Informative Speech: Kobe vs. Lebron in Clutch Time
For those of you who follow the NBA, you are aware that Kobe Bryant is widely regarded as the most clutch player in the NBA, while LeBron James is known as a choke artist in crunch time. But what if I were to tell you that your perception is completely backwards? By studying statistics on both players in key situations, I was able to bring to light the truth on this topic: LeBron James is actually a valuable player with the game on the line, while Kobe Bryant is somewhat of a liability. By breaking down each player’s performances under certain “clutch” conditions (such as their assists, shooting percentage, and rebounds), I will expose which of these two players truly rises to the occasion when you need them most.
A lot of you are probably wondering; how exactly do you define a “clutch” situation? Well, according to 82games.com (which is a website that provides in-depth analysis of statistics for the NBA), the standard definition is when there is less than 5 minutes left in the game and the score is within 5 points. According to the chart on libertyballers.com, since the year 2000, Kobe Bryant has made 606 shots to LeBron James’ 461 in these situations. However, Bryant has taken 522 shots more than James, meaning LeBron shoots 46% in clutch situations (which is among the highest in the league), while Kobe Bryant shoots under 40%, which is below-average. Now, many of you might try to argue “that’s not clutch time, there’s still plenty of time left in the game”. The last minute of the game is often referred to as “Kobe-time”, but yet another chart seems to disprove that. In the final 60 seconds of the game since 2000, LeBron has made 48 shots to Kobe’s 80… but on 98 less attempts. Yet again, LeBron shot a higher percentage (at 36.4%), while Kobe shot 34.8%. While that margin may not seem like much, it still puts Kobe at just around the average percentage, as opposed to LeBron exceeding it by a few percentage points. Looking at these two charts, it is apparent to me that Kobe is only viewed as being more clutch because he makes more shots in those situations, but he also shoots much more frequently than LeBron in those situations.
This is where my next point comes in: assists. An assist is when you make a pass that results in another player on your team scoring. A good player can get the ball to his teammates at the right time to give them an easy shot to make. It is no secret among NBA fans that Kobe is somewhat of a ball-hog. This is likely why he has shot so many more times than LeBron in clutch situations. Rather than forcing an ill-advised shot, LeBron remains calm, cool, and collected and looks to get his team involved if he doesn’t have a good shot available. In an ESPN article by Tom Haberstroh, there was a chart with a direct comparison between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in the previously defined “clutch” time. It shows that LeBron has nearly 6 assists per 40 minutes of clutch time, whereas Kobe has just over 4. This statistic is very revealing, as LeBron’s Cleveland Cavalier team that he played most of his career with was terrible, yet he seemed to make the players around him better and rise to the occasion. Kobe on the other hand played on a superstar-packed Lakers team over the years, filled with Hall of Famers and All-Stars. Yet it seemed as though he was unable to get the ball to his teammates at the opportune time, despite their higher talent level than LeBron’s teammates. Another important stat shown in the same chart was how many missed shots each player rebounded per 40 minutes of clutch time. LeBron racked up a staggering 11 per 40 minutes, while Kobe merely brought in 4. This is a huge advantage, as good rebounding leads to having more shot opportunities for your team.
Still not convinced by all of these overwhelming statistics showing LeBron’s dominance and Kobe’s futility in crunch time? That’s not your fault, this last source shows that there’s more to it than just numbers. The media runs rampant on sports stories. How often do you hear them talking about Tim Tebow, or Manti Te’o, or other things that they sensationalize and make into something bigger than it really is? Well, that’s exactly what the case is here. In the same article by Tom Haberstroh that had that last chart, he discusses “the highlight reel conundrum”. Essentially what the article says is that the media picks apart Kobe’s and LeBron’s performances in clutch time and makes them into what they want them to look like. In the early 2000’s, Kobe hit a few big game-winners that made him known as “a closer, an assassin, a cold-blooded killer”. They would show those highlights over and over, yet they would fail to show all of the shots that he MISSED in that time. He could have missed 10 shots in a row in the last 5 minutes, but if he nails the game-winner that’s all they’ll look at. Now, a lot of you are probably thinking “well he won the game, that’s all that matters”. But if it weren’t for all of the shots he missed, they would have locked up the win a couple of minutes earlier and not had to sweat it out at the end. LeBron on the other hand had an infamously bad streak in the playoffs one year where he missed a couple of key shots in some games. The media was all over that, saying he “choked”, and let his team down. However, they failed to show the couple of minutes leading up to those last shots where LeBron kept his team on life support singlehandedly with his phenomenal play. The effect of those instances in each players career has never left the public’s perception of them despite how they have played since that stage in their careers. The media loves a “clutch” Kobe story and his dramatic fist pumps, and any time he hits a big shot at the end of a game (which is bound to happen given how many shots he chucks up in crunch time), they’ll have the highlight looping endlessly on Sportscenter all week. Yet if he misses one, they’ll just say he had a bad day and move right on to the next highlight. On the other hand, if LeBron misses a game-winner, they won’t hesitate to show that single shot repeatedly, ignoring any shots he may have been making to keep his team within one shot in the first place. If he makes a game-winner, they’ll just gloss over it like it was nothing and move right on with their program. Because of the skewed way they highlight these two players on certain aspects of their play in crunch time, the public is fed a perception of them that is no longer relevant at this point in their careers and has since been widely proven to be incorrect.
I hope that after hearing this speech, you are more educated on this topic. After comparing LeBron’s and Kobe’s shooting percentages, assists, and rebounds in clutch situations as well as clearing your view from the bias of the media, you should be able to see the truth: LeBron James is actually one of the most reliable players in the NBA with the game on the line, while Kobe Bryant does not meet the level of play that he is credited with in those situations. While Kobe fans may not want to admit it and LeBron haters will be left without much to criticize him about, the numbers simply don’t lie- the debate is over, and the statistics have spoken. He is truly “King” James.
82games.com. “In-depth Coverage of the NBA”. Website. Aptos, CA.
Sams, Jordan (2012). “A Statistical Analysis of Clutch NBA Shooters Since 2000”. Website. http://www.libertyballers.com/2012/2/29/2832299/lebron-james-kobe-bryant-dwyane-wade-clutch-nba-playoffs-4th-quarter
Haberstroh, Tom (2010). “Kobe or LeBron King of Crunch Time?”. Website. http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/truehoop/miamiheat/columns/story?columnist=haberstroh_tom&page=KobeLeBronclutch-101222