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LeBron James Isn't Clutch and the 7 Other Biggest Myths in the NBA

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2012

LeBron James Isn't Clutch and the 7 Other Biggest Myths in the NBA

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    If there's one thing the NBA's been battling since its creation, it's stereotypes.

    Racial stereotypes from back in the day gave way to even lazier assumptions as the years progressed. "NBA players are all thugs" from decades ago turned into "NBA players don't play defense!" and "David Stern is rigging the league!" in today's era.

    LeBron James, reigning MVP and league champion, knows all about those misplaced perceptions. For years, he's been working to shed the label of not being "clutch" like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.

    The 2012 championship seemed to shut up most of James' critics for the time being, but he continues to wage a one-man war on the idea that he's not a clutch player.

    Let's break down the "LeBron isn't clutch" myth, along with seven others in the NBA.

LeBron James Isn't Clutch

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    Until winning the 2012 NBA championship, LeBron James battled the perception that he shrinks in big moments. Brutal playoff series against the Boston Celtics in 2010 and the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 only furthered that theory.

    Now that he's won, however? Not only is LBJ considered clutch, but, "the evidence supports the argument that James might be the most clutch player in the league," Couper Moorhead recently wrote for NBA.com.

    Using the standard clutch filters—the last five minutes of the game leading or trailing by no more than five points—in the 369 minutes of high-pressure basketball he has played with Miami, James leads the NBA with a player efficiency rating of 34.8, regular season and playoffs. We don't need to name names here, but think of any player and James has been more efficient late in close games, and that's using a metric that doesn't fully factor in defensive talents that almost won him a Defensive Player of the Year award a season ago.

    In the 30 minutes of clutch time that James has played for Miami in 2012-13, he's performing above his typical averages virtually across the board. He's averaging 34.8 points on 63 percent shooting to go with 10.8 rebounds, 9.6 assists and 9.6 free-throw attempts, according to NBA.com's advanced statistics.

    Know any other players averaging 34.6 points and a near-triple-double in clutch situations this season? I didn't think so.

    Moorhead's absolutely right. Not only has James decidedly shaken the "not clutch" label, he appears to have quickly surpassed all his NBA peers in that department.

The Regular Season Is Meaningless

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    When college basketball fans turn up their nose at the NBA, this is one of the most oft-cited reasons, I'd wager.

    "The regular season doesn't matter! The players don't care until the playoffs!"

    It's undeniable that playoff NBA basketball has an entirely different, more intense atmosphere. Fans, players and coaches are all more locked in once the best-of-sevens start up.

    In what professional sport is that not true, though? Once teams reach the playoffs in any sport, it's only natural for the intensity to ratchet up as they all move one step closer to a championship.

    That doesn't mean the regular season doesn't matter, though. Ask any team that's been forced to take a trip to "Loud City" to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs over the past few seasons.

    Home-court advantage isn't a guarantee to get a team into the NBA Finals, but it holds far more importance in the NBA than it does in Major League Baseball, for instance.

    Players aren't typically living and dying with every regular-season loss, knowing there are 80 other games in a season to worry about. But the battle for home-court advantage alone is enough to keep the NBA regular season relevant.

NBA Players Don't Play Defense

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    Every time a critic accuses NBA players of not playing defense, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau grows a little more hoarse.

    Thibodeau best reflects how important defense is to NBA championship contenders, as his Bulls have managed to stay afloat through a slew of Derrick Rose injuries largely on the strength of their defense.

    To say defense isn't played in the regular season is an affront to players like Tyson Chandler, Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen, guys who make their name (and their millions) based on their play on the defensive side of the ball.

    If NBA players didn't play defense, feats like Kobe Bryant's 81-point night wouldn't be nearly as rare. Leave Ray Allen open on every possession for 36 minutes a game and he'll rain three-pointers like it's monsoon season.

    Not every NBA player gives his full effort on defense every night of the regular season. But anyone who says NBA players only play on one side of the court clearly hasn't been watching the right teams.

Teams Need Multiple Superstars To Contend

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    The Boston Celtics recently popularized this theory by uniting Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and immediately winning an NBA championship in 2008, and the Miami Heat's trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh only furthered the idea by winning the 2012 title after joining together two summers before.

    At this point, the theory is that a team without a single superstar can't contend for an NBA championship. Not when you're going up against super trios like James-Wade-Bosh or the former Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden triple threat.

    Realistically, teams need two superstars to stand any chance against star-studded rosters like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder or the two Los Angeles teams.

    The Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls and 2004 Detroit Pistons would beg to differ, however.

    Rose doesn't have another true superstar by his side, unless you're wearing thick enough beer goggles to consider Carlos Boozer for that distinction. It's pure conjecture to imagine what would have happened in the 2012 playoffs had Rose not torn his ACL in the first game of the first round, but suffice it to say, the Bulls didn't earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 for no reason.

    Teams without a single superstar will realistically find themselves at a major disadvantage against some of the more star-centric rosters come playoff time, as those teams will likely have better-defined roles in late-game, high-pressure situations.

