Things are not always what they seem.
Clutch statistics are a somewhat recent phenomenon in the NBA. They've been around and available, but have only recently gained popularity, keeping in theme with the rise of advanced analytics.
But if you really think about it, clutch statistics are worlds behind the progress of various other analytics. In that moment, when the game's on the line, coaches and players still tend to side with their gut. We've seen it time and time again.
Damn the statistics. Final moments are for superstars, like Carmelo Anthony. Never mind that, according to NBA.com (subscription required), 'Melo's 2-of-15 from the floor in the last 10 seconds of games where his New York Knicks are within three points or tied.
Let him shoot. Give him the ball. That's how it goes.
Woodson, on the late-game shots: "I'll take a shot from Melo all day long [in that situation]." Says some of those iso plays were designed.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
We're not here to talk about the Knicks, though. They're a disaster and hardly worth fawning over in clutch situations. The Miami Heat are a team worth looking at.
It's automatically assumed that LeBron James should take the last shot when games are on the line, because he's LeBron, efficient as ever. Big time. One of the greatest players ever. If not him, then Dwyane Wade, Miami's second-best player.
Yet, after watching Chris Bosh recently lead the Heat past the Portland Trail Blazers and seeing Ray Allen keep Miami's championship hopes alive in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, you cannot help but wonder if the statistics support such logic.
Health permitting, the Heat will continue to follow their normal late-game chain of command. Any findings we unearth won't dictate a drastic shift in strategy. But that won't make the numbers any less informative or, dare I say, surprising.
The Clutchest of Clutch Situations
Definitions of "clutch situations" abound. There are many different types of late-game scenarios that are dissected and looked at as their own event.
For our purposes, we're going to look at the latest of clutch situations, which NBA.com (subscription required) defines as the final 10 seconds of a game, in which a player's team is trailing by three points or fewer or the contest is tied.
I'm not one to single out one clutch scenario over the other. It doesn't matter if you're putting points on the board and securing victories with five minutes or 10 seconds remaining. Either way, it's impressive.
But these last-second accolades are what we live for. Successful buzzer-beaters. Blown game-winning and game-tying opportunities. Those final seconds are what we enjoy the most and are when the pressure is greatest.
We're also going to look at only the most famous of Miami's stars—Allen, Bosh, LeBron and Wade. When you think of final-shot scenarios, you think of them before anyone else on Miami's roster. If you're thinking of Michael Beasley, Norris Cole or even Mario Chalmers above anyone else, well, then it's safe to say you'll never be coaching at the NBA level (kidding).
(I'm actually not.)
Finally, we will be looking at regular-season totals only, since the postseason is a ways off and we obviously don't have playoff data for this year. But yes, I agree, clutch performances in the playoffs are awesome.
Here's a look at how Allen has fared in such situations for his career:
You'd like to think that a shooter like Allen, who's converted more than 40 percent of his career three-point attempts, would be knocking down a higher percentage of his long balls in these situations. Statistically speaking, though, he's struggled immensely.
Not just from long range (31.4 percent), either. While he's shooting 45.3 percent from the field for his career, he's at 30.6 percent overall in these late-game situations.
Whenever a bomber and revered gamer like Allen struggles, it's safe to say there are more things at play than pressure. Last-second opportunities don't always equate to high-percentage looks, which could be driving his efficiency down.
Still, he's attempted 72 total shots under these circumstances, almost half of them three-pointers (35), and the numbers for his career don't reflect too kindly on his clutch shooting.
Here's a look at how Bosh has fared in these scenarios for his career:
Like a Bosh.
Miami's stretch forward has found some success late in games, hitting 37.9 percent of his career attempts overall and posting a 70 percent clip from deep.
I understand 10 treys is an incredibly small sample size, but he's 3-of-3 since 2011-12 and 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) since 2008-09. That's insane, especially when you consider Allen has shot above 50 percent from deep in these instances only thrice in nearly two decades.
