Is Kevin Garnett clutch?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Can a championship hide all of a player’s flaws?

Does it make everyone forget a player’s shortcomings?

What if that player was his team’s best player and the biggest reason for the largest single-season turnaround in NBA history?

In 2008, Kevin Garnett finally won his elusive first championship. But does that championship erase all the skeletons in his closet - all his first-round playoff exits, all the rumors of KG lacking clutch play?

Garnett is one of the NBA’s top players, and has been for over a decade. He’s won an MVP and a championship. He’s been named to 12 All-Star teams and nine All-NBA teams. He’s won a Defensive Player of the Year Award, and is widely given credit for restoring glory to the NBA’s most storied franchise. He’s one of the most intense competitors the NBA has ever seen, bringing an unrivaled passion to every game, every play, every second he’s on the court.

But is he clutch?

As far as clutch play goes, there are a few parameters by which to measure clutchness: a player’s performance in the final minutes of close games, a player’s overall playoff performance, and a player’s performance in elimination games. Judging based on those parameters, here’s a study of whether Kevin Garnett is, indeed, clutch…

The Final Minutes of Close Games

If you were to judge Kevin Garnett simply by his aggressiveness during the fourth quarters of close games, you’d instantly say he’s not clutch. Garnett isn’t like a Kobe Bryant, or even a Paul Pierce – he doesn’t demand the ball down the stretch to make sure his team wins games. That just isn’t the type of player he is. Garnett would rather play the same way he plays during the first three quarters of games, with selfless ball movement and the patience to take only good shots.

Because of his reluctance to demand the ball during crunchtime, some people would say he disappears down the stretches of games, that he doesn’t have the killer instinct required to be a fourth-quarter assassin.

And, watching him, they would seem to have a point. When I decided to write this column, I was ready to say that it seemed that Garnett sometimes disappeared down the stretch. Not always, or even often, but sometimes. I was ready to say that Garnett isn’t assertive enough, that he goes away sometimes in the fourth quarter, that he’s sometimes nowhere to be found when the Celtics need a big bucket.

But, according to the statistics, I might be wrong. Here are Garnett’s per-48 min. clutch stats (according to compared to his overall per-48 min. stats (according to

(NOTE: I could only find the statistics from 2002-2003 on – please forgive me)

YearClutch Points Per 48Overall Points Per 48

Garnett has increased his points per-48 min. in all but two seasons. One of the seasons his points per 48 min. dropped, the 2007-2008 season, can be attributed mostly to Garnett’s willingness to defer to the Celtics other great scorers, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. For the most part, Garnett increased his scoring during the clutch, and often by pretty substantial amounts.

Either way, he likes to approach the final few minutes of a game the same way he approaches the rest of the game. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Often, teams get out of hand in the fourth quarter with isolations and one-on-one play. Garnett will never bog his team down by focusing too much on one-on-one.

So does Garnett disappear at the end of games? The stats say no, the eyes say sometimes.

But that’s only offensively. On the other side of the court, defensively, there is nobody you’d rather have than Kevin Garnett. He’ll get big rebounds, huge blocks, and he’ll be a disruptive force on every possession. When the Celtics won the championship in 2008, a big reason for their success was the ability to get stops at the most important parts of games, and KG was the biggest part of that success.

Overall Playoff Performance

When the 82-game regular season turns into the playoffs, the best players pick their game up one more notch. If Michael Jordan hadn’t won so many championships, would he still be considered the best player ever? No, and it’s because legends are made when the lights are shining brightest, when the pressure is on to either win or spend the rest of the summer fishing.

So how does Garnett do in the playoffs? I’m going to say that his defense is always the same, whether it’s the regular season or postseason. If anything, his top-notch intensity is ratcheted up in the playoffs, making Garnett even more formidable a defender than normal. So that leaves offense and rebounding.

Here’s a chart of Garnett’s production in the regular season versus his production in the playoffs (according to…

YearRegular Season PointsRegular Season ReboundsPostseason PointsPostseason Rebounds

Kevin Garnett’s teams lost in the first round during each of his first seven trips to the playoffs. But, as I would contend and the stats would agree, those failures to advance had a lot less to do with Garnett than they did with his teammates. Even on Garnett’s BEST TEAM in Minnesota, the team that finally broke through by advancing to the Western Conference Finals, they started either Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen or Michael Olowokandi at center and Trenton Hassell at small forward.

