The 10 Most Statistically Clutch Players of the 2013-14 NBA Season
- Make sure the player in question qualifies for the rankings. To avoid the effects of small sample size, I'm setting cutoffs as follows: top 100 in clutch minutes played (which is 33 minutes at this point in the season) and at least 15 field-goal attempts.
- Calculate points produced per shot, which you can do by multiplying assists by two, adding points, subtracting turnovers and then dividing that result by field-goal attempts. Unfortunately, there is an inherent flaw—assists leading to three-pointers and passes leading to free-throw attempts don't get extra credit.
- Multiply points produced per shot by PIE, which is an estimate of a player's involvement in the relevant game events. You can read a full description here.
Believe it or not, game-winning and game-tying shots aren't the only things that matter when talking about the NBA players who fare best in clutch situations.
Getting to that point matters as well.
For the purposes of this article, "clutch situations" will be defined as the last two minutes of games separated by five points or fewer. That's enough time left for teams to put games out of reach or draw closer during a tight contest, but it's also close enough to triple zeros that the pressure is truly on.
Unfortunately, our minds often lie to us when we're figuring out which players perform at the highest level in the clutch. We're swayed by volume rather than effectiveness, which tends to create warped and inaccurate perceptions.
You'll see a pair of great examples once you make it all the way to the final slide of this article.
To counteract the misleading attempts of our brains, it's time to turn to the numbers. That's why I'm using what I call "clutch rating," a new metric that combines efficiency with involvement.
To calculate it, three steps are required:
Remember, these rankings are objectively determined. Players aren't receiving bonuses for game-winning shots or anything of that sort, and only the numbers matter.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from NBA.com's statistical databases.
10. Damian Lillard, 37.88 Clutch Rating
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Points Created Per Shot: 1.84
It's not often that a second-year player shows this kind of nerve with the game on the line, yet Damian Lillard was cool under pressure even during his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers.
He's able to compartmentalize everything that happens during the first three-plus quarters of a close game, then excel down the stretch because he never loses confidence in his own shot. And it's a shot that's quite difficult to stop at any point in the game, largely because he's so potent pulling up off the dribble.
During his 58 minutes of crunch-time action, Lillard has fired away 31 times. While he's only connected on 38.7 percent of his looks from the field, half of his attempts have come from beyond the three-point arc, and he's spent quite a bit of time at the charity stripe.
In fact, prorating the point guard's numbers to 36 minutes shows that he'd take 16 free throws over such a lengthy stretch if he maintained his clutch rate. When you're knocking down 85.2 percent of those freebies, that's a big deal.
Working against Lillard, though, is his inability to take care of the ball. He's actually turned it over more times than he's recorded assists, which is problematic for a player with so many stellar offensive options by his side.
9. Marc Gasol, 38.09
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Points Created Per Shot: 1.93
You don't have to score points in bunches to be effective when the game is on the line.
Marc Gasol is scoring 22.7 points per 36 minutes based on his output during the last two minutes of games separated by five points or fewer, but even that isn't his biggest contribution. His passing is helpful as well, but once more, that's not the biggest difference-maker.
The big man just does everything, which makes it rather difficult to point to one aspect of his game as the one that stands out.
He can score, and he does so efficiently, shooting 40 percent from the field but making up for it in the same vein as Lillard by spending a lot of time at the charity stripe. He can pass, and he doesn't turn the ball over often.
He's also involved rather heavily in the proceedings, as indicated by his PIE. Between his constant touches, his work on the glass and his defensive involvement, Gasol has a big hand in whatever happens to the Grizzlies during a close game.
Just as always seems to be the case, the Spanish 7-footer does more than the stats would indicate, and the stats are still impressive.
8. Paul George, 38.87
Team: Indiana Pacers
Points Created Per Shot: 1.63
Even if his number aren’t overly impressive in these clutch situations, they aren’t bad either and they put him in good company with the league’s better players. Indiana has made it clear they want PG to close out for them, and he’s proven he can deliver for the Pacers several times already. Mentally, Pacers fans assume George will deliver in these situations, and in a couple of games so far this year he has. The sample sizes are small, particularly in the playoff situations, but it is becoming more and more clear that Paul George is working his way to becoming the man who will deliver wins in these situations. It is clear that he’s capable of the task. There may be mistakes and false starts along the way, but it is all part of an ongoing evolution.
There have indeed been mistakes and false starts along the way, most recently his missed game-winning attempt with 0.6 seconds left against the Golden State Warriors.
