Winning Time: The Top 10 Clutch Players Currently in the NBA (with Video)
"Clutchness" has become one of the most appreciated and talked-about abilities in the NBA of late.
While it might be more difficult to measure quantitatively than the standard statistical categories of "points", "rebounds" and "assists" etc, 82games.com has done a pretty good job when it comes to evaluating crunch-time performance.
When compiling their list of the most clutch players in the NBA, 82games defines clutch time as "Fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, no team ahead by more than five points." Although this definition is not perfect (making a three when your team is up by five points with 10 seconds left hardly qualifies as "clutch"), it does provide a rather accurate portrayal of how the top players in the league perform under pressure.
Without these statistics at hand, fans can be tricked into thinking certain players always make the big shot; because they only remember the spectacular game-winners rather than the shots missed. In this slideshow, I will try to separate the perceptions of the players' clutch ability from the reality.
Of course, we can't rely purely on statistics. There are certain players we as fans have seen repeatedly take over games down the stretch, whether they have been leading our team to victory or reprising their role as the villain. For each player, I'll try to blend statistical evidence with viewing experience to come up with a fair assessment.
Stats Used: '09-'10 and '10-'11 clutch stats per 48 minutes. Only relevant stats used. Ex: If a player only attempted three "clutch three-pointers" in the season, the percentage made is not relevant.
- Must be a member of a playoff-caliber team
- Must have a significant sample size of "clutch minutes" played.
- When you think of the player's name, multiple clutch shots or performances should spring to mind.
- Must have an above average free-throw percentage (~76 percent). Otherwise, he is a liability.
- Must want the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
With that said, here are the top 10 clutch players currently in the NBA.
Please feel free to comment if you think someone has been unfairly omitted.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
These players just missed the cut:
*All ppg averages are per 48 minutes played*
'09-'10: 32.6ppg, 39.0 FG%, 29.2 3p%, 67.3 FT%, 6.3reb, 10.0ast
'10-'11: 41.4ppg, 47 FG%, other stats missing.
Why he missed the cut: Although he has hit some memorable shots, Wade's shooting numbers were far too poor to make this list, especially his atrocious 67.3 FT%. His poor field goal percentage is probably due to the fact that Wade too often settles for deep, contested jump shots instead of driving to the basket.
'09-'10: 35.0ppg, 38 FG%, 38 3p%, 73 FT%, 5.3reb, 4.8 ast.
'10-'11: 43.0ppg, 45 FG%, 80 FT%, 4.1reb, 3.2ast.
Why he missed the cut: It was tempting to put Ellis in the top 10 after his recent buzzer-beating antics, but we can't overlook the fact that he is playing on a below .500 team and has no history of producing in the playoffs.
'09-'10: 36.0ppg, 36 FG%, 26 3p%, 84 FT%, 8.0reb, 1.8ast.
'10-'11: 42.8ppg, 39 FG%, 11 3p%, 90 FT%, 15.1reb, 2.6ast.
Why he missed the cut: His field goal and three-point percentages are surprisingly low, in addition to his assists. It seems as though he is forcing shots in clutch situations when he would otherwise be willing to pass if the game was in the first quarter. Also, his performance in the playoffs last year left much to be desired.
'09-'10: 39.2ppg, 51 FG%, 42 3p%, 88FT%, 4.0reb, 9.6ast
'10-'11: 27.2ppg, 40 FG%, 94 FT%, 8.3reb , 11.1ast.
Why he missed the cut: This was the toughest guy to leave out. Apart from his field goal % this season, there's nothing wrong with his numbers. If he has a strong finish to the regular season, as well an impressive postseason, he could easily move into the Top 10.
'09-'10: 23.1ppg, 38 FG %, 21 3p%, 71 FT%, 1.9 reb, 11.5 ast
'10-'11: 29.7ppg, 47 fg%, 38 3p%, 87 FT%, 3.8 reb, 11.4 ast,
Why he missed the cut: Basically the same reasons as Chris Paul. Surprisingly, he had very poor clutch shooting numbers last season. Having said that, his numbers have improved this year, and he has hit one or two game winners to go along with that.