    That doesn't mean that a single-superstar team, like Rose's Bulls or the Orlando Magic back in the Dwight Howard days, can't win an NBA championship. Surrounded with the right pieces, those teams have just as much of a chance as the teams loaded with stars.

Russell Westbrook Hurts the Oklahoma City Thunder

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    By virtue of playing with the league's three-time defending scoring champion, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has found himself in a bit of a pickle in his young career.

    He's one of the most explosive players in the league, yet he catches an abundance of heat from critics for his poor shot selection and his tendency to ignore Kevin Durant on offense at times.

    When you're equipped with a hyper-efficient option like Durant, it's only logical for Thunder fans to want to see him taking control offensively as much as possible, but when he doesn't, it's not all Westbrook's fault.

    Durant's rail-thin frame hasn't made it easy for him to beat defenders through screens, often leaving Westbrook on an island late in the shot clock and forced to create for himself.

    Through 12 games, Westbrook is only shooting 40.5 percent from the field, which can't have Thunder fans thrilled. His per-game averages of 20.8 points, 8.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals should help assuage those concerns, though.

    Durant and Westbrook may not see eye-to-eye 100 percent of the time, but each only makes the other better on the court, not worse. If the Thunder ever did decide to part with Westbrook, they'd have no shortage of suitors lining up to take him off their hands.

Blake Griffin Can't Do Anything on Offense Besides Dunk

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    Blake Griffin grew infamous during his rookie season for the SportsCenter Top 10 dunks he threw down on what seemed to be a nightly basis. (He dunked 214 times that year, according to the NBA.)

    Unfortunately for Griffin, he quickly became known for doing only that (and flopping) offensively, nothing else.

    In reality, Griffin isn't nearly the offensive disaster that some might presume once he steps outside the paint.

    Through 11 games, Griffin has knocked down 24-of-58 from 16 to 23 feet (41.4 percent), according to HoopData, with all but five of those buckets coming off assists. He's also knocked down 19 of his 36 tries from three to nine feet.

    He's not much for offensive rebounding, but Griffin is one of the better passing big men in the league, averaging 3.1 assists per game in 2012-13 and 3.5 over the course of his three-year career.

    Griffin's dunks might generate most of the highlights, but it's a mistake to consider him a one-trick pony offensively.

Kobe Bryant Doesn't Pass

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    If Kobe Bryant doesn't pass, can someone explain how he's averaged 4.7 assists per game over his decade-and-a-half-long career?

    Bryant has the reputation of being a ball hog because, well, he's been a ball hog over the course of his 16-plus seasons. His career usage rate (the percentage of possessions he uses while on the floor) is 31.7 percent, and he's led the league in usage rate three times, including 2010-11 and 2011-12.

    In that context, the 4.7 assists per game shouldn't exactly conjure images of Magic Johnson. LeBron James, with a career usage rate of 31.8 percent, has averaged more than two assists per game more than Bryant over his 10-year career, for instance.

    Still, nearly five assists per game isn't anything to sneeze at from a shooting guard, even one as ball-dominant as Bryant.

    With Steve Nash sidelined in the early part of 2012-13 by a fibula fracture, Bryant's been the Los Angeles Lakers' de facto point guard, averaging 6.6 assists over his past five games. He even posted a triple-double (including assists!) against the Houston Rockets on Nov. 18.

    With a career assist rate of 23.9 percent (the percentage of baskets on which Bryant has assisted while on the floor), there's no denying that while Bryant may be a shoot-first, pass-second player, he's still willing to give up the ball to teammates for open shots.

David Stern Rigs the NBA Lottery

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    NBA conspiracy theorists can't get enough of this idea, started back in 1985 with Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in the first NBA draft lottery.

    The theory goes something like this: The New York Knicks' envelope was tossed into the draft lottery machine in a way that folded its corner, which gave NBA commissioner David Stern a visual marker when he reached into the drum to pull the winner's card.

    Over a quarter of a century later, the idea of a rigged lottery still rages on in some corners of the NBA.

    According to some, the fix was in again during the 2012 draft lottery, when the NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets won the No. 1 pick despite having only a 13.7 percent chance to do so. This would theoretically make the franchise more attractive to potential buyers, with franchise player Anthony Davis in tow.

    Derrick Rose going to his hometown Chicago Bulls as the No. 1 pick in 2008 despite the Bulls having less than a two percent chance to win the top overall selection also drew some cries of "fixed!" from skeptics.

    Ultimately, though, there's no way that the NBA would hold such a public draft selection while fixing the results. As Matt Moore of CBSsports.com and Barry Petchesky of Deadspin both point out, it's easy enough to conjure up a reason that the draft lottery is fixed, no matter which team wins.

    In reality, the draft lottery is the perfect mixture of mathematics and pure dumb luck. Even Nate Silver couldn't accurately predict the winner 100 percent of the time. That's what makes it so enthralling.

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