Where do the Magic Go in Crunch Time?


Is Hedo Turkoglu as “clutch” as we think? Photo by: Keith Allison, Source: Flickr, found with Wylio.com

The great debate while Vince Carter was here (in the what have you done for me lately mindset that encapsulated Carter’s one-plus years in a Magic uniform) was whether he could deliver in the clutch.

There is a long line of video highlights of Carter’s exploits at the end of regular season games. But likely his postseason legacy is a missed 3-pointer to send Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Seminfals against the 76ers to overtime and two missed free throws that would have tied Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.

Carter has an “unclutch” reputation.

Hedo Turkoglu, on the other hand, has a clutch reputation. It was one of the reasons so many fans were excited to have Turkoglu back in a Magic uniform. Everyone remembers his countless game-winners from the 2009 Playoffs that took the team to the Finals, including the game-winner in Game 4 against the 76ers and his game-saving block of Kobe Bryant in Game 2 of the Finals.

I would argue Rashard Lewis was the actual clutch hero of those Playoffs — see Games 1 and 4 against the Cavaliers.

You can see that what is “clutch” is a battle of perception.

It was a battle that was waged a few weeks ago when Henry Abbott of TrueHoop came out with evidence that Kobe Bryant, widely considered the player most teams would want taking the final shot of a game, was not that efficient late in games.

The numbers in that post hardly will stop people from considering Bryant the most clutch player or stop Phil Jackson from giving Bryant the ball late in games to break his opponent down one on one.

According to 82Games.com, Bryant is indeed one of the most “clutch” players in the league. He leads the league with 53.3 points per 48 minuts of clutch time — with clutch defined as the final five minutes and overtime of any game where neither team is five points ahead. He is shooting 38.5 percent from the field in that time though.

Surprisingly, especially considering Friday’s game where he was ignored in the fourth quarter, Dwight Howard might be considered the Magic’s most clutch player. He is way down on the list for points per 48 minutes of clutch play with 23.4 points per 48 clutch minutes. Turkoglu is on that list too, coming in fifth in the league with a +39 per 48 minutes of clutch play. That would include his time in Phoenix.

Stan Van Gundy commented Monday that teams generally go away from their set offenses in late game situations. At the end, it comes down to who can make a play.

After Friday’s debacle in the fourth quarter, Van Gundy vowed to get the ball to Howard more. It seems so far Howard is well below his averages when the game gets to its waning minutes. He averages 11.6 field goal attempts per 48 clutch minutes and shoots 68.8 percent, according to 82Games.com. Normally, Howard averages 13.5 and shoots 56.7 percent from the floor. Surprisingly, Howard is 16 for 24 on free throws in clutch moments. For Howard that is pretty good.

But it is also clear as the game gets later, Orlando goes away from Howard offensively. His 21.4 percent offensive rebounding percentage shows he still has tons of value crashing the boards and, of course, he has tons of value on the defensive end.

For comparison’s sake, Kobe Bryant’s 33.6 field goal attempts per 48 clutch minutes and 42.6 percent field goal percentage in clutch situations are vastly different from the 19.3 field goal attempts per 48 minutes and 45.4 percent field goal shooting he has posted. The thing to take away, Bryant gets a ton more attempts, but is less efficient.

Howard? He gets fewer attempts, but is much more efficient with the attempts he does receive. And he even makes his free throws.

Late in games though, the ball is more likely to be in Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson or Jason Richardson’s hands. Compare their numbers below:

Those three starters are largely the guys getting the ball at the end of games. They are the primary ballhandlers and perimeter offensive options. You notice that the field goal attempts go way up for all three. But how efficient they are with those increased shot attempts changes dramatically.

Somewhat surprisingly, Nelson is less efficient with the game on the line. That may deceive what you have seen considering his shots defeated Indiana and New Jersey already this year.

Richardson, who on average is taking more shots, is making at the same efficiency. He has become known for his ability to be completely quiet for an entire game and then come alive in the final two minutes per game. He is not quite the one on one scorer he used to be in his Golden State days.

The Magic seem best off going to Hedo Turkoglu late in games, as we all initially thought. Stan Van Gundy generally trusts him to make the right decision on the pick and roll and make the plays he believes are so important in these late-game situations. The stats seem to back up what our eyes are telling us on this level.

I have always been in the camp of riding Howard to the end, preferring to lose on his free throw shooting rather than not get him the ball. But if Van Gundy still fears Howard having the ball late in the game with the likelihood of a foul coming, Turkoglu is a pretty good option.

He made a pretty big mistake Friday night against New Orleans in throwing the ball away (trying to get it to Jason Richardson). But he typically makes the right decisions and converts. And the bottom line in late-game situations, is to convert more times than not.

Hedo TurkogluJameer NelsonJason Richardson
FGA/48 Clutch Mins.27.223.529.4
eFG% in Clutch Mins.68.2%46.6%63.3%
FGA/48 Mins.9.310.712.0