Picture this. It’s the final two minutes of a close game between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics in this year’s NBA Playoffs. Paul Pierce gets the ball and dribbles to his old reliable spot for an elbow jumper but instead of firing… he passes to Jeff Green in the corner for the shot. It may not exactly seem like winning basketball, but according to NBA.com/stats, that would actually be the correct decision by Pierce (at least this year).
The NBA Playoffs are where heroes are made and legacies are defined, and the NBA has developed a formula to measure clutch statistics, at least in terms of shooting. At its very base, it quantifies a player’s ability to make shots in the final five minutes of a game that is within five points. I have researched that stat a bit further to include slightly different qualifiers for this year’s playoff teams.
I looked at the most clutch players this season in the final two minutes of tight games (three points or less), with the final qualifier that the player had to take a minimum of 15 shots in that situation this season. Here are what the numbers said.
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Miami Heat: LeBron James predictably took the most shots in this situation but it was Dwyane Wade who had the higher percentage. LeBron shot 15-for-44 for 34.1 percent while Wade was slightly more efficient at 7-for-18 for 38.9 percent. Either way, it’s nice that Miami has the option of going to either guy when things get tight.
Milwaukee Bucks: Monta Ellis was money for the Bucks in this situation this year. He shot 17-for-38 for 44.7 percent, solidifying his reputation as a big shot taker and maker.
New York Knicks: Surprisingly it was J.R. Smith who led New York in this stat, aided by the two game-winners he hit earlier in the year. J.R. “Swish” was 8-for-16 for an even 50 percent, besting teammate Carmelo Anthony, who was just 5-for-15.
Boston Celtics: As mentioned in the opening of this article, Jeff Green was the most clutch member of the Celtics this season. Green connected on seven of his 15 shots (46.7 percent) when it mattered most for Boston. Pierce was 14-for-44 at 31.8 percent.
Indiana Pacers: There aren’t any deadly shooters in Indiana and they are a team that could go to a variety of sources when the game is on the line. Nonetheless it was George Hill who led them at 9-for-21 for 42.9 percent clutch shooting. Paul George was a very disappointing 3-for-22 (13.6 percent) despite an otherwise spectacular season.
Chicago Bulls: By the numbers it was Marco Belinelli who deserves the ball the most in clutch situations. I expected to find Nate Robinson as the leader but Belinelli shot 8-for-19 for 42.1 percent to lead the Bulls.
Brooklyn Nets: There was nobody better than Joe Johnson in the entire league under this scenario. “Iso” Joe had ice water in his veins, shooting 11-for-15 for 73.3 percent when things got close for Brooklyn.
Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford made 11 of the 22 clutch shots he took this season. At 50 percent, he was the undisputed leader for Atlanta, but he’s a guy who will need help in getting the ball when crunch time arises.
Oklahoma City Thunder: People give Russell Westbrook a lot of slack for taking shots away from Kevin Durant but the numbers don’t reflect that he should receive the grief he gets. Westbrook was 8-for-19 for 42.1 percent while Durant was 15-for-41 (36.6 percent) in the clutch this season. Westbrook shot a higher percentage but also deferred to Durant, as people think he should, more than he is given credit for.
Los Angeles Lakers: Well, here is where my formula gets an asterisk. Kobe Bryant‘s injury leaves him out of the running and he was the only the Laker to even attempt 15 shots in this given scenario. For the record, Mamba was 17-for-43 (39.5 percent). Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were the next closest teammates to Kobe in attempts. (Nash actually made all seven of his shots) Assuming Steve Nash is healthy for the playoffs, the Lakers will likely alternate between him and Gasol when they need a big shot.
San Antonio Spurs: Mr. Fundamental, Tim Duncan, has been Mr. Reliable in game-deciding situations for the Spurs this season. Shooting 13-for-28, good for 46.4 percent, Duncan’s flashback season truly expanded to every part of his game.
Golden State Warriors: Jarrett Jack was brought in as insurance for the Warriors backcourt and the balky ankles of Stephen Curry. While Curry remained relatively healthy this season, Jack carved out another niche as a game closer for the Warriors. The veteran guard shot 10-for-27 in clutch situations, putting him at 37 percent. Curry, on the other hand, was 5-for-19 at just 26 percent. Both guys will be on the floor in the closing minutes during the playoffs and I would bet Curry gets the nod before Jack going forward, despite what the numbers indicate.
Denver Nuggets: The knock on the Nuggets is that they may be too team orientated for the playoffs where superstars and “closers” are needed. While it is true that Denver does have a variety of options, Ty Lawson was the best player they had in the given scenario. Lawson hit 11 of the 25 shots he took, putting him at a very respectable 44 percent.
Houston Rockets: James Harden‘s emergence as a prime time player wasn’t necessarily supported by this statistic. Still, he was the best the Rockets had, connecting on 11 of the 35 shots he attempted for just 31 percent.
Los Angeles Clippers: As one would expect, Chris Paul led the Clippers in clutch shots taken and made this season. At 50 percent (13-for-26), there is little doubt who the Clippers will be giving the ball to down the stretch. Jamal Crawford has a semi-reputation for making big shots as well but he was just 4-for-14 (26 percent) under these clutch parameters.
Memphis Grizzlies: The ever improving Mike Conley made nearly one third of the clutch shots he took to lead Memphis in this category. At 7-for-23 (30.4 percent), Conley was clearly the go-to guy down the stretch, especially after Rudy Gay was traded. The Grizzlies would much rather have a game come down to them making a defensive stop then having to make a shot. But if they can’t have that wish then Conley is their man.
As with any statistic, it isn’t perfect (players getting fouled and going to the line for clutch free throws aren’t taken into consideration). It doesn’t account for defenses missing rotations or for a player being hot down the stretch and making most of his attempts in one or two games. Still it does provide some insight as to who should (statistically speaking) get the ball when playoff intensity amplifies in close games.
Who are the most clutch players in the NBA?
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