"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.
Today, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James takes the spotlight.
According to NBA.com, that's LeBron James' true shooting percentage this season in the clutch, defined as the last five minutes of a five-point game.
If you're unfamiliar with true shooting percentage, it's a catch-all measure of shooting efficiency that combines field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws. For James, he's scored 72 points in the clutch on 24-for-68 (35.3 percent) shooting from the field, 5-for-31 (16.1 percent) from 3-point range and 19-for-30 (63.3 percent) from the free throw line, the combination of which gives him a true shooting percentage of 44.3.
Of the 61 players who have scored at least 50 clutch points this season, only one has done so less efficiently than James. That player? New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who has a true shooting percentage of 43.1 in the clutch.
James has still finished at a high rate at the rim with the game in the balance. It's his jump shot that has abandoned him. Whereas he's 18-for-25 (72.0 percent) around the basket, he's 1-for-12 (8.3 percent) from midrange and 5-for-31 (16.1 percent) from 3-point range.
As much as he's struggled as a scorer, James has excelled as a passer in the clutch. According to NBA.com, James has recorded 32 assists in those situations to lead the league, an impressive feat considering a total of 45 players have logged more clutch minutes than him.
Anthony Davis has been the beneficiary of many of those assists. Of the 32 dimes James has handed out in the clutch, 13 of them have gone to Davis. The two have connected in every which way, from post-ups to pick-and-rolls and kickouts. As a result, Davis has been the Lakers' leading scorer in the clutch this season, not James. (Fun fact: It's the first time in James' career that he's not been the leading clutch scorer on his own team, per NBA.com). Despite playing fewer clutch minutes than James, Davis has scored 20 more points, the bulk of which have come from the free throw line.
Having a seven-time All-Star in his prime certainly takes some of the pressure off of James to be the clutch time scorer he once was. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Lakers still need James to be that scorer to win the championship.
To be honest, I don't know what to make of James' true shooting percentage in the clutch being as low as it is. Is it concerning that he's never been less efficient as a scorer with the game on the line, not even as a rookie? Yes, especially when you consider that he's now 35 years old and has logged more regular season minutes than all but eight players in NBA history. James continues to defy the laws of Father Time, but he is human after all. There's a chance that him not being able to score as easily as he once did in the clutch is one of the few areas of decline in his game.
When he's able to get to the rim, there's no problem. But if he's unable to do so? That 6-for-43 outside of the paint is an ugly mark and hard to ignore.
However, does it feel wrong to question James' ability to rise to the occasion given everything he's accomplished in his career? Also yes.
It's clear that teams still respect James as a scorer at the end of games when you watch his crunch time assists from this season. Even though his efficiency has fallen off, he's still a double team magnet, particularly when he gets anywhere close to the basket.
For example, this isn't the sort of attention you'd expect someone who is shooting 35.3 percent from the field to draw:
The same goes for this:
As well as this:
All of those possessions ended in high percentage shots for the Lakers - wide open 3s for Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an alley-oop for Dwight Howard. As he has proven time and time again in his NBA career, if someone is open, he'll find them. It speaks to the need to surround him with the right players, ones who can punish teams for throwing a second or third defender at him. James has always been at his best when he's surrounded by shooters, but if he's not going to be able to make jump shots himself at a semi-consistent rate in the clutch anymore, sharing the court with floor spacers is even more important than ever before because of how it'll open up the paint for him to attack.
The encouraging news for the Lakers is that they've still been a positive in the clutch with James on the court this season. According to NBA.com, they're scoring at a rate of 106.3 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup while limiting teams to 101.8 points per 100 possessions, making for a differential of 4.5. That pales in comparison to the likes of Chris Paul, Nikola Jokic, James Harden and Pascal Siakam, but the Lakers have an 20-10 record in the games James has played that have gone down to the wire. For the most part, they've taken care of business.
So should the Lakers be concerned with how James has performed in the clutch this season? Yes and no. A lot of it hinges on how much you believe in that one big number...
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