You’re only as good as your last [blank]—name anything. That maxim is true in every walk of life; a film director can get pilloried for his latest movie while his greatest hits collect dust on a shelf; just the same, a professional basketball player can get blasted for a bad season when he’s left many great ones in his wake. Or even on a micro scale—which often happens to be put on a macro stage due to twitter, etc.: a pro sports player can have a great game for three-fourths of a contests only to be condemned for his final act. You’re only as good as your last [fill in the blank]; and usually that statement is loaded with some hyperbole. But in sports—it’s far from an exaggeration. Not being “clutch” in the final moments of a contest or winning a game when your team needs it most matters, a lot. And the lion’s share of time, we make it seem like it’s all that matters (and, kind of, because it does). And who has the responsibility of taking over in “winning time,” the only time that seemingly matters?
Enter—perennial all-star, superstar and late game shot-taker/maker. Your Kobe Bryants, your LeBrons, and for the Miami Heat, your Dwyane Wades. Only Miami doesn’t have Wade anymore; they don’t have someone who can absorb the responsibility of what Wade did to the Charlotte Hornets and the purple shirt man in the playoffs, this past season. And if they do, we don’t know who it’s going to be; Wade was Miami’s late-game offense, for better or for worse.
In the 2015-16 regular season: out of the 262 shots taken when the game’s score was within 5 points (ahead or behind), in the last 5 minutes of a game, which is regarded as “clutch” time, Wade slung 89 or about 34 percent of them, per NBA.com/Stats. That doesn’t sound so horrible. The entirety of the 2016-17 Heat roster can surely make up Wade’s 34 percent. Oh, and Chris Bosh was responsible for 41—or about 16 percent—of those late-game chucks. Those—Wade’s and Bosh’s—are the highest percentage totals, by the way; Justise Winslow didn’t sneak himself a couple dozen buzzer-beating heaves, and Dragic is probably still waiting in the corner for the cross-court pass that was never coming. Now, let’s do some addition: Wade’s 34 percent plus Bosh’s 16 percent rounds out to a clean 50.
So, half of the Heat’s “clutch” shot taking has either been sidelined with no timetable for return, or lost due to unrequited love.
The Heat’s third-most prolific late-game gunner was Gora—who are you kidding—it was Luol Deng, with 26 such attempts, and he’s since switched coasts for a cool $72 million guaranteed. Next highest? Daddy Warbucks himself, Hassan Whiteside. And Whiteside actually shot an impressive 76.2 percent in the clutch (16-of-21), in the 2015-16 regular season, according to NBA.com/Stats.
If you’re keeping track, that’s now 156 out of 262 late-game shots that the Heat won’t have this coming season. That’s about 60 percent (!). (It’s even more if you count Joe Johnson’s departure.) And although Whiteside’s 76.2 percent clutch shooting is promising, he’s not someone you can just dump the ball to and expect a bucket. That 76.2 percent shooting was the result of lob passes and clean up duty.
The fact that the Heat don’t have someone who can go get them a clutch bucket right now matters. In fact, it matters a lot. Just check last season’s Eastern Conference standings: seeds No.3 through No.6 had the same exact record (48-34); and one good fourth quarter could have put any of those four seeds up and above the rest; one bad fourth quarter put a lot of them in that four-way tie-breaker. So having a good three-fourths of a game only matters when you put a game-winning period at the end of it—and whomever is going to do that for the Heat is a mystery, for now.