Clutch Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Superclutch.

Steve McPherson —  April 14, 2014 — 11 Comments

20131002__10-2 Wolves Kevin Martin

If you have ESPN Insider and a stout constitution, you should go read Tom Haberstroh‘s post on the Timberwolves in general and Kevin Martin in particular in the superclutch (defined as one possession games in the final minute) right here.

But if you don’t, let me share the highlights (read: lowlights).

I present to you the single craziest stat of the 2013-14 season: In one-possession games (score within three) in the final minute — also known as “superclutch” situations — the Timberwolves have been outscored by 49 points in 22 minutes of action this season. I repeat: 49 points.

Minnesota’s opponents have scored 96 points to the Timberwolves’ 47. The Timberwolves have been more than doubled up in these tight situations. The result is that, when it should be a coin flip in these situations, Minnesota has lost 18 of those 25 games.

That’s bad. A lot of the blame for how the Wolves have come up short has fallen on Ricky Rubio — even from Adelman, who spent a good chunk of the season holding Rubio out of late-game situations because of his shaky shooting. Rubio doesn’t escape blame from Haberstroh, who points out that Rubio-Love pick and rolls do not late-game manna make, but the lion’s share of the blame falls on Kevin Martin. It turns out, this isn’t the first time a team he’s on has struggled in these situations.

[D]espite his remarkable scoring numbers, Martin is almost unplayable in clutch situations. He doesn’t thrive in the clutch play call of choice, the standard pick-and-roll. He hunts for foul calls, which is not a profitable venture in crunch time when referees tend to swallow their whistle. And to top it all off, he’s a matador on defense waiting to be exploited.

If you have followed Martin’s career, you may have noticed that most of his teams are horrible in the clutch. When dissecting the Timberwolves’ crunch-time woes earlier this season just before the All-Star break, I discovered that only two teams in almost two decades (since the NBA StatsCube database began tracking this stuff in 1997) had been blown out in final-minute-game-within-three scenarios like this season’s Timberwolves: the 2008-09 Sacramento Kings and 2010-11 Houston Rockets.

The common thread? Yep, Martin was on all three teams.

But that was before the All-Star break when I ran those numbers. Chew on this one: Of the seven worst teams in superclutch plus-minus since 1997, four of them employed Martin.

The fourth team not mentioned in the text there is the 2006-07 Kings. None of this is to say that Martin is not a valuable basketball player, but it does maybe point to the question of what his role on the Timberwolves should be going forward, particularly if the team is invested in Rubio. Martin might struggle in the superclutch, but pairing him with Rubio looks like it might be absolute kryptonite for the team in close games. Call me crazy, but without considering the draft possibilities at the 13th spot, would it be that strange to start Brewer at SG and Budinger at SF if he’s healthy next season? Brewer often looked really good on smaller shooting guards, plus it opens up more opportunities for getting out on the break just by nature of where shots from SGs come from versus SFs. Then Martin is a high-scoring super-sub. Maybe it’s crazy.

But man, so is the stat that Haberstroh dug up.

Steve McPherson

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11 responses to Clutch Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Superclutch.

  1. Isn’t it also then worth noting that 2 of the 10 worst teams in the “superclutch” since 1997 have been coached by Rick Adelman? He actually coached 2 of the top 6 on that list…

    Adelman’s teams have always been intriguing on offense, but I’ve wondered for quite some time now if his style of offensive basketball can remain competitive in today’s NBA. You need stops and big shots down the stretch, and it seems his teams can produce neither.

  2. I’ve thought this would be smart as well. Martin improves the biggest bench issue (scoring) while negating his biggest issue (clutch and D as unlikely to be out there late and D less maligned when against bench vs. starters). I also think trading Pek isn’t smart, yet. Unless blown away by a deal, Dieng provided insurance in the 20 games he’ll miss a year, and if anything will allow Pek to play less mpg in hopes of more games played. Plus you play Pek a little bit with the bench as well as that improves that unit further. Still think they need a guy like Gary Harris in the draft and to sign a cheap shooter like Jodie Meeks

  3. The role of super-sub was where Martin was most effective with OKC.If Bud can get his game back, I’d definitely push for this move. But, Brewer is not a good enough outside shooter on his own if Bud shoots the same as this year.

  4. The numbers don’t lie, but I still can’t point the finger at Martin for our end of game woes, especially considering that the Love-Martin two-man game has been effective at times. I wouldn’t mind seeing Martin come off the bench, especially considering our bench’s ability to keep the pace, but I’m not sure if Air Bud is the answer. He might be a plus defender, but he’s been shaky beyond the ark all year and is pretty one dimensional offensively.

    Steve, curious about your thoughts on David Thorpe’s article regarding Gorgui Dieng. Are people like Thorpe over-rating Gorgui?

  5. It’s a surprising stat that makes sense, especially when considering how often other guys hunt for fouls down the stretch, too. There’s still hope that others will evolve beyond that, and maybe that will decrease the need for Martin to do it. More likely is that future acquisitions will have to replace him; changing a starting lineup means nothing for the crunchtime lineup and takes away from how well the regular starters have played together to start halves. There aren’t better options on this roster, and there haven’t been for the entire season. It can’t be overlooked, though, how much he contributes to their fast starts and turning 10-point leads into blowouts. A guy doesn’t get more points for making a shot in the final 2 minutes.

