Earlier this week I put up a post about how the production of certain players changes in clutch situations. The one piece of information in that analysis that didn’t initially make sense to me was the fact that Kobe Bryant averages more assists per 48 minutes in clutch situations than he does overall. This was confusing because it ran counter to my own perceptions and the bulk of the dialogue on Kobe’s clutch performance that was bouncing around the internet last week. Henry Abbot even used this point to highlight the piece when he linked it in his Tuesday Bullets:
Many players increase their field goal percentage with the game on the line. But get this: Kobe Bryant passes more in the final five minutes of close games than at other times.
Not only did my numbers show that Kobe Bryant dished out more assists in clutch situations, they showed he had the single biggest increase in that area of anyone in the data set. That single fact was frustratingly incongruent, but trusting my own calculations and the information from 82games.com I went with it. A question from a commentor caused me to look a little more closely into the matter. I discovered a very simple angle that I hadn’t considered, explaining the confusion. It turns out the number is technically correct but misleading nonetheless.
It’s absolutely true that Kobe averages more assists per 48 minutes in clutch situations. But he also attempts more shots. And more free throws. And more turnovers. In fact he averages more of just about everything in crunch time. The explanation is that he hands out more assists because he uses more possessions, essentially doing more of everything. He doesn’t actually pass more often, relative to the number of shots he takes.
The simplest way to illustrate this is by looking at the ratio of his assists to field goal attempts. On the season Kobe has an Ast/FGA ratio of 0.250. In clutch situations he has a microscopically higher Ast/FGA ratio of 0.256.
Another way to explain the increase in assists would be to look at his Usage Rate. Unfortunately we can’t calculate Usage Rate without some statistics about his team’s possessions. However, we can come to a very rough approximation. There are three ways a player can “use” a possession: a shot attempt, a free throw attempt or turnover. In addition we can look at his assists to get an idea of how many of his teammates’ used possessions he was involved in. If we combine the increase in his clutch field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers per 48 minutes we arrive at a total of 29.4. No one else in the data set was within 7 possessions of that total.
Kobe indeed hands out more assists in clutch situations but it still represents roughly the same percentage of his offensive distribution. He passes more because he does more of everything, not because he changes his mindset and works to involve his teammates more.
Looking at these numbers for Kobe led me to go back and calculate the Ast/FGA ratios and the change in those ratios for each player in the original dataset. Especially since I mischaracterized some players as being more willing passers in the clutch based on just those assists totals. The table below shows each players’s Ast/FGA overall, Ast/FGA in the clutch and the increase in their FGA/48, Ast/48 and Ast/FGA.
Looking at these numbers we get a slightly different view of the players who change their offensive role in late game situations. Here’s the 10 players who make the biggest transition from shooter to shot-creator:
- Thabo Sefolosha, Ast/FGA +0.649
- Jason Kidd, Ast/FGA +0.422
- Mike Bibby, Ast/FGA +0.415
- Andrei Kirilenko, Ast/FGA +0.398
- Ryan Gomes, Ast/FGA +0.364
- Tim Duncan, Ast/FGA +0.336
- Nene, Ast/FGA +0.248
- Marc Gasol, Ast/FGA +0.221
- Dorell Wright, Ast/FGA +0.187
- Landry Fields, Ast/FGA +0.172
Here’s the 10 players who make the biggest transition from shot-creator to shooter:
- Luke Ridnour, Ast/FGA -0.438
- Steve Nash, Ast/FGA -0.414
- Hedo Turkoglu, Ast/FGA -0.339
- Eric Bledsoe, Ast/FGA -0.335
- Devin Harris, Ast/FGA -0.334
- Chris Paul, Ast/FGA -0.329
- Russell Westbrook, Ast/FGA -0.309
- Jordan Farmar, Ast/FGA -0.285
- David Lee, Ast/FGA -0.267
- Mike Conley, Ast/FGA -0.264
The first list looks very much like an episode of Small Sample Size Theater. The second list makes a ton of sense. It’s populated almost exclusively by prolific shot creators. These are players who generally create a lot of opportunities for their teammates throughout the game and use the threat of that ability to create easy looks for themselves as the game is winding down.
Of course the only way to attempt to describe these numbers is by making generalizations. A player doesn’t necessarily have their Ast/FGA go down becaue he is a selfish ball hog. Perhaps opponents key in defensively on a talented teammate forcing that player to take shots he wouldn’t take earlier in the game. There are a multitude of factors which could explain the change in each player’s production from the rest of the season to clutch situations.
There are many different views on the best player in the clutch. If you ask me Dirk Nowitzki should be near the top of just about anyone’s list. My first contribution to The Two Man Game goes up tomorrow and will look at how Dirk’s scoring efficiency in the clutch is helping push the Mavericks over the top in close games. While we’re here looking at sharing the ball let me point out that other than Kobe, Dirk is the only player in the top 17 crunch time scorers who also increases his Ast/FGA ratio in these situations. In fact, you have to go all the way down the list to Paul Pierce at 24th to find a crunch time scorer who increases his Ast/FGA ratio by as much as Dirk.
I apologize if the information contained in my earlier post was misleading. I’m glad I was able to clear this up and demonstrate that Kobe is the same self-serving, puppy-eating, unicorn hating meglomaniac we always thought he was.