The Whiteboard: Who takes the game-winning shot?

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The absence of basketball creates a vacuum that can easily be filled with the hypothetical. Could the 73-win Warriors have stopped the 72-win Bulls? Who would you take in a Jordan vs. Kobe vs. LeBron in a round-robin one-on-one tournament? Who would win the NBA’s major awards if the season ended today? And who would you trust with the ball to for a last-second game-winning shot right now?

Using Basketball-Reference’s shot finder, we can isolate down to shots to tie or take the lead, in the fourth quarter or overtime that occurred during the final 24 seconds of play (theoretically a final possession scenario). He has just a two-season sample, but it’s hard to find a more impressive track record than that of Trae Young.

In his rookie season, he was 6-of-9 on qualifying shots, including 1-of-2 on 3-pointers, for an effective field goal percentage of 72.2. Young was just 2-of-7 in the same scenario during this interrupted 2019-20 season but that still gives him an effective field goal percentage of 53.1 on game-tying or game-winning shots. Young has spent much of his brief career living in the shadow of outsized Stephen Curry comparisons. In the interests of breathless hyperbole, I’ll throw out that Curry was 0-of-3 on final-possession, game-winning or game-tying shot attempts across his first two seasons.

At the other end of the spectrum from Young is the unfortunate Kemba Walker. In his first season with the Celtics, Walker had gone 0-for-3 on such shots. That follows the 2018-19 season where he was 0-of-13. Which was only a slight regression from 2017-18, where he made just 2-of-13. Which was a slight improvement on 2016-17, where he went 0-of-7. If you’re keeping that’s 2-of-36 for Walker over the past five seasons.


So if you’re mulling it over in isolation today — you’re coaching a collection of current NBA stars against an invading roster of hostile inter-dimensional hoopers. You get one shot to save the galaxy, you politely invite Kemba Walker to watch as Trae Young does his best to save us all.


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