Who should be taking a shot with the game on the line
by Andrew Kennedy
NBA fans love to argue about what player is the most clutch or who they would want taking the last shot in a game. It seems most would always say Kobe Bryant including other NBA players and GM’s.
It is amazing how everyone simply agrees with this when the numbers don’t entirely back Kobe up during crunch time. He is the most prolific at taking shots when the game is on the line. He is just not the most efficient in doing so.
For example, the Lakers over Kobe’s career tenure with them have had the most efficient offense in the NBA. The drop off in their efficiency once games enter crunch time is the greatest of any other team.
Chris Paul on the other hand, is by far the most efficient player once the game enters crunch time. And not only as an individual but his team has been the most efficient in the NBA during this time.
Paul didn’t become the most efficient by taking fadeaway jump shots over two defenders but by always trying to run offense and find the open man in late-game situations.
But sometimes in the NBA you can’t always find an open shot and you have to take a bad shot. That’s why stats can’t definitely tell you who the most clutch player in the league is. Kobe’s skill and ability to get off a decent shot from anywhere on the court does have its value, it’s just not always the best decision.
Here’s my ranking of players I want taking a clutch shot in the NBA, based on the type of shot or scenario in the game.
Isolation, beyond the three-point line
Today: Kevin Durant
This is almost never the shot you want to take in the game but is so commonly seen taken when the game is on the line. The only value is you can usually be in a one-on-one situation with no help coming when you’re this far from the hoop. I take Durant here because he is right now the best in the league with a size-up dribble and ability to pull-up with a defender in his face from this distance. This player used to be Kobe but he doesn’t have as much lift as he used to and Durant is just too pure from 30-feet away and at 7-foot, very unblockable.
Honorable mention: Kobe Bryant and Jamal Crawford
All-time: Jerry West
Isolation, 12-18 feet away
Today: Dirk Nowitzki
He obviously showed during the playoffs last season and in Dallas’ win over Boston a few nights ago why he is the obvious choice here. He has become so crafty in his offensive game and shifty with pump fakes that he is an impossible guard. He won two NBA Finals games scoring in this very situation driving to the basket.
Honorable mention: Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade
All-time: Michael Jordan
Back to the basket, below the elbow
Today: Dirk Nowitzki
This is a very similar situation to the previous and it speaks to how clutch Dirk is now that he is again the obvious choice. He is one of the best back-to-basket players of all-time, especially shooting fadeaways. He’s also such an improved passer from this position the past few seasons that you can barely risk a double-team on him.
Honorable mention: Kobe Bryant
All-time: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Today: Pau Gasol
And this is why Kobe shouldn’t be taking every crunch time shot. He has Gasol on his team who is great in the low post and a great free throw shooter. That’s the main reason why I’d pick Gasol in this situation is his touch. He gets a lot of great rolls around the rim and has been better at accepting contact and still finishing. Plus you’re very likely to get fouled in the low post in a late-game situation so you don’t want a Dwight Howard down there.
Honorable mention: No one really, low post looks barely happen in crunch time anyway.
All-time: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Pick-and-roll ball handler
Today: Chris Paul
I wrote earlier how his clutch stats are the best in the league so he is the obvious choice here. He’s the best at getting into the paint from a pick-and-roll and then making the right decision. A few years ago, Steve Nash was the clear-cut pick here but he’s a little too old now and Paul’s numbers are just too good.
Honorable mention: Derrick Rose
All-time: Steve Nash
Today: Amare Stoudemire
He is the best all-time pick-and-roll, roll man as well. This has a lot to do with playing alongside Nash but he has also shown his prowess playing with others. I like Amare here over Dirk because of what he makes the defense do since they know he is attacking the rim so hard. It also opens up secondary passes to three-point shooters because the defense has to cheat to help on Amare.
Honorable mention: Dirk Nowitzki
All-time: Amare Stoudemire
Coming off a screen
Today: Ray Allen
Even at his old age, Allen is still the best at running off screens in the league and definitely one of the most clutch ever. The Celtics keep looking older but he looks the same. There really aren’t a lot of teams that have a go-to guy in crunch time that comes off screens and it’s such an advantage because you are running a play when you have this instead of relying on isolation and it opens up other options.
Honorable mention: Kevin Durant
All-time: Reggie Miller
Wide-open, spot-up jump shot
Today: Matt Bonner
This looks crazy but just watch him shoot. He is so robotic and so automatic it is ridiculous. His numbers back it up to as he is one of the most accurate long range shooters in the league. Also, he isn’t scared and is someone who is always in the right position to become ready and launch a three. Leave Bonner open and you’ll be sorry.
Honorable mention: Kevin Durant (just think he’d be uncomfortable if wide open)
All-time: Robert Horry and John Paxson
Late tonight with a 10:30 est tip, we will see one of the most anticipated matchups of this NBA regular season: LA vs. LA. The game is destined to be close and come down to the wire. We know who will be taking the shot for the Lakers and that has to count for something, good or bad.