Stephen Curry Is NBA Clutch King and These Are His Imitators at Every Position

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 1, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 27: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 27, 2016 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

The season of Stephen Curry continues.

Emerging as one of the NBA's most clutch players is about more than knocking down a game-winner at the final buzzer. That shot swings the balances of a game, tipping the scales from defeat to victory, but so much must occur leading up to that moment. 

It just so happens that a certain point guard from the Golden State Warriors is pretty darn good in all relevant situations. 

Here, we're concerned with everything that happens in the final five minutes of games featuring a margin of no more than five points. Scoring matters, but so does passing prowess, defensive ability, the knack for carrying a team and overall efficiency. 

In order to objectively determine the most statistically clutch players at each of the five positions, we're turning to a previously used methodology:

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

Only players who have spent at least 50 minutes in clutch situations this season while taking 20 or more field-goal attempts will qualify for this lineup. 

Good luck beating these guys in a close game. 

Point Guard: Stephen Curry, 64.86 Clutch Score

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 27: Oklahoma City Thunder fans try to distract Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors as he shoots a free throw during the third period of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on February 27, 2016 in Oklahoma City
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Here's the first example, which came against the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 4: 

How about when he tortured the Miami Heat with a pair of clutch three-pointers during a come-from-behind victory on Feb. 24?

And, of course, the crown jewel: 

The last video doesn't even hint at all the other heroics that led to that Feb. 27 overtime game-winner against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And none of this factors in the insane degree of difficulty on so many long-range bombs from Stephen Curry. 

Even without that subjective element, Curry stands out, not just as the most statistically clutch point guard, but as the most statistically clutch player in the NBA at any position. His score leaves everyone else in the dust, as the gap between him and second-place Reggie Jackson is as large as the chasm between Jackson and Greg Monroe. 

Monroe sits down at No. 14 on the league-wide leaderboard. 

In clutch situations, Curry is averaging a pinch-yourself-because-it-can't-possibly-be-real 48.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per 36 minutes. And pinch yourself again because it might be even tougher to fathom that a player capable of drawing so much defensive attention is shooting 50 percent from both the field and beyond the arc while knocking down 91.9 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.

It gets better.

In the last two minutes of one-possession games, the prohibitive favorite for MVP is scoring 81 points per 36 minutes with a 52.4 field-goal percentage and mind-numbing 7-of-11 and 25-of-26 performances from three-point territory and the free-throw line, respectively.

During the final minute of one-possession contests? Nothing special. Just 111 points per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 89.5. 

According to B/R Insights, Curry has the most clutch three-pointers made in the fourth quarter this season (12). Jackson, Kevin Durant and Paul George are tied for second with 11 apiece, and Curry has played 31, 34 and 63 fewer crunch-time minutes than them, respectively. 

Nothing more needs to be said. 

Honorable Mentions: Reggie Jackson (51.3), Isaiah Thomas (47.7), John Wall (46.9)

Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade, 46.48 Clutch Score

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat in action during the game against the Golden State Warriors at the American Airlines Arena on February 24, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

"You may have noticed a statistic we posted a couple of weeks ago. In 'clutch' time—defined as time that comes in the final five minutes of a game when the scoring margin is no greater than five points either way—Dwyane Wade missed his first nine shots of the season," Ethan Skolnick wrote for the Miami Herald on Dec. 13. "Well, he's now made seven of his past nine."

The two shots that prompted Skolnick's blurb came in a 100-97 comeback victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. As you can see below, Wade first connected on a scoop layup as he drove through traffic with just more than a minute remaining. About 30 seconds later, he pulled up for a mid-range jumper that bounced off the front of the rim and ripped through the twine to give his Miami Heat a lead they wouldn't relinquish:

That last shot was no fluke. 

Wade has managed to keep defenders off balance in late-game situations because he's so adept at both hitting those mid-range jumpers and drawing contact on drives toward the rim. In the final 30 seconds of one-possession games, he's knocked down four of his 10 shots from the field without committing a single turnover, and he's also worked his way to the line for a dozen foul shots.

In clutch situations as a whole, he's averaging 34.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 45.3 percent from the field. Per B/R Insights, Wade has scored a team-high 44.9 percent of Miami's points in clutch situations when he's on the court for fourth-quarter action.

"He's not scared of big moments, and that comes through loud and clear in every game you watch. Obviously, he has had one of the better careers in the NBA of the active players that are playing now," Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said about the future Hall of Famer before facing off against him on Feb. 27, per WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia. "He's a handful. Wade is playing as well as I've seen him in the two and a half years I've been in the league.” 

That's not the least bit hyperbolic, and it's reflected in the Heat's success when Wade is on the floor for a clutch situation. 

The 2-guard has played 111 relevant minutes this season, and Miami has outscored the opposition by 43 points during that time. Among everyone on the roster, only Chris Bosh (plus-45) has posted a higher differential. 

Honorable Mentions: James Harden (36.7), J.J. Redick (32.03), C.J. McCollum (30.28)

Small Forward: LeBron James, 44.76 Clutch Score

Feb 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) works against Chicago Bulls forward Tony Snell (20) during the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 106-95. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Don't be fooled by LeBron James' potential game-winner that found nothing but air against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 26. The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar may not be particularly adept at making the last bucket of a game, but there's so much more to clutch play than last-second shots. 

Remember, we're looking at the last five minutes of close games, and it's not just jump-shooting that matters. Maybe you wouldn't hand James the ball during the final seconds and ask him to shoot, but you'd surely want him on your squad leading up to that moment. 

In clutch situations this year, the four-time MVP has still managed to average 37.8 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 43.2 percent from the field. He's not a threat from beyond the arc, but his ability to control the game is nearly unsurpassed.

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 10: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers posts up against Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Lakers 12
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Among the 300 players who have been on the floor for a crunch-time play in at least five games this season, not one has a usage rate higher than James' 46.4. Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant  are next at 45.3 and 45.4, respectively. 

But despite the heavy burden, James is turning the ball over on just 8.6 percent of his possessions.

That's not where the impressive numbers stop. He's the NBA's only player with a rebounding percentage north of 20 and an assist percentage greater than 40 in clutch situations during the 4th quarter, according to B/R Insights. 

James helps his team win in a variety of ways. It's as simple as that.

And he does so with such proficiency, that he usually manages to avoid that late-game bugaboo. 

Honorable Mentions: Kevin