January 28, 2011
The Internet is ablaze. Kobe Bryant(notes) will do that. To a non-NBA fan, he's the popular guy with the bad reputation. To a Lakers fan, he's the reason your life has been so wonderful for the last 15 years. To an NBA freak, he's the guy you respect, even while you're constantly having to downplay his influence on the end of games.
The "clutch" argument. That stupid "clutch" argument. As if one pattern, in the last five minutes of a close game, repeats itself the next time the last five minutes of a close game pops up.
Here's what does repeat itself: Kobe shooting jumpers poorly in the final minutes of a game. You can't argue that. You can remember the makes all you want -- they were loads of fun -- but you cannot dismiss the history that tells you that Kobe Bryant shoots a ton of jumpers in the last few minutes of games, with a success rate that has to be seen to be believed.
Those who have seen it, believe it. Those that haven't, usually don't. No issues there.
Quite a few that have seen it, though, refuse to believe it. Therein lies our problem.
It started as Henry Abbott's problem, as he exhaustively pointed out Bryant's shortcomings in late-game situations throughout his career. Zach Lowe then added to the chorus, expertly. And there's not much I can add beyond telling you to take in the must-read stylings of these two giants, because I've seen these games, and the postgame documentation tends to reflect what I've seen.
What I do need to bring up is the usual last vestige of the "what-do-you-know" scoundrel. Those yearly polls that ask NBA general managers various barroom questions, with typical results. An important point to bring up, as we move closer to the trade deadline, and 32,000 "what-are-you-doing" columns coming from this keyboard.
In that same G.M. survey, for instance, John Wall(notes) was a heavy favorite to beat Blake Griffin(notes) for rookie of the year. Kevin Durant(notes) was a slam dunk to win this year's MVP.
In that player poll, Chauncey Billups(notes) got the second-most votes as the preferred go-to crunch-time scorer. Billups is 3 of 27 with the game on the line over the last five seasons. Dead last in the whole NBA among those who have attempted at least 15 shots.
None of that means anyone is dumb. Instead it means that reputation is a huge factor, and it's beyond anyone to remember and catalog 7,000 or so shots in your head.
Well, I suppose that despite this worrying batch of gray hair that dots my 30-year old head, I'm still a petulant brat with a laptop, calling people "dumb," and meaning it.
Because if you don't know by now, and you're charged with running an NBA team? Well, what would you call it? How would you term staying ignorant on purpose? Ignoring the same things that any punk with the keyboard can pull up in seconds, before you write "Kobe Bryant" in that survey response?
The first exhaustive study on late-game play came out around this time in 2006. And even before 82games.com set off a yearly debate regarding Kobe's clutch-osity, those who obsessed over their League Pass knew that Carmelo Anthony(notes), for whatever reason, seemed to have the touch when it came to either putting a game away late, or nailing a game-winner with his team down a point. This is before Chauncey Billups rode into town, mind you.
Kobe hit a few game-winners in the playoffs that season, though. And that was enough. National TV will do that to people. The pattern sustained for a few years, which allowed people to ignore the scads of information that tells you that Kobe shoots a lot in the clutch, he doesn't make his shots all that often, and he never passes (one assist in five years; though this is somehow admirable to some people). There's always that double-pump shot that goes in at the buzzer, which allows you to forget those other double-pump shots at the buzzer that don't fall in. Or those double-pump shots with 12 seconds to go that don't fall, shots that give the other team a chance to win.
And to the punters, we bring this up because we hate Kobe. So, so much.
And I'm here to tell you to stop. We don't hate Kobe. We just watch a lot of basketball. Tons of it. And when there's no live basketball to watch, we go online to read things about basketball. And often the things we read match up with the hours of basketball we took in the night before. Findings that might not always pair up with the one game featuring your favorite team, that you took in the night before. Or the one game a week, pitched on a Sunday afternoon, that you took in during your busy week.
That's why you read us. Because we've wasted our lives on this nonsense. And your car is nicer, your complexion smoother, and you don't have to nap at odd hours.
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 we are the pros. You don't want to be like us, constantly having to defend your credibility and initial instincts, but a lot of us are the guys to go to. Because, while you were out living (enviable) normal lives, we've put in the work at this ridiculous gig.
This doesn't mean you can't tell us what's what. We're bound to miss something. We'll see something during the Rockets game, and miss the game-changing element of the Grizzlies game, and we need you to tell us what happened during that Grizzlies game. We want you to tell us that, because we don't want to look a fool.
Which brings us back to the GM aspect of it all.
These men put in the work. Their jobs aren't limited to considering trades all day and mapping out ways to avoid the luxury tax two years from now. A GM's gig goes beyond transactions and player personnel. And GMs know this game.
But if 79 percent of them are telling you that they want Kobe Bryant to shoot the last shot in an NBA game, in spite of years and hundreds of shots worth of influence that tells you that there are many, many players beyond Bryant that should be taking that shot? Then we're allowed to question them. If they haven't put in the work to pay attention to a yearly report that tells you that Kobe shoots a ton in the clutch, and doesn't make shots in the clutch at a rate that holds up to that of a "clutch" player? Or if they have read it, and decide to ignore THE ACTUAL THINGS THAT KEEP HAPPENING IN BASKETBALL GAMES?
Then we're allowed to question. The same as you are with me, if I point to something in the Grizzlies game the other night that flat-out did not happen. Whether I imagined it or saw it and decided to ignore it and lean on the opposite for an anecdote.
This isn't bias. It might come as a shock, but we don't know what we want to write about, before the things we have to write about actually unfold. And we don't do it for hits. Henry, Zach, myself? We write for ESPN SI, and Yahoo!, and the hits are going to be there. We've got the big gigs, we feel very fortunate as a result, and we don't need to troll.
But we do need to get it right. And if that smacks of pretension or ignorance to you, then it might be time to take a step back. Because Glen, down at the garage, might have a better idea as to where that squeak is coming from, no matter how reliable those Toyotas may seem.