    As for Adelman, there’s probably something there, though it’s off-base to criticize his system when half of the league runs a version of it. Zach looked at all of their late-game possessions earlier this season and mainly found a lot of missed open shots. The only correlation I can think of is that his system values unselfish players, and those types often don’t have the killer instinct that a selfish, high-usage guy does. That can cause as many problems as it solves, though; I mean, would having J.R. Smith or O.J. Mayo instead of Martin lead to more wins?

  6. Steve McPherson April 15, 2014 at 7:45 am

    I’m only going to answer your last question, gjk: No.

  7. Since befor the All-Star break I have been thinking the T-wolves should have Martin as a super-sub. Its embarrassing how bad our bench as been for the entire season, but putting Martin on the bench would certainly help (couldn’t hurt right?).

    As far as saying Martin isn’t “superclutch”, it is hard to ignore the numbers, but this season I would rather blame Adelman for the poor late game sets. I personally think our most effective set would have Martin with the ball on the left side, Love setting a screen, and Pec at the mid-high post. This would open up Rubio (pretty decent spot-up 3 point shooter this year) and Brewer or someone spotting up in the corner in case Martin/Love/Pec would have to kick to that side (would rather call timeout than let Brewer shoot , 0.282% from 3! WHY IS HE ALLOWED TO SHOOT 3′s!!!)

    I remember in the begining of the year the Wolves ran losts of sets like this and they were very effective, but in late game situations we almost change our entire gameplan.

    Also the defense is bad because our wings (mainly Brewer and Rubio) gamble too much. They should know that with Love and Pec as not great post/help defenders you cannot gamble and allow drives every other time down the floor. How does our coaching staff not see this, keep your man in front of you?!

  8. I recall telling our new GM/President in December that we do not have a closer. The late game swoons were evident then. I do not think there were better options for trades etc during the season. Martin was able to get open several times in late game situations and missed. Ricky is probably the most talented guard on the roster specific to being able to draw fouls. That would be a valuable addition and he needs to develop it. He has a deceptive quickness about him that the wolves can take advantage of. One of the more talented people driving to the hoop is Shved… he just is not not strong enough. If he can put on some muscle his game would improve dramatically. I like Deng a lot. He has a defensive intimidation ability that Pek does not. We should look to trade Pek for a shooter! Deng and Turiaf are more valuable overall and it is not hard to find another big that can clog things up and get some rebounds a few minutes a game. Pek is great offensively but a huge defensive liability (just watch tapes of the early season games vs. denver when everyone and their brother was dunking on him). Lastly, we need a real NBA back up point guard. Barea is a niche player whom I like but is not a reliable back up point guard. We need a Shabazz Napier type. Fearless player who can shoot in the clutch.

  9. We can focus on lack of scoring in clutch situations, but the problem, every season, is lack of defense in clutch situations, well lack of defense, period. AGAIN the Wolves finish in the bottom tier in the league defensively. During this long drought of missing the playoffs, the defense has always been terrible. There is no coincidence whatsoever. Love, Martin and Pek are great examples of scoring power yet are defensive liabilities. I don’t care how many scorers you have on this team, they will never amount to anything unless they figure out how to play defense.

  10. I read the ESPN article yesterday, and found it particularly interesting when viewed alongside a fivethirtyeight.com piece on the success of Traditional Basketball vs. Stat Geeks as it relates to GMs: http://53eig.ht/1i5c5h2

    Based on Haberstroh’s research, I find it hard to believe a that Masai Ujiri or Rob Hennigan would have signed Martin to the deal Saunders did (with some Adelman Arm Twisting, I’m sure). Then again, who knows what a Stat Geek would have thought of Gorgui Deng, who in limited minutes has proven to be one of the better players in the 2013 draft.

    Unfortunately, even had we split those super clutch ‘coin flip’ games, instead of going 7-18 in them, we are still a few games out of the playoffs. This brings me to my biggest concern with our current Wolves: We are still the same team we were in October and have not progressed at all as a squad.

    Yes, we are better than last year (a large part due to Love’s health); but if you look at our results over the course of the season, we haven’t a winning streak longer than three games – which although we’ve done four times throughout the year, was also the way we started the season…

    Is 41-41 any better than 0-0?

  11. A huge part of the issue with Martin is his strength. He gets hurled around in late game situations and an inordinate amount of his offense relies on drawing fouls on drives. Great in the 1st quarter, not great at the end of the 4th quarter.

    Dieng is absolutely not overrated, he’s a good (not yet great) center who protects the rim and moves & passes well, but still is relatively raw in isolation defense and has a set shot that is marginally better than Pek’s. Pek is a better player at this point but Dieng is a better fit. Also Dieng has a few areas where he can improve (on the ball defensive technique and face up offensive game) that will allow him to make a huge jump at some point if he does develop them. It’s kind of hard to imagine Pek transforming what he does at this point in his career to become a big time shot blocker or outside threat, for instance.

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