Afterward, he told the media the following about the miss, via NBA.com's Manny Randhawa: "I won’t think about it. I’m going to watch it over and over again, just to see if I can do a better job of making sure I can make those.”
And make them he will.
Remember, though, clutch play isn't just about the last shot in a game. It's about putting a team in position to excel down the stretch, and that's something George has done quite well while remaining heavily involved in the Indiana Pacers offense.
Additionally, defense is only barely factored into clutch score, stemming solely from its incorporation in PIE. Were his defensive contributions down the stretch easier to quantify, George would likely move up a spot or two in the rankings.
7. John Wall, 40.44
Team: Washington Wizards
Points Created Per Shot: 1.93
No player in the NBA has had more opportunities to shine in the clutch than John Wall, who has spent 77 minutes on the court during the last two minutes of games separated by five points or fewer. Trevor Ariza is No. 2 at 70 minutes, and Klay Thompson (61) is the closest non-Washington Wizard.
But if you paid attention to the derivation of clutch rating, you'd note that it's not dependent on playing time. It's a rate stat, formed by combining efficiency with involvement, and the amount of time spent on the floor comes into play only to eliminate players with samples sizes that are just too small.
And Wall is still elite.
His scoring certainly isn't, though.
The Wizards floor general is knocking down 37 percent of his shots from the field, 36.4 percent of his looks from the three-point line and 81.5 percent of his attempts at the charity stripe. The last number helps, especially because he spends a lot of time at the line, but it's his passing that boosts his status as a clutch standout.
No qualified player has dished out more dimes than Wall during crunch time. With 16 assists, he's one clear of Jeff Teague, and no one else has even reached double digits at this stage of the 2013-14 campaign.
That said, the big difference between Wall and Teague is the ability to hang onto the ball. Sixteen assists and three turnovers is much more impressive than 15 and five.
6. Nicolas Batum, 43.2
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Points Created Per Shot: 2.4
Nicolas Batum's versatility is a much-ballyhooed trait, and that helps him out immensely here.
But it's still the three-point shooting that stands out most.
The French small forward has shot only 7-of-20 from the field during his foray into crunch-time situations, but he doesn't spend much time inside the arc. Sixteen of the 20 attempts have been from downtown, and he's drilled six of them.
Additionally, he's made 18 trips to the foul line and knocked down 94.4 percent of those attempts. It's enough for him to display some efficient scoring efforts while showcasing a 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Batum may not get as much recognition as Damian Lillard or LaMarcus Aldridge, nor does he deserve it. He is, after all, the No. 3 option on his team, and sometimes he falls behind Wesley Matthews in the order as well.
But with Aldridge checking in at No. 16 and Lillard leading off the top 10, the title belongs to this particular forward when we're discussing the team's most clutch player.
"With a mix of Damian Lillard buzzer-beaters, timely defensive stands, dynamic comebacks and a host of contributions from a clutch closing unit," Joe Freeman wrote for The Oregonian earlier in the season, "the Blazers might just be the NBA’s most clutch team."
Being the most clutch player on the NBA's most clutch team (though I'd contend the latter point) isn't too shabby.
5. Zach Randolph, 45.48
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Points Created Per Shot: 2.13
It's time for a second member of the Memphis Grizzlies to show up, and his name is Zach Randolph.
Z-Bo is always a load in the paint, and that doesn't change when the game is on the line. Even with only one assist and one turnover to his name, the big man has still managed to create over two points per shot while remaining heavily involved in the Grizz's efforts.
Simple. He's shot 62.5 percent from the field and made 13 of his 17 free-throw attempts during the last two minutes of closely contested games.
Well, maybe that isn't so simple. If it were, we'd see a lot more players posting numbers like that.
Let's put this in perspective because Randolph deserves quite a bit more credit than he's getting from the national media.
Among players who have taken at least 15 shots in the clutch, only Tony Parker (who hasn't played enough minutes to qualify for these rankings but would otherwise rank No. 2) and Thaddeus Young (who will be showing up later) have shot a higher percentage.
4. Mike Conley, 46.29
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Points Created Per Shot: 2.53
What? We're still not done with players from the Memphis Grizzlies?
Mike Conley narrowly edges out Zach Randolph to earn top honors on the team with the most representatives in these rankings, and he does so because he's been even more efficient when creating points.
Conley's ability to connect on three-pointers—only occasionally, though—and his knack for making contributions at the free-throw line work to his advantage. The latter makes up almost entirely for the discrepancy from the field, because the lefty point guard is both hitting his attempts and spending an inordinate amount of time in basketball's most-exposed position.
