Kobe Bryant vs. Kevin Durant: Who's Better in the Clutch?

Howard RubenContributor IMarch 27, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 17:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder has the ball knocked away by Kobe Bryant #24 and Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on January 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

This is a tough one.

On the surface, I think most fans of the NBA instantly pick Kobe Bryant as Mr. Clutch.  They pick him as the go to player you would most want to have the ball in a critical situation late in a big game.  The game's best closer—right?

But let's not sell the young Kevin Durant short just yet.  The 6'10" power forward has put the Oklahoma City Thunder on his back this year, guiding the team to a division leading 37-12 record while establishing them as the favorite to win the Western Conference and advance to their first NBA Finals.

KD has virtually no weaknesses left in his game.  He averages 28 points a night, making half of his field-goal attempts, including a solid 38 percent from beyond the arc.

Durant is a great passer and rebounder: his 3.6 assists and 8.1 boards per game this year are career highs.

If we go strictly by the "numbers," this year's Mr. Clutch belongs to Durant—by a wide mile.  According to the website, 82Games.com, Durant's stats in clutch time rank him number one in the NBA.  Clutch is defined as: fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left and neither team ahead by more than five points.

In other words, Durant is the most productive player in the league in these predetermined clutch situations.  He averages 55.2 points per 48 minutes.  Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks, at 49.7, is second while Kobe is a distant 24th at 32.1 points of production. 

Other eye popping clutch stats show Durant shooting 42 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range, while Bryant's numbers are a numbing 28 and 20 percent.  Even more telling is that Bryant coughs up the ball over six times per those 48 minutes of clutch time while Durant relinquishes the ball 2.6 times.

About the only category where Kobe dominates Durant this year is in passing.  Bryant averages 8.8 dimes while Durant only has one per 48 minutes, meaning that the Lakers guard is dishing off and trusting more teammates with shots down the stretch.  Is that considered "clutch"?  You be the judge.

Having said all that, I cannot help but still believe that Kobe Bryant is actually the more clutch of the two players.  The proof is in the proverbial pudding and no one has been more adept at winning games in spectacular fashion in the closing seconds than No. 24.

Ask most NBA pundits and coaches who comes to mind when they think of a closer—the player they'd most like to have with the ball when the game is on the line.  The answer is usually Kobe Bryant.

Yes, I have read the statistics and listened to fans of the game who point out that Bryant's statistics down the stretch of close games are really not that good.  But, to me, the mark of a great finisher, a clutch player, is that he'll stop at nothing until he finds a way to get the job done.  And, in that respect, there is no contest here—it's Kobe Bean Bryant all the way.

Take a look on YouTube at the many video montages highlighting Bryant's incredible 16 year career and game winning baskets.  This one will make your head spin.

Make no mistake, Kevin Durant is a great, clutch player.  He is just now in his fifth season and will continue to get better.  He loves to have the ball in crunch time and that is another sign of greatness.

In this instance, the definition of clutch fits one Kobe Bryant like a glove: "Tending to be successful in tense or critical situations."

Kobe has missed the playoffs just once in 15 NBA season while averaging 25.4 points, 4.8 assists.  He's played in seven NBA Finals and has won five world championships. 

When it comes to the Finals, KD is zero for zero.  Those numbers may in fact change, perhaps even this year.

But for now, my vote goes to Bryant.  He is more clutch than Kevin Durant because he has the video clips and hardware to prove it.