An article was recently written on ESPN by Justin Kubatko that noted the Oklahoma City Thunder went 3-6 in “close” games last season.
Some might want to blame that performance on the loss of James Harden, one of the league’s most efficient fourth-quarter scorers in 2011-12. But Harden’s replacement, Kevin Martin, led the NBA with an effective field goal percentage of .793 on shots taken in the fourth quarter or overtime with a scoring margin of three or fewer points.
Henry Abbot then looked at what the Thunder did in the last five minutes of games within five points, and found that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took a combined 176 shots to just 12 for Martin.
He’d go dozens of minutes without launching a shot, as commentators said things like “this has got to be Durant’s time.” And so it was. On NBA.com/stats I just noodled around with the stats and found in the last five minutes of a game within five, the Thunder’s two stars combined to take 176 shots … to Martin’s 12. Their shooting was crummy — both below 40 percent — but Martin barely missed.
My suspicion, in seeing Martin’s killer numbers was: That’s because Martin didn’t get the ball unless he was wide open.
I am not going to sit here and deny that Martin is a great shooter, especially when wide open, or the statistics that back up what he did in the clutch.
But I will gladly explain why Martin wasn’t taking more shots in the clutch.
For one, Martin wasn’t even on the floor during all of the clutch minutes the Thunder played last season. The reason was because of his suspect defense that often had Scott Brooks choosing Thabo Sefolosha over him.
Okay, but still it feels like Martin should have shot more if he was so accurate at the end of games, right?
I can’t believe I feel like this has to be said but, “IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE!”
One huge thing that advanced stats do not consider, at least not clearly, is the ability to create a shot. One of the biggest reasons why Martin was not taking shots, is he could not get them, while KD and Russ are of course two of the best in the NBA and being able to get off a shot.
In clutch situations, the defense gets tougher. Whenever the defense got tougher on Martin, he was essentially taken out of the game. What do you think happens when defense gets tighter and a guy shoots from his hip? He can’t get a shot off.
Throw in the fact that KD and Russ were clearly the “guys” for OKC, and Martin was definitely left out quite a bit.
Now, I will admit that Martin’s lack of attempts also has a lot to do with the offense or lack there of that OKC ran last season. We all know they end up taking a lot of tough shots compared to other teams. This didn’t do Martin any favors.
My issue is that you can’t put this on KD and Russ. Martin is passive by nature. You really can’t even afford to draw up plays for him at the end of the game, because there is a good chance he won’t even be able to get a look at the rim.
I love the advanced stats, and the clutch ones too, but when it comes to this, it’s really a small sample size. From watching every Thunder game, I know the biggest reason Martin wasn’t more of a factor late in games, was because of him being the limited player that he is.