Now here's a look at James' career marks under the same circumstances:
Despite playing in the league more than a half-decade less than Allen, LeBron has already taken more shots (73) in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime when his team is within three points. Not really surprising when you remember he's LeBron. But it's still impressive.
His shooting percentages, however, are not. He's hitting just over a quarter of his total shots in these situations for his career and a smidgeon over 15 percent from beyond the arc.
Also, while he's attempted 44 more shots than Bosh at these times, he's made just seven more overall (18).
Told you we would find some surprises.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Wade:
Wade has unattractive numbers himself, more so than the other three.
As expected, his showing from three-point range (2-of-21) is regrettable, but he's also connecting on fewer than 20 percent of his total shots in these situations, giving him the worst mark of anyone we've looked at.
Potentially contributing to his struggles is the fact nearly a third of his "clutch" shots have come from deep. He's a career 29 percent shooter from behind the rainbow, so that 9.5 percent conversion rate isn't unbelievably bad. It's just bad.
Since we have everyone all set, let's see how their shooting percentages and plus/minus totals stack up for their careers:
Judging by these numbers, Bosh has the clear edge.
Since Joining the Heat
We're suckers for recent performances. At least, I am.
Anything can happen in earlier years, from terrible teams to poor performances at the beginning of careers. In the spirit of (close-to) immediacy, let's take a look at how each player has fared in these scenarios since 2010-11, when the Big Three was formed.
Note that Allen was included, but his numbers date back only to 2012-13 when he first joined the Heat:
No surprises in the shot distribution here. Allen has attempted just one in these moments since joining the Heat. Meanwhile, LeBron has taken the most, followed by Wade then Bosh.
Once again, however, Bosh stands apart from his Big Three brethren, largely thanks to his ridiculously efficient clip (75 percent) from deep. He's gone 3-of-4 from beyond the arc since 2010-11, in what is nothing short of magnificent. Neither Wade nor LeBron has hit more than 22.2 percent of their "clutch" bombs during that time.
Let's make these findings even more recent.
Here's how their percentages match up since 2012-13. Note that Allen's totals remain unchanged:
Interestingly enough, Bosh has taken more "clutch" shots (four) than Wade (three) since last season. And he continues to knock them down at a high clip—much higher than LeBron and Wade, who are each shooting under 37 percent.
By this point, we shouldn't be. The data reveal how efficient Bosh can be in these moments, so it's only fitting that his numbers hold up in various sample sizes. Plus, as the NBA statistical database's Twitter account shows, he's been money in all kinds of situations:
Since start of '12-13 season, Bosh has hit 42/59 FGAs (71.2%), 9/13 from 3 (69.2%) in the clutch (last 5 mins, +/- 5pts) (*reg.season only)— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) December 29, 2013
Tell me, who would've predicted Bosh would be shooting nearly 70 percent overall in the last five minutes of games when his team is up or down by no more than five points?
So Does This Mean What We Think It Means?
Yes, it does. And no, it doesn't.
The stats show that, with 10 seconds or less remaining in a game, and his team in need of a game-winning or game-tying basket, Bosh has been the most consistent of the Fab Four. He's the only one to have plus-clutch ratings—these instances only—in his career, since 2010-11 and since 2012-13. The others have simply waffled back and forth.
"My call at the end of the game was much more conservative," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters following Bosh's most recent game-winner over Portland, via USA Today's Sam Amick. "I drew something up to get him on the move, and he said, 'No, I want it for the three.' So he overruled it, and became a prophet."
Does that mean he's the Heat's most clutch player? In a way, yes. But that shouldn't mean he's suddenly their No. 1 option on offense when games are on the line. Other factors, such as playmaking, must be taken into consideration. The Heat have a vast array of players capable of knocking down big shots, and you must respect that.
You also have to figure Bosh will be abandoned and thus, left wide open—certainly more than LeBron or Wade are. That doesn't take away from what Bosh has done, but his numbers shouldn't be portrayed as almighty, either.
Instead, let's just appreciate Bosh for what he is: Clutch.