This is the question posed by Alan Siegel at Slate.com. His answer draws upon research and numbers from 82games.com, Wayne Winston, Dan Ariely, and an obscure economics professor from Southern Utah University. The answer… well, Kobe doesn’t appear to be the best player in the clutch in the NBA.
What follows are two extra tables that will support the evidence Siegel provides. 82games.com reports “clutch” data for the regular season, where clutch is defined as “4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points.” The data includes – with the exception of personal fouls – all the standard box score data. And with the help of Arturo Galletti, this data was used to estimate each player’s Win Score, Wins Produced, and Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48]. The top 10 players in “WP48” clutch across the past three regular seasons is reported below. As one can see, Kobe only cracks the top 10 once. Meanwhile, LeBron is ranked first or second in each of the three seasons examined.
And the following table explains how clutch performance for LeBron and Kobe compares to what we see in the regular season. As one can see (and as Seigal notes), LeBron is essentially better at everything in the clutch. And Kobe… well, he is not (by the way, numbers in red indicate the player declined in the clutch relative to the regular season — and except for turnovers, a decline is not good for each number).
With this data in hand, we might offer more on clutch performance in the future. For now, though, I hope everyone enjoys the Siegel article.