10. Russell Westbrook
Harry How/Getty Images
'09-'10: 23.8ppg, 29 FG%, 85 FT%, 9.8 Reb, 5.3 Ast
'10-'11: 47.6ppg, 47 FG%, 93 FT%, 10.4 Reb, 5.2 Ast.
It almost seems unnecessary to include statistics from last season when talking about Russell Westbrook. The former UCLA star is a transformed player this year, predominantly due to the fact he played for Team USA and Mike Krzyzewski this summer. Practicing with Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo in a competitive environment undoubtedly did wonders for Westbrook's game, in addition to showing him how hard he would have to work to be the best.
Although he doesn't have any game-winning shots to date, he has taken over several games in the fourth quarter for the Thunder, often reducing Kevin Durant to the second option in those instances.
His ability to keep this spot will hinge on his performance in the playoffs this spring. With a poor showing, Chris Paul or Deron Williams could leapfrog him.
9. Manu Ginobili
Manu's buzzer beater against the Bucks
'09-'10 : 33.7ppg, 39 FG%, 29 3p%, 93 FT%, 7.3 Reb, 6.8 Ast.
'10-'11: 40.8ppg, 47 Fg%, 39 3p%, 92 FT%, 8.4 Reb, 5.6 Ast.
Although last season's stats are rather unremarkable, Manu was hobbled for the majority of those games. This year, however, his return to form has sparked the Spurs resurgence, leading them to the league's best record so far.
The numbers clearly indicate he's the Spurs go-to guy when the fourth quarter rolls around. He's scoring an efficient 40.8 points per 48 minutes, in addition to shooting an incredible 92 percent from the line—where tight games are often won and lost. Judging by their record, in the Spurs case, these games are more often won than lost, due to Manu's stellar crunch-time play.
Not only is he playing some of the best basketball of his career right now, he's also proven he knows how to win in the playoffs. Due in part to this postseason success, he gets the nod over Russell Westbrook for the ninth spot on the list.
8. Derrick Rose
'09-'10: 35.9ppg, 45Fg%, 73Ft%, 5.0reb, 5.0reb, 8.3ast
'10-'11: 40.8ppg, 40Fg%, 29 3p%, 80FT%, 13.8reb, 9.4ast
With similar shooting stats to Ginobili and Westbrook, placing Rose ahead of them on the list came down to the fact he's contributing in multiple ways down the stretch—averaging 13.8 rebounds and 9.4 assists.
Translation: D. Rose is doing everything he possibly can to help his team pull out a win in close games.
Already this season, we've seen him go shot-for-shot with Dwyane Wade down the stretch in a defeat of the Heat last week and force overtime against the Rockets with a trey at the horn (Incidentally, he also dominated the overtime period of that game).
He's also had success in the playoffs, most notably in the Bulls first round thriller against the Celtics two years ago, a series in which he and Rondo had some memorable battles.
The glaring deficiency in Rose's game, however, is his mediocre free-throw percentage. This led him to miss a crucial free throw that would have sent a game with the Clippers into overtime back in December. If he gets that straightened out and improves his long-range shooting ability, expect him to be climbing this list in the next few years.
7. Jason Terry
'09-'10: 29.8ppg, 44 FG%, 33 3p%, 84 FT%, 2.8 Reb, 2.5 Ast
'10-'11; 41.4ppg, 58 FG%, 58 3p%, 100 FT%, 4.0 Reb, 4.0 Ast
Anyone who has watched the Mavericks in the fourth quarter this year, knows exactly why this particular bench player is on this list.
His stats for last season would be good enough to warrant consideration to be among the Top 10, but it's his late-game play this season that unquestionably seals the deal. On countless occasions during the season, the Mavericks have been in a tight contest with under a minute left, only for Terry to make the dagger three in the corner that puts the game out of reach for the opposition. He has made 58 percent of his three-point attempts and is yet to miss a free throw in a "clutch" situation. That pretty much speaks for itself.
