The ultimate counter-arguments to “count the rings” as a measure of NBA greatness exist in the forms of James Jones (“the only player besides LeBron James to appear in eight straight NBA Finals since the merger”, because Jones was LeBron’s teammate first in Miami and then in Cleveland), Steve Kerr (piggybacked off Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan to win five rings), and our subject for today, Robert Horry, Big Shot Rob Himself, a legend of the ’90s and the Dark Ages who won a combined seven rings with the Rockets, Spurs, and Lakers, or “more rings than anyone who never played with Bill Russell ever won in a career.”
Horry also averaged 7.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game over a remarkable 16-year career that saw him average just 24.5 minutes per game…and you can already see where this is going if you do even the simplest math in your head and read this site even semi-regularly.
But then again, we’re also talking about one of the most iconic clutch players the league has ever seen, a guy who scared exactly nobody for 47 minutes…and mortally terrified every one of his opponents but especially the guy assigned to guard him for about the last 60 seconds of every NBA playoff game that was ever within one possession at that point on the game clock.
We’re going to have a ton of fun with the idea of clutch stats and buzzer beaters, and in the process, we’ll ask and answer the question of “if a guy has seven rings, and his own big shots in big games are arguably the reason his teams won the playoff series that got him those rings, does that make a guy who averaged seven points a game an all-time great or—gasp—even a guy with a Hall of Fame case?”
Personal note here, but my bias is going to show because I was and am a huge fan of this guy. I try not to let that affect my adherence to the scientific method, but full disclosure, I am a big Robert Horry fan.
With that out of the way…
The Counting Stats
What do you even call a guy who averages 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per 36 minutes in the NBA? Even when you adjust for pace, trying to tack 10 percent onto basically nothing is still tacking 10 percent onto nothing. It’s not like 11.4 and 7.7 is somehow All-Star production.
Horry was a starter for his first four years in Houston and in the 1995-96 season played 37.1 minutes and averaged just 12 points—on 41.0 percent shooting and 36.6 percent from long range—and 5.8 rebounds a game, a small forward playing like a stretch 4 with his 6’10” height who was nothing so much as the homeless man’s Kevin Love in that role.
He was a career 42.5 percent shooter from the field and 34.1 percent shooter from 3-point range, averaging just 8.8 shot attempts per 36 minutes, and it’s not like he was some kind of Dennis Rodman-like rebound hog or rim protector or anything like that. He was a good, sometimes very good, defender, but he wasn’t Bruce Bowen.
He was, in the main, on the floor as the fourth or fifth option even during his long career off the bench after playing well over half of his career starts in his first four years in the league.
A .484 eFG% wasn’t winning you any prizes even in the old days before people fully grasped that 3 is more than 2. The mere fact that the guy had a career .351 3PAR at all is probably a tribute to his coaches figuring out how best to use him.
But then again, that’s not what he’s known for.
The Advanced Stats
For his career, Horry in fact has a negative Offensive Box Plus-Minus, sitting at minus-0.1.
On the other hand, he’s got a plus-2.0 Defensive BPM, so while he may not have been Bruce Bowen, the simple fact of the matter is that he was an above-average defender for his entire career, whether starter or reserve, and most critically, even in the playoffs, where his career playoff DBPM actually rises to 2.5 and carries with it a 1.2 OBPM besides.
This is something of a recurring theme we’ll come back to in a minute, the guy who was decent but unspectacular in the regular season (.118 WS/48, -0.1/2.0/1.9 BPM splits, 1.96 VORP/82) and elevated his game to greater things in the playoffs (.128 WS/48, 1.2/2.5/3.7 BPM splits, 3.3 VORP/82.)
In fact, let’s face it, I almost don’t even need to go further than that. 1.96 VORP/82 is a great number from a bench guy. If your sixth man is putting that out there, you’ve got a title-contending bench if your starters are even halfway decent (and the starters on those Lakers and Spurs teams which Horry came off the bench for were a lot better than “halfway decent.”)