That team should never have gone that far, but Garnett was the league’s MVP and the best player in the NBA. And, contrary to popular belief, he has a habit of playing better in the playoffs than he does in the regular season. The proof is in the stats, where Garnett raised his point totals in all but three playoffs and his rebounding totals in all but one.

David Berri, author of “Wages of Wins”, had this to say about Garnett in 2006: “And that is the tragedy of Kevin Garnett. Year after year he is the most productive player in the league. And year after year he plays with many players who are not only not average, but quite a bit below average.”

And those players didn’t magically improve in the postseason. Garnett was stuck playing with below-average players and, though he normally has improved his game in the postseason, his teammates kept him from enjoying team success until he was traded to Boston in 2007.

Elimination Game Performances

When your team’s collective back is against the wall and one loss means you’re going home for the season, the most clutch players bring their “A” games. You would never expect Michael Jordan to throw a stinker in a Game 7, and he probably never would.

We all know Kevin Garnett’s teams lost in the first round seven straight years, but how did Kevin Garnett himself do in elimination games? Did he do whatever he could to stave off better teams, or did he passively allow teams to rip victory from his grasp?

Here are stats from every elimination game Garnett has played in (stats from,, and

Game 3 vs. Houston Rockets – 17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists

Game 5 vs. Seattle Supersonics – 7 points, 4 rebounds

Game 4 vs. San Antonio Spurs – 20 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists

Game 3 vs. Portland Trail Blazers – 23 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists
Game 4 vs. Portland Trail Blazers – 17 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists

Game 3 vs. San Antonio Spurs – 22 points, 8 rebounds
Game 4 vs. San Antonio Spurs – 19 points, 15 rebounds

Game 3 vs. Dallas Mavericks – 22 points, 17 rebounds

Game 6 vs. LA Lakers – 18 points, 12 rebounds

Game 6 vs. LA Lakers – 22 points, 17 rebounds
Game 7 vs. Sacramento Kings – 32 points, 21 rebounds

Game 7 vs. Atlanta Hawks – 18 points, 11 rebounds
Game 7 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – 13 points, 13 rebounds

So is that the sign of somebody who doesn’t show up when the lights are the brightest, or are those stats and consistent play the signs of a guy who is going to bring 100% effort every night? Garnett had one real stinker, back in 1998 (when he could have been a junior in college), but after 1998 has only had one game where he didn’t have at least a double-double. He has been involved in 13 elimination games over his career, and has posted double-doubles in 10 of them. He’s averaged 19.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game over his career during those elimination games (compared to regular season averages of 20.2 points and 11.1 rebounds).

All of which leads us back to our original question:

Is Kevin Garnett clutch?

Being clutch is the ability to raise your level of play during the pivotal moments of a game, the pivotal moments of a season. It’s the skill to calm your nerves when the game, and sometimes the season, is on the line, to stay cool and composed when 20,000 fans are screaming and the game’s outcome is in your hands. It’s the talent to rise to the occasion – to score a bucket when your team needs one the most, to snatch a rebound when your team desperately needs a possession, to put the clamps on your opponent with your team up one and the game clock winding down.

Clutch is why Robert Horry has been mentioned as a possible Hall-of-Famer and why Reggie Miller and Larry Bird’s heroics will never be forgotten. It’s the reason Michael Jordan’s career and exploits will always be untouchable while Karl Malone, the Jordan era’s second-best player, will always be overlooked. It explains why Jerry West is remembered as the NBA’s logo but Nick Anderson, despite an otherwise solid career, will always be remembered for four missed free throws.

Tim Duncan, long considered the best power forward in the game, isn’t a guy who demands the ball in crunchtime. Most of the time, Gregg Popovich gives the ball to Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili to create offense rather than dumping it in the post to Duncan. Yet, because of his four rings, Duncan is considered clutch.

