Kobe Bryant and the NBA's Best Shooters with the Game on the Line

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Kobe Bryant and the NBA's Best Shooters with the Game on the Line
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Probably the single most imagined incident in sports is sinking that game-winning shot. Nary is there kid in a US neighborhood, perhaps now even a European neighborhood, that hasn't given themselves the imaginary "3-2-1" countdown and then sunk the imagined game-winner to the roar of the similarly imagined crowd. 

In no other team sport can you, by yourself, lift your team from behind to ahead in single moment. In football, you can score a winning touchdown or throw for one, but that depends on getting blocks, a quarterback throwing the pass or a receiver catching it. 

In baseball, you can hit the home run, but to take your team from behind to ahead, you need to have someone on base.

In basketball, it comes down to one pure moment where there is you, the ball and the net. If you get the ball through the net, you're the hero. If you don't, you're the goat. 

Then, there are the real heroes of the NBA, those who no longer have to conjure imagined audiences. They have real crowds of real adoring fans. They have made that shot, and made it a lot. It gets debated all the time: If you have one player to take a shot with the game on the line, who is it going to be?

How do you determine who it should be? Different people have different ideas of what should be considered. What constitutes a shot to win it? If you leave time on the clock, does it count or does it have to be a buzzer-beater? 

How do you weigh a shot that that wins a game that is tied to a three-pointer that ties the game and sends it into overtime?

At 82Games.com, they've done a couple of studies where they define a "game-winning shot" as the team down two with 24 seconds left. The reasoning behind the 24 seconds is that's the duration of the shot-clock. Ergo, it is potentially the last time you will have the ball. 

At various times, others have defined it with less time, 10 seconds, seven seconds, three seconds and so on. All of that can create problems of their own. If you call it 10 seconds, why shouldn't the player who made it with 11 seconds make the list?

With the 24 seconds, there's a logical delineation; that's the length of the shot clock. At the same time, we also know that a team can get two or three possessions in the last 24 seconds of the game by fouling, so it rarely means an actual last possession. 

The reality is that there are reasons it's defined differently. That's why I've decided to present things by more than just one definition. 

Through the use of Play Index + at basketball-reference.com, I've compiled the complete list of all game-winning shot attempts over the last five seasons. Following are all the players who have made at least eight shots to either tie or take the lead in a last possession type of situation. 

I chose five years because I wanted to find a way of balancing the newer players in with the older players. 

For every player, I will have their career totals though with the exception of players who have been playing since before 2000-2001. For them, since the Play Index + goes back to the 2001 season, I have their totals over the last 11 seasons. 

I will also have their totals for the last five years. I will include the number of makes, attempts and the effective field-goal percentage with both 24 seconds left and 10 seconds left. 

One other thing I have is the record for the teams when the player takes a shot. The reason for that is that makes don't always mean wins and misses don't always mean losses. 

Vince Carter made a huge three with less than two seconds to go earlier this year. Then, Kevin Durant responded with one of his own. Carter made a three-point shot with his team down two with two seconds left. That shot becomes no less "clutch" because of what happened after he shot it. 

The purpose of the study is to see how well a player performs with the game on the line, so I want to include that data. The pressure on Carter was exactly the same as it would have been if Durant didn't follow up with a miraculous three of his own. 

Yet the shot did not win the game. Team record in these situations is to address that type of scenario. 

Finally, there is a link where you can see the complete list of every shot each player took with access to the boxscore and a description of exactly when and where the shot was taken from. 

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