?

Bryant makes crunch-time defense easy for opponents by shooting just about every time he touches the ball (over a five-year period, he mustered 56 clutch shots, to go with one assist).

In regards to the "one" assist section, I personally have seen Bryant pass on "clutch" plays numerous times. Off the top of my head, the alley-oop to Shaq to seal Game 7 of the 2000 WCF (with 43 seconds left in the game), the game-clinching pass to Derek Fisher in OT of Game 4 of the 2009 Finals (with 31 seconds left), and a series of clutch plays in Game 3 of the 2010 series to the Jazz, including a clutch pass to Derek Fisher (at 2:47 of the video, with 31 seconds left in the game). But of course, these did not come with less than 24 and down 1-2, so no, Kobe is not clutch.

In 1997, he famously air-balled two shots that could have beat the Jazz; instead, the Jazz won the series

Notice the year that Abbot decides to begin derailing Kobe. What annoys me about this is that the context of these situations are never explained to the uninformed readers that base their opinion off these pieces.

1997 was a rookie Kobe Bryant, clearly trying to prove he belonged. Should he have forced those shots? Of course not. But using his rookie year as a conclusive point to prove that he is not clutch is ignorant nit-picking at its finest.

No matter how you define crunch time -- from the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime to the last 24 seconds -- and no matter how you define production -- field goal percentage, offensive efficiency, David Berri's Wins Produced, the results tell the same story: Bryant is about as likely to hit the big shot as any player.

Uh, except the stats that he presents to prove Bryant  is not clutch is ENTIRELY based on the last 24 seconds and not in the last 3-5 minutes, as it should be. Why even say "no matter how you define it", when the entire basis of the article is that Kobe can't make shots with 24 seconds left? Misleading to say the least.

Bryant shoots more than most, passes less and racks up misses at an all-time rate. There is no measure, other than YouTube highlights and folklore, by which he's the best scorer in crunch time.

The point that he is missing is that Bryant is the reason the Lakers are in that position in the first place. By discounting the possessions preceding the last 24 seconds, Abbott completely ignores any clutch plays Kobe makes to swing the momentum before there is 24 seconds left on the clock, which is a severely flawed logic.

Watch this video from the 2:10 mark, which is when the real crunch time begins. It is Game 3 of the 2010 playoffs, and the Lakers are in Salt Lake City (one of the most hostile arenas), looking to go up 3-0 in the series. The Lakers are down 5 points with 6 minutes remaining. Kobe does the following in the next 6 minutes, ultimately leading to the Lakers winning the game: fadeaway jumper with 1:45 left to take a one point lead, a three pointer while being down three with 54 seconds left, and a clutch pass to Derek Fisher with 30 seconds left. And that is from ONE game - Bryant has had numerous games like these throughout his career, which is how his reputation began to develop.

According to Abbott, this is not clutch because it doesn't meet the criteria.

In basketball, entrusting the ball to the open teammate really does benefit the team. Remember when Jordan passed to a wide-open Bill Wennington in the lane? Or to Steve Kerr or John Paxson in the Finals? 

Again, that's two examples he uses for Jordan, while completely ignoring instances where Kobe has done the same thing, including passing to Derek fisher (Game 4 of the 2009 Finals, Game 3 of the Jazz series, to name two examples) and Shaq (the aforementioned alley-oop). In fact, a week or so after Henry's article picked up steam, Kobe had a clutch pass to Lamar Odom for a three pointer. To suggest that Kobe doesn't pass during crunch is time is one of the most ridiculous arguments I've ever heard cause there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. 

John Wall was a heavy favorite to beat Blake Griffin for rookie of the year. Kevin Durant was a slam dunk to win this year's MVP

Abbott uses this point to illustrate that GMs are sometimes dumb, and can be quite wrong; he uses this to conclude that is why they pick Bryant as the king of clutchness. Except, the examples he gives aren't really that bad. Wall is widely considered the second best rookie from last year's rookie class, and KD and the Thunder are still doing well enough for him to be Top 10 in the MVP conversation. Its a moot point.

Jackson published that book in the interlude when he was not coaching the Lakers. That he doesn't talk that way is hardly bizarre -- it's admirable for a coach to keep his criticism of a colleague "in the family." 

This is where Henry's clear bias towards Kobe starts being evident.

Never mind the fact that Phil Jackson came back on the Lakers to coach Kobe even when he had quit the year before and published this book; never mind the fact that they've played SIX seasons together since that book with no outward signs of discontent; never mind the fact that they have won 2 championships in 3 Finals trips since then, or the fact that Kobe has greatly evolved as a player and as a public figure since the 2004 season; OF COURSE a seven year old book written by Phil Jackson is the definitive place to go for conclusive evidence.