And 3.3 VORP/82 in the playoffs? That is elite level. That is the kind of VORP/82 the Pistons got out of Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer when they won two rings in the dying years of the pre-Jordan Showtime Era.
But let’s take this ball and drill it home from long range with seconds left on the clock, as…
Big Shot Rob, Playoff Legend
We’ve already seen the basic advanced stat breakdown. Lockdown defender, solid offensive player in the playoffs in a way he never was during the regular season, key contributor on seven (!) title teams with the VORP to prove it.
But let’s consider. 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer to make it a two-possession lead with 47.1 seconds left in Game 3 of the 2001 Finals on the road in Philadelphia with the series tied at that point after the Sixers stole Game 1 in LA, leading the Lakers to win the series in 5?
Or Vlade Divac swatting the ball away from the basket in hopes that the time the loose ball would be live would run out the clock in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals with the Kings up 2 games to 1…only for the ball to bounce right to Horry, who drilled a 3 as time expired to give the Lakers a 100-99 win, a tie series, and the referees a chance to seal Sacramento’s fate later on in that series (you know I was going to go there…)
Anyway, not for nothing is it one of the most famous buzzer beaters in NBA history, and what’s more, every Kings fan probably mouthed some variation of “oh crap” with much stronger language as Horry put that shot up.
Or how about, further back in history, the shots that made Horry’s “Big Shot” nickname in the first place?
With 33 seconds left in regulation in Game 7 of the West semis against Seattle, Horry beat the shot clock buzzer and nailed a shot to put Houston up 2 in a game that would send the Sonics home and the Rockets to a date with Charles Barkley‘s team of destiny in Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals that would show the world Houston was ready to make a run once Michael Jordan stepped away to go play baseball.
Or in 1995, where Horry not only hit the game-winner with 6.5 seconds to go in Game 1 of the WCF against the Spurs but then hit the dagger 3 to put Houston up 4 with 14.1 seconds left in Game 3 of the Finals against Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic…nobody was more feared in the final minute of a playoff game than Robert Horry.
The guy averaged 7 points a game for his career and still has a 3.8% Hall of Fame probability according to Basketball Reference, which numbers should not even be able to gimcrack up no matter how many games (Horry played 1,107, 68th all time) a guy plays.
If you weren’t around for Big Shot Rob’s career, you don’t realize just how amazing the guy was in crunch time. Other than Michael Jordan, nobody struck fear in the hearts of their opponents when they had an open shot in the clutch in the playoffs.
Kobe Bryant? Please. Dude went 6-of-24 in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals and besides being the bugbear of every Celtics fan, nobody suffers more from the “he made so many clutch shots because he played hero ball in every close game of his career” problem.
Horry didn’t shoot the game-winner every time. He wasn’t the first option on those late-game plays. He just had a preternatural ability to get open or be in the right place when a big bearded Yugoslav had his efforts to run the clock out backfire (after Shaq and Kobe had missed layups that would’ve sent the game to overtime, mind!)…he was the guy who, if he had a shot to break a game open late or end it with time expiring and the shot left his hand, and if you were a fan of the other team, your day was ruined before the shot even got to the rim.
That’s why Horry has more rings than anyone who never played with Bill Russell. More than Kareem, more than Jordan, more than Shaq or Kobe. Every guy with more rings than Horry in NBA history was on the Boston Celtics during the 1960s.
And when a guy’s so often responsible for critical shots that, had they not gone in, would have led to championship seasons just straight-up not happening?
Confirmed. Put Robert Horry in the Hall of Fame. Dude is one of the greatest playoff clutch shooters in the entire history of the sport. That’s a Hall of Fame case in one glorious set of anecdotes.
NEXT: Rasheed Wallace. Can the namesake of this site’s guiding principle (“Sheed’s Law”, or “Ball don’t lie!” as Wallace himself defined his eponymous adage) survive its scrutiny? Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!