Back in August, during the Gold Medal Game of the Olympics, I told one of my friends (a big Lakers fan) that Kobe Bryant was the most gangsta player in the NBA, in large part due to his ability to knock down clutch jumpers with a man in his face late in games. It’s something that LeBron James has always lacked in his game.
Well, not anymore. Sure, one game does not a career make, but hitting a 19-footer as time expired last night against the Warriors was a big step in the right direction for LeBron, and will hopefully get some of his critics to shut up.
According to the good folks at 82games.com, LeBron is averaging 54.5 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time” (defining that as 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points). He’s only shooting 48.0% in that scenario, but he’s getting to the line an average of 24.8 times per 48 minutes. By plenty of measures, he’s one of the most effective clutch time players in the NBA:
LeBron James in “Clutch Time”
Pts per 48 54.5 2nd
Reb per 48 19.8 5th
Ast per 48 13.6 1st
FTA per 48 24.8 4th
+/- per 48 +33 7th
Now, is he perfect? No. I’d like to see that shooing percentage go up (and I’d like to see the average of 11.2 3-pt attempts per 48 minutes go WAY down). Also, he does average more clutch time turnovers per 48 minutes than anyone in the league (in part because he ALWAYS has the ball in those situations).
Against Golden State on Friday, we saw a little of the good (8 points in the final 5 minutes, or 76.8 points per 48 minutes), a little of the bad (3 missed shots, all inside 10 feet) and a little of the ugly (1 turnover, 2 made shots by Stephen Jackson while being guarded by LeBron). But in the end, the positives outweighed the negatives, and LeBron took a big step toward gaining a reputation as a clutch player (even if the stats already tend to indicate that he’s been one for awhile).