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.