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Do you need a closer to win in NBA? George Karl says no.

Mar 8, 2012, 7:21 PM EDT

Derrick Rose AP

It looks great when Derrick Rose makes the sweet crossover and drains the jumper to win the game. Hero ball makes heroes when it works.

But the league’s best “closers” miss more of those shots than they make. As we start to get more and more information that look at situations and players we learn this — going isolation with one player at the end of a game is a very ineffective way to win. Even if you have a Rose or Kobe Bryant on your team, hero ball is not the way to go.

Henry Abbott explained it this way at TrueHoop: Who are the top three teams in the NBA in field goal percentage in the final three minutes when tied or down by 3 or less? Atlanta (67.2 percent), Memphis (62.5) and New Jersey (56.7 percent). Of those teams only New Jersey with Deron Williams has a true elite “closer” — and with the game on the line Wednesday night he passed to a wide-open Jordan Farmar.

Everyone talks about the big shots Steve Kerr and John Paxson hit with the Bulls — those came because the Michael Jordan didn’t shoot, he passed. Abbott adds to that thought.

Robert Horry, aka Big-Shot Rob, had the chance to win games in crunch time only because ball movement brought the shot to the open shooter: him. Horry, not surprisingly, calls isolation “bad basketball,” before adding that it’s something the best coaches simply don’t use: “People always want the lead dog to take the shot. People forget you’ve got to be pretty good to be in the NBA. Even though they don’t take a lot of shots, those other players are very capable of making those shots….”

Who else hates hero ball? Apparently, Bryant’s teammates. This season, when shooting out of crunch-time isos, Bryant has averaged roughly 0.5 ppp. If the Lakers offense worked that miserably for 48 minutes, the team would score fewer than 50 points a game. Still, Bryant easily leads the league in crunch-time iso attempts.

Conventional wisdom is that you need one of those closer to win at the end of games. People look at teams like the Pacers, 76ers and Nuggets and say “if they just had a closer at the end of games they could contend.”

Nuggets coach George Karl doesn’t buy it. Here is what he told 104.3 The Fan in Denver (via Sports Radio Interviews).

“How many closers are there in the league? Five? Seven? Eight? I mean, it’s just, you’ve got to understand that you can’t play like all these other guys that have stars. And my thing is, why do you want to play their game when they’re more talented, bigger, stronger and more experienced than you are? Why don’t we play a game that, right now, it wins in college and it wins in Europe? Everybody says it’s only won in Detroit … and it’s only won maybe four or five championships. But if you can’t have a great quarterback, why not try something else? I think we have a talented basketball team, that if we can figure out how to be the best team, we will beat many, many people. And I think we can win a championship.”

The bottom line is having personnel that can get good shots at the end of games. It doesn’t have to be Kevin Durant in isolation, it can be a set that ends up with a shooter wide open on the weak side. It may not be as easy on the coach as putting the ball in the hands of Derrick Rose and getting out of the way, but it can be more effective.

  1. dtownpayne - Mar 8, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    PBT you need proof readers in the worst way (George Carl?!)

  2. sellahh - Mar 8, 2012 at 7:36 PM

    Who is this George Carl?

  3. lakerryan - Mar 8, 2012 at 7:45 PM

    George Carl? Smh

  4. dirtyjerseysports - Mar 8, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    I guess Michael Geordan was the greatest closer of all time…..

  5. Gordon - Mar 8, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    Guys, cut Curt a break already.

    • sellahh - Mar 8, 2012 at 8:28 PM

      Good one )

  6. bushido49ers - Mar 8, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    I respectfully disagree with Coach Karl. Dude, we lost to the Wizards and the Pistons? [smh]

    • addictedzone - Mar 8, 2012 at 9:35 PM

      On the bright side, you have the most prodigious closer attempter in the game. And no one ever remembers the 21 missed shots.

  7. lucidsportsfan - Mar 8, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    Valid points, but last year is a good example of conventional wisdom. Dallas had a clear closer in Dirk. And Miami had this:

  8. asublimeday - Mar 8, 2012 at 9:32 PM

    Man, Kurt. A whole article not-so-subtly defending bron-bron? I’m disgustedly impressed.

  9. fm31970 - Mar 9, 2012 at 1:45 AM

    Man, I really miss Coach Karl in Milwaukee. It’s a shame his coaching talent wasn’t better utilized when he was here. Possibly the most underrated NBA coach ever.

  10. gmsingh - Mar 9, 2012 at 6:58 AM

    Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Karl says you don’t need a closer in the NBA and Kurt says you don’t need to be a closer to be MVP.

  11. Mr. Wright 212 - Mar 9, 2012 at 8:21 AM

    What does Karl know? What NBA title has he won to even quantify that assertion?

    You DO need a closer, whether it is a big time scorer or some guy who stands around and hits open kick out jumpers.

    If the Sonics had one, they would have won at least one title when Payton and Kemp were there.

    If Melo was truly a consistent closer in Denver, they would have gone to the Finals in 2009 and would have beaten Orlando, instead of choking the series away against the Lakers.

  12. losangelasbasketball - Mar 9, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    having a go-to closer is a good strategy because if the closer puts up 82 potential regular season closing shots, it creates a misdirection opportunity as teams will stack their defense on him in the playoffs which will create open shots for the robert horry’s of the league. Closer ball works in the playoffs when the games matter….

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