Did you know that oysters are aphrodisiacs? Maybe you didn’t, but you probably weren’t surprised when I told you. When you eat them, there’s that little extra kick that rattles around your body. It’s that same inexplicable, know-it-when-you-see it quality that defines NBA megastars. There are plenty of superstars, don’t get me wrong. Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams immediately come to mind. Yet they seem to occupy a different, slightly lesser dimension of greatness that merely agrees instead of supersedes. That is, they fulfill our expectations from the onset. Nothing less, nothing more. A grilled chicken sandwich, of sorts. It’s going to be good, maybe great, but it’s not going to unequivocally bewilder and amaze your taste buds. When these players step on the court, we don’t hold our breath for the spectacular because we already know they’re spectacular.
That next level, the one that Dirk, LeBron and Kobe occupy, flirts with the unknown. We know they’re spectacular, but we can’t help but wonder and anticipate. They accomplish the unfathomable. Kevin Durant is waiting to join this group. As I wrote the other day, it’s not a question of his natural ability. Instead, he’s grappling with Russell Westbrook for the right to progress to that final echelon. On the remaining playoff teams, there’s no question that Dirk, LeBron and Derrick Rose will be the ones to put the nail in the coffin. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the stats. Of these five end-of-game closers, LeBron, Dirk, Rose, Westbrook and Durant – we’re ignoring Dwyane Wade because he does not have enough attempts – here’s how their true shooting percentage in clutch situations breaks down during the 2011 playoffs:
(clutch situation = five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, five-point game or less):
Player A: 47 points, 19 FGA, 26 FTA, 77.20 TS%
Player B: 37 points, 25 FGA, 11 FTA, 62.00 TS%
Player C: 30 points, 21 FGA, 13 FTA, 56.14 TS%
Player D: 39 points, 31 FGA, 9 FTA, 55.78 TS%
Player E: 25 points, 31 FGA, 13 FTA, 34.04 TS%
Can you identify who is who? The two-horse race for most clutch player left in the playoffs isn’t as close as people actually think. With a whopping 78.48 TS%, Dirk has established himself as the preeminent finisher. As deadly as Dirk’s jumper is, it’s his free throws that are doing the main damage. With double the output of the next closest competitor, teams clearly can’t keep him off the line.
So who’s in second (Player B)? You might be surprised, but it’s actually Durant at 63.85%. Despite being limited to 21 FGA, Durant has succeeded when given the opportunity. But that’s exactly the point. Coming in at an awful 33.01 TS%, Westbrook has attempted two more free throws and six more field goals than Durant. Is it just me or is something backwards here? To take the next step, Durant needs to demand the ball in every late-game situation. What do you think Kobe would do if Phil Jackson drew up a last second shot for Pau Gasol? Slap the clipboard out of his hand? Knock over Phil’s throne on the bench? Call him a word that might lead to an inevitable $100,000 fine? What about if Mike Brown drew up a play for Ron Artest? I don’t even want to think about the carnage, half-hearted apology and incessant media debate.
In fourth place, LeBron’s 55.78 TS% is actually slightly lower than his 59.4% output during the regular season. Although some of this can be attributed to the tough Boston and Chicago defense he has faced, let’s not forget that LeBron’s late game shot selection is often less than stellar. How many times have we seen him pull-up early in the shot clock during the waning moments for a knife-in-the-heart three? Sure, he’s hit a few in the playoffs, but he misses a lot as well.
All I can say about Rose’s third place and 56.14% is wow (in a positive sense). Despite the ungodly amount of attention he receives, especially throughout the stretch run of the fourth quarter, he’s stepped up to the plate. Okay, so maybe he missed some contested step-backs against LeBron the other night, but give the man a break. He has everyone and his mother focused on him. And thanks to Kyle Korver, he has to waste defensive energy on D-Wade.
So what do we take away from this? You should have given more touches to Durant, Westbrook. Go get the ball from Westrbook, Durant. Stop taking ill-advised shots early in the shot clock, LeBron. Demand that the front office trades for any functioning NBA two-guard, D-Rose. And Dirk, you probably deserve the NBA title already.
Numbers aside, who do you think is the most clutch player left in the playoffs?
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