Word on the Street

The Kobe Effect (ko-bee eff-ekt) noun. The state that arises when a player creates the popular notion that he is clutch by taking so many late-game shots that he inevitably hits enough to create this impression, even when it is not true.

Usage example:People think Jamal Crawford is clutch because a lot of his late game field goals made SportsCenter, but that’s just The Kobe Effect happening; Crawford is actually a terrible late-game shooter.”

Word history: The word was coined on the Be The Three blog in a post titled Pop Quiz: Down Three With 12 Seconds Left, What Do You Do? Also: Introducing The Kobe Effect. The Kobe Effect is said to have the strongest influence on radio talk show hosts and lazy sports columnists.

This effect could easily be named after Chauncey Billups or Jamal Crawford, but Kobe Bryant is the true progenitor of sort-of-false clutchness. Has Kobe made his share of big shots? Absolutely. He even made a game-winning three last week against Houston. He’s convinced some league observers (often the most annoyingly passionate fans you’ll meet) that he’s the greatest clutch shooter since MJ. But is he really? Or does he hog all the late-game shots for the Lakers, thereby guaranteeing he becomes known as “clutch,” even if he shoots a lower percentage – and turns the ball over more – with the game on the line?

Last year, Kobe ranked second (behind LeBron) in clutch scoring, pouring in 51.8 points per 48 minutes, according to 82games. But he was jacking up 33.6 shots per 48 minutes, third most in the league (again behind LeBron and, absurdly, Jamaal Tinsley). His “clutch” field goal percentage was 44.8 percent – right around his career average. That’s pretty solid – especially considering the degree of difficulty on those shots is higher than in the normal course of play.

But here are Kobe’s “clutch” shooting percentages from the last five seasons going backwards: 44.8, 43.6, 36.4, 32.4, 39.6.

That’s not great. But let’s narrow the sample size and look at the clutchiest of clutch shots-potentially game-winning shots in the last 30 seconds. How does Kobe do there? From 2003 through 2006, Kobe made seven such shots – tied for ninth most in the league. But he fired up 32 shots, the highest total among all players. That adds up to a shooting percentage of 21.9 percent, well below the league average of 29 percent. Kobe also had zero assists in game-winning situations during that span.

Other supposedly clutch shooters on this list: Chauncey Billups, Mr. Big Shot, hit 5 of 26 shots (19 percent), and Jamal Crawford, who made so many last-second shots even the New York Times fell for it and labeled him clutch, went 6-for-19 (31 percent).

It’s not that Kobe’s a bad clutch shooter. Last year, Kobe shot 46.7 percent in “super clutch” situations, which 82games defines as less than two minutes in the fourth or OT, score within three points. That’s impressive, especially since he did so while firing nearly 35 shots per 48 minutes, the fourth-highest rate in the league. But he had the third-worst turnover rate in the entire NBA (more than nine per 48 minutes) in such situations. (Just for fun: Guess who took even more shots per minute than Kobe in “super clutch” situations? Jamal Crawford – and he made a whopping 19 percent of them.)

Oh – and there’s always that infamous Game 7 against Phoenix in 2006, when Mr. Clutch decided not to shoot in the second half in order to show the world that his teammates stunk. Now that’s clutch.

Conclusion: Kobe’s clutch shooting percentage is significantly lower than his overall shooting percentage, but people believe he’s the greatest clutch shooter since MJ because of The Kobe Effect.

Other benefactors of the Kobe Effect: Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson, who takes almost every big shot down the stretch for the Hawks but is making just 33 percent of them this year after sinking only 29.7 percent of clutch shots last season. But the aura ofThe Kobe Effect surrounds him thanks to a handful of clutch shots he made against Boston in the playoffs last season.

The Truly Clutch: Manu Ginobli, LeBron James.

About the author: Zach Lowe covers law and business for a magazine in New York and recently started the NBA and Celtics-themed blog Be The Three. He is a lifelong Celtics fan and is not scared when Kobe Bryant has the ball late in games. He is, however, terrified of Joe Johnson no matter what the numbers say.

Clutch? Or just the Kobe Effect?

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Labels: Kobe Bryant / Jamal Crawford / LeBron James / Chauncey Billups (Mr. Big Shot) / Joe Johnson / Michael Jordan (MJ) / Manu Ginobili / Los Angeles Lakers / Atlanta Hawks / Boston Celtics / Phoenix Suns / Houston Rockets / NBA Playoffs / NBA / Word on the Street

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