But it's the passing that boosts Conley over the top.
Memphis' floor general has spent 10 minutes less on the court during clutch situations, and he still has an additional five assists. That's a big difference when dealing with such a small sample size.
3. James Harden, 48.35
Team: Houston Rockets
Points Created Per Shot: 1.63
James Harden's game may be ugly to watch when the game is on the line. It's filled with constant flailing and flopping, all with the intent of getting to the stripe and earning easy points for the Houston Rockets.
You may not like it, but it's still impossible to deny two main points. And they're ones that actually matter, not ones revolving around the aesthetic appeal of his game.
Harden is heavily, heavily involved in the Houston offense during the waning minutes of a close game, and he's pretty darn good at getting the ball to go through the net for points.
Among qualified players, only LeBron James has a higher PIE. Whether Harden is distributing the ball to his teammates or shouldering the bulk of the scoring load, he always has a hand in the proceedings, and it normally turns out pretty well.
As for his effectiveness as a scorer, it stems both from his knack for freeing himself for open looks in creative ways and from his ability to get to the foul line. Harden's prorated numbers are absolutely ridiculous—25.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes while connecting at an 82.8 percent clip.
No wonder it's both effective and painful to watch. For the sake of perspective, Basketball-Reference.com shows that Wilt Chamberlain posted the most free-throw attempts per 36 minutes ever in 1961-62.
He took 12.6.
2. Thaddeus Young, 59.2
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Points Created Per Shot: 2.18
Even players on bad teams can be clutch.
Interestingly enough, the Philadelphia 76ers have fared quite well when they've managed to keep games close until the final minutes of an outing. It's the frequent blowouts that have been problematic.
Not only is Thaddeus Young checking in at No. 2, but Michael Carter-Williams scored even higher than him. The rookie point guard isn't featured because he hasn't taken enough shots to qualify, even if he made them at a higher clip than normal and dominated as a distributor.
MCW will give us plenty of chances to fawn over him in the future, though, so let's focus on Young again.
Not only is he one of the most heavily involved players in the Association—especially now that he's one of a handful of NBA-caliber guys on the Philadelphia roster—but he's been quite efficient as well. That's the only way to rank this high up, after all.
Thus far, Young has taken 17 shots from the field and scored 33 points. That's nearly two points per shot right there, and his mark is boosted over the magical two-point barrier when you include his pair of dimes and complete dearth of turnovers.
See? It's not all doom and gloom for the Sixers.
1. LeBron James: 79.74
Team: Miami Heat
Points Created Per Shot: 2.29
Remember when LeBron James wasn't clutch?
Well, let me clarify.
Remember when LeBron James supposedly wasn't clutch?
That time has definitely come and gone. Not only has the reigning MVP been the league's most clutch player throughout the 2013-14 season, but he's so far ahead of No. 2 that the gap is nearly as large as the one that exists between Thaddeus Young and the back end of the top 10.
James has the largest PIE value by a wide margin, but he's also creating 2.29 points per shot. Among qualified players, that's a mark that trails only Mike Conley, Nicolas Batum and...that's it.
Talk about an elite combination.
LeBron's turnovers are the only flaw on his resume, as he's shot well enough to boast a staggering 65.4 true shooting percentage during the clutch portion of his three-peat attempt. Of course, many of his points come from drawing contact and slowing down the game, much in the same vein as James Harden.
Harden averages 25.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, and LeBron isn't far behind, checking in at 22.7.
Where Are Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry?
You may be surprised that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry didn't have their names pop up during the top 10. I can't blame you; I was shocked as well when I plugged in all the numbers, sorted the data and had to scroll down to find them.
For those of you who are curious, Durant finished at No. 12 with a clutch rating of 33.09. Curry and his 32.34 clutch rating were directly behind the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar.
Somewhat surprisingly, neither sharpshooter has connected with any sort of frequency during the crucial portions of games:
The numbers just aren't there. So why do we tend to think they are?
It's all about exposure bias and selective memory. We choose to remember successes over failures, especially because we're inundated with clutch makes on SportsCenter, in many articles and all over YouTube.
The failures just don't show up as much.
Additionally, most people tend to watch better and more glamorous teams. Both the Thunder and Golden State Warriors show up on national television (where Curry in particular thrives), but you aren't exposed to Thaddeus Young as often unless you're a Philadelphia 76ers fan or just like torturing yourself.
Durant and Curry have both been impressive nonetheless, but the perception of their clutch performance is far better than the actual numbers would indicate.