6. Carmelo Anthony
'09-'10: 47ppg, 43 FG%, 87 FT%, 9.5 Reb, 1.6ast
'10-'11: 44ppg, 46 FG%, 83 FT%, 10.8 Reb, 0.9ast. (not enough 3 point attempts to deem stat relevant)
For the most part, Carmelo has always been slightly underrated as a clutch player.
In a style very similar to Kobe Bryant, 'Melo prefers to be isolated on the final possession which results in a host of highlight reel buzzer beaters as well as several last-second misses. However, as the video above shows, considering the degree of difficulty on most of these shots, 'Melo does remarkably well to make so many of them.
He is also a dependable free-throw shooter with the game on the line. Another aspect that bodes well for the former Orangeman's ranking is his considerable contribution on the boards. He's also had some impressive performances in the playoffs, including the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers two years ago and his buzzer beater against the Mavericks.
The blemishes on Anthony's record include his somewhat inefficient field goal percentage and his horrendous assist totals. 'Melo is by far the worst player on this list when it comes to setting up his teammates to make big plays. Part of being a superior clutch player is knowing when to give the ball up to a teammate that has a wide open shot—something the individuals in the Top Five have learned to incorporate into their game successfully.
5. Paul Pierce
'09-'10 : 22.8ppg, 38 FG%, 41 3p%, 78 FT%, 5.9 Reb, 4.5 Ast.
'10-'11 : 30.5ppg, 47 FG%, 89 FT%, 5.6 Reb, 7.2 Ast.
Pierce has countless game winners over the past few years, including a few playoff editions, such as the one shown above. However, the clutch shots Paul Pierce hasn't hit are just as telling as the ones he has hit.
Usually Pierce takes over the point guard duties from Rondo at the end of the game, so he always has the ball in his hands with a decision to make. Sometimes, if he manages to get to his sweet spot (the right elbow), he'll pull up for the jump shot. Other times, though, he'll drive to the basket, draw a double team and kick the ball out to Ray Allen (we'll get to him soon), for an open three.The fact Pierce has equal confidence in his teammates' ability to knock down a big shot as he does his own, is a testament to his overall play.
Not too many to choose from here. Last season's field goal percent and free throw percent were lower than Pierce's usual standards, although he redeemed himself in the playoffs.
4. Kobe Bryant
09-10: 51.2ppg, 44 FG%, 35 3p%, 82 FT%, 7.3 Reb, 3.6 Ast, 6 buzzer beaters
10-11: 53.3ppg, 38FG%, 21 3p%, 26.7 FTA, 89 Ft%, 4.4 Reb, 8.9 Ast
Yes, Kobe Bryant has more buzzer beaters than we can remember. Yes, he's made game-winning shots in the playoffs. He's made circus layups and turnaround, fade-away jump shots from 28ft. He's taken over games in the fourth quarter and overtime and put fear into the eyes of his opponents. He gets to the line in crunch time (26.7 FTA) and makes the most of his opportunities when he gets there (89 percent). Those are some of the reasons the Black Mamba is fourth on this list. Now, let's get to the reasons he's not No. 1, in addition to the evidence put forward by 82games.com.
His field goal percentage drops in "clutch time" because he takes too many contested jumpers.
He makes the offense one-dimensional by reverting to a "one-on-one" philosophy.
For the most part, he is still quite wary of dishing the ball to his teammates with the game on the line, often settling for his own shot rather than the best possible shot available.
His current average of 8.9 assists is atypical for him. I expect that to finish closer to his average from last season as the games get more important, and he gives the ball up less frequently.
As I wrote in my Jordan-Kobe comparison, Bryant's numbers drop off considerably in The Finals, when basically every possession is a "clutch possession".
3. Ray Allen
'09-'10 : 23.5ppg, 41 FG%, 41 3p%, 89 FT%, 4.5 Reb.
'10-'11: 85min, 32.7ppg, 42 FG%, 55 3p%, 84 FT%, 6.8 Reb.
As a fan of any NBA team other than the Celtics, there is no scarier sight than Ray Allen coming off a screen as he prepares to drill a wide-open three in the last minute of a close game. Allen is an example of one of the players for whom viewing experience should come before any statistic when evaluating his "clutchness." As soon as his name is uttered, momentous three pointers and game-clinching free throws immediately spring to mind.