There are a lot of misleading things in this world.

Like your usage of statistics.

As long as your mind is open to all that, it has to be closed to the idea that Kobe Bryant is the king of crunch time.

Unless you want your team to be lead to 3 NBA Finals in the last 3 years, and want to win championships in the process. If you don't want to win championships and rely solely on statistics and biased reporting, then of course, trust guys like Shawn Marion (#3 on the list), Rashard Lewis, Ben Gordon, Raymond Felton (?), and Steve Francis to take shots over KB24. Tell that to the coaches in this league.

By the way, if you want a barometer to see who the supreme clutch alpha-dogs are in the league right now, look no further than the 2008 Olympics Gold Medal game featuring the Redeem Team and Spain. On a team featuring plenty of future Hall of Famers, there was only two guys who repeatedly sealed the game for Team USA. One was Dwayne Wade (who made numerous baskets), and the other was Kobe Bean. When Team USA needed baskets, Kobe delivered. When the team needed him to be playmaker, he passed to Deron Williams for a game-changing 3, converted on a 4 point play and made mid lane floaters and threes in timely fashion. He made passes which lead to fouls, which lead to cushions. 

None of these occurred in the last 24 seconds, but if you WATCHED the game (which I don't think Abott does a lot of), it was clear that the two best players down the stretch were Wade and Bryant because they were the players who always made things happen for their teams down the stretch of the game. 

None of this is captured in statistics.

Ultimately, my point is that clutchness isn’t just the final possession, its putting your team in a position to win as the game winds down. I realize that Kobe is getting older, and is declining in ability with each passing year. It is easy to start picking on him now when he is closer to the twilight of his career, but if you look at his playing career objectively, it is very easy to conclude that the man has repeatedly proved that he is worth being the primary option in the clutch. 


  1. im just curious if you could show some of the numbers that prove kobe is clutch in the time frame of your definition of clutch. i dont watch enough lakers games to know just by watchin.

  2. So in your third post of a blog about the LA L*kers you accuse Abbott of taking a position only to "get page views to ESPN by taking a controversial position". But one quick look at the bottom of your highly intriguing blog and you have received less than 300 page views and the majority of those likely came because you sent your opinions to be linked by other websites and not as a result of producing quality, well-rounded and objective content that was actually interesting.

    Logically speaking you may both have a leg to stand on but Abbott's argument is laid out logically and with sound reasoning while you seem to stoop to personal attacks and character questioning. In the process you perpetuate the stereotype about L*ker fans everywhere who defend every move Bryant makes without ever accepting alternative views or counter points. If Bryant is who you believe he is than what does it matter if Abbott calls him clutch? Do you think Bryant gives a care about Abbott's opinion? Doubtful. Good luck with the blog.

  3. "you have received less than 300 page views and the majority of those likely came because you sent your opinions to be linked by other websites and not as a result of producing quality, well-rounded and objective content that was actually interesting."

    Hey. First, thanks for commenting. Second, I'm just starting this blog out, and of course, I need the readership to start from somewhere. I didn't write the post as a way of generating attention, I did it because I legit think that Abott likes to "bait" when it comes to all things regarding Kobe, and I don't know many in the blogosphere who have actually challenged Henry's post so I wanted to do it.

    "Abbott's argument is laid out logically and with sound reasoning while you seem to stoop to personal attacks and character questioning"

    I didn't attack Abbott personally at any point other than call him out for using bait tactics to isolate Kobe and make him seem like a bad character. Using Phil Jackson's 2004 book is not sound, nor logical. Forming the entire basis of the column on the last 24 seconds is not logical because clutchness is more than 24 seconds.

    As far as stereotyping Laker fans goes - I said right off the bat that I do criticize Kobe (in my first post on this website). I said that he's made mistakes, and yes, he did force the issue a bunch of times, but its disheartening to see a writer with much influence as Abbot using his personal bias against Kobe to manifest itself in his writing. If you don't believe me, look at his numerous followups to that original post - one of which featured the "logical" argument of using a poem mocking Kobe to respond to Kobe's assertions about Abbott's claims.

  4. @ Anon #1 does a feature where they measure the numbers for clutchness, with the definition being "4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points", which is more closer to mine.

    By this category, Kobe comes #2 in 2010 (, #2 in 2008 (, and #1 in 2009 ( I couldn't find the numbers for years previous to this, but the list of players included resemble who is generally defined as "clutch" a lot more clearly than the list Abbott uses. The likely candidates (James, Wade, Ginobili, Roy, Paul) are on the list, when most of these players were missing from Abott's list or were not in the Top 5.