LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. He is among the top ten players in the NBA in both the scoring and assists per score categories. James is coming off a season where won his first NBA Championship, won the Finals MVP, became an Olympic Gold Medal winner, and won the 2011-12 MVP Award.
So why is it that when James misses a walk off shot late in a close game, he gets unfairly criticized? Yes, Michael Jordan had the “clutch gene,” and Jordan is who James deserves to be compared to. Kobe Bryant has it too. Does James?
Contrary to popular belief, according to the numbers, he actually does. Dating back to 2006, James has made five game winning shots, shooting 5/12 (41.7%) in clutch situations. Bryant, however, is overrated when it comes to walk-off shots. He is 7/27 (25.9%) going back to 1996. (Statistics for both James and Bryant include playoff games.) Bryant is definitely more fearless in the closing moments of games, yet stats prove that James has been more efficient in clutch situations.
With the game on the line, I would still want James to have the ball in the closing moments. Whether or not he makes, or even takes, the potential game winner, he makes the right play.
In the Miami Heat‘s overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks, with 16 seconds left in the fourth quarter, James had the ball at the top of the key, and drove to the middle. The Mavs’ defense collapsed, and James kicked a pass to Shane Battier in the corner, who knocked down a wide open 3-PTer. Battier missed his previous three shots in the game, and had not scored in the contest until James hit him with a perfect pass that eventually sent the game to OT.
Is an 0-3 Battier the guy you want taking the biggest shot down the stretch of a close game? Of course not. However, James makes his teammates better, something that Bryant does not do consistently, especially at the end of games.
If a team is down in the closing seconds of a basketball game, LeBron James is the one who should have the ball in his hands, not Kobe Bryant.