I included his "clutch minutes played" statistic because he has played considerably more minutes than some of the other players on this list. This lends credence to the stats shown because when the sample size is larger, the stats represent a more consistent level of production. Also, his efficiency is simply incredible; he's shooting 55 percent from three-point land in addition to scoring 32.7 points per 48 minutes. His record of hitting dagger shots in the playoffs isn't too bad either (see Celtics-Bulls series 2009).
His field goal percentage is a little on the low side, although it's hard to say he hasn't compensated for it with his long-range shooting. Three-point shooting is even more important in clutch time because it has the ability to either get your team back in the game instantly or put the game out of reach just as quick. For example, if the Celtics are up by two with 15 seconds left and Allen makes a three to push the gap to five points, the game is probably over at that point.
You could also argue his slight free-throw percentage dip is a con, but it's still well above league average and will most likely be fixed come playoff time. Great free-throw shooters usually don't have significant drops in their percentage, so I expect Sugar Ray to climb back towards 90 percent in the coming months.
2. Dirk Nowitzki
'09-'10: 47.2ppg, 45Fg%, 98FT%, 9.0reb, 5.3ast.
'10-'11: 50.5ppg, 60FG%, 89 FT %, 13.9reb, 5.9ast
Dirk is without question, the most efficient player on this list.
He's currently second in scoring while boasting the highest shooting percentage of any player on this list (a staggering 60 percent from the field). This can hardly be described as being in aberration either, seeing he was third in clutch scoring last season. Even though his field goal percentage was not as impressive last year, his free-throw shooting was absolutely phenomenal; he only missed one free-throw in 171 minutes of clutch time! one free throw! He's also helping out on the boards, averaging a healthy 13.9 rebounds per 48 minutes.
Just as Kobe does, Nowitzki usually has the ball in his hands down the stretch, with the onus on him to make a play. In contrast to Bryant, however, Nowitzki rarely shoots three pointers with the game on the line, even though he's quite proficient at making them. This is because he knows he can getter a better look than a three-point attempt that will inevitably be contested, as is the case when a player is attacking off the dribble rather than coming off a screen like Ray Allen does so often. Kobe tends to settle for the long, tough jumper; whereas Nowitzki makes sure he gets a good look at the basket almost every time.
1. LeBron James
'09-'10: 66.1ppg, 48 FG%, 34 3%, 26.1 FTA, 80FT%, 15.9 Reb, 8.3 Ast, 3.2 bBk, 3.2 Stl
'10-'11: 41min, 40.6ppg, .33 FG%, 90% FT, 7 Reb, 3.5 Ast
As much as I hate to say it, LeBron James has to be No. 1 on this list. When it comes to announcing free-agency decisions, LeBron is the worst player of all time; but when it comes time to win a tight basketball, he's currently the player in the NBA best equipped to do just that.
Detractors have often said that LeBron has only hit two buzzer beaters in his career, which pales in comparison with Kobe, Carmelo, Pierce, etc. However, the reason the self-proclaimed King has hit so few game winners is really quite simple—he's already ended the game by that point. Last year, he led the league with 66.1 points per 48 minutes of clutch time—15 more than Dirk Nowitzki. This astounding figure means he's been scoring so effectively in the previous 4:50 (48 percent from the field), he doesn't need to score in the last 10 seconds in order for his team to win.
When playing for the Cavaliers last year, LeBron took over the last five minutes of the game in every way imaginable. In addition to scoring, he average 15.9 boards, 8.3 assists, 3.2 blocks and 3.2 steals, finishing in the Top 10 in the league in each of those categories. No other player on this list can claim to have impacted every facet of the game in the same way LeBron did.
Obviously, his numbers have decreased this season partly because he's sharing the spotlight with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. It should also be noted the Heat haven't been in as many clutch situations as other teams, as evidenced by the mere 41 minutes LeBron has played.
For someone that gets to the line so often, it's a shame he's not closer to the 90 percent range, as this would easily result in two to theree more free points per game.
*the perfect example of LeBron taking over a game is shown above.