If he had been stuck with Garnett’s teammates, does Duncan win more than Garnett’s one title? I doubt it, just as I doubt that Garnett would have won any less than four rings if he’d been blessed with Duncan’s teammates.

When it comes to clutch, Kevin Garnett is not Michael Jordan, and he’s not Larry Bird, Jerry West or Reggie Miller, either. But there are very few guys who are.

Just don’t call Kevin Garnett a choker, and don’t say he's not clutch.

It wouldn’t be true.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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Marquis Daniels Or Eddie House: Can Either Back Up Rajon Rondo?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The season is inching closer and closer to finally being underway, which means I’m inching closer and closer to regaining my sanity, stolen annually by the NBA offseason.

Sadly, it also means the Celtics look more and more like a team that will enter the season with no truly reliable backup point guard. Out of the top two choices to win the job, one is a shooting guard and the other a small forward. Yikes.

Can either out-of-position backup PG help the Celtics win ballgames? Let’s take a look.

Eddie House:

Eddie House has been Rondo’s primary backup to begin each of the last two years but, each year, the Celtics decide to go a different route when other players have been bought out (first Sam Cassell, then Stephon Marbury). By the end of the playoffs, though, it’s been House getting minutes rather than the new, more highly-regarded PGs.

During the ’08 championship run, Doc Rivers’ switch to House over Cassell was an underrated aspect of the Celtics’ NBA Finals victory. It was Doc’s insertion of Eddie into the lineup that solidified the offense, helping Boston to pull away from LA and win the series in six.

With House on the floor, the C’s offense tends to run smoothly. He hits open shots (and sometimes unopen shots, too), spreads the floor, and never forces passes or penetration.

Despite his lack of elite ball-handling skills or NBA-level quickness, House can run an offense. The only times he truly struggles are against quick, pesky defenders willing to defend him in the full-court – guards like Lindsey Hunter. In the face of such intense pressure, House’s inability to handle the ball as well as other point guards comes back to haunt him, and he sometimes floats passes in an attempt to get rid of the ball more quickly than a true PG would have to.

All in all, the Celtics could do a lot worse than Eddie House, and I feel comfortable with the ball in his hands – unless he’s got a good defender hounding him for the full 94 feet.

Marquis Daniels:

Expecting Marquis Daniels to play any more than spot minutes at point guard is, in my eyes, a stretch. I know he’s versatile, and that’s a big reason why I’m excited about the Daniels addition, but he hasn’t played enough point guard in his career for me to feel confident with him there. Daniels has been forced into point guard duty by injuries, and also played a little PG for the experimental Don Nelson, but has never had extended time at the point and has always, admittedly, felt more comfortable at the small forward position.

Marquis’ former coach, Jim O’Brien, had this to say in 2008 (the last time Daniels played point guard) about Daniels at the point guard position…

On Offense:

“Here's a guy when you think about it was a power forward in college. Now all of a sudden he's playing point guard at 6-7 out of necessity because we have Jamaal down. I would say he's never really been able to get into a groove there.”

On Defense:

“I have enormous confidence in his ability to defend. The difference between, as an example, how we are defensively with Travis on the court at the point and Marquis, we're a much better defensive team right now with Marquis at the point guard spot.”

Clearly, O’Brien did not feel comfortable with Daniels running the helm at offense, but thought he was very good defensively (then again, his example was pretty bad – my twelve year-old brother is a better defender than Travis Diener).

I tend to agree with O’Brien. Daniels will be fine defensively no matter what position he plays but, with his skill set, Marquis is more suited to playing from the wing and slashing to the bucket. I’d rather have him finish plays than begin them.


If the Celtics go into this season with Eddie House and Marquis Daniels as their backup point guards, I’d prefer House (in a close race) to get the nod. Both players are better off playing different positions, but the offense has run efficiently in the past with House manning the PG spot, and I think it would once more if he’s again forced into that role.

Either way, look for Rajon Rondo to play the overwhelming majority of the minutes. He’s young, ever-improving, and poised to take a step to the next level. One could even make the argument that Rondo might be the Celtics’ most important player in ’09-’10.

But we’ll save that argument for another day. For now, let’s just stick to his capable, but out-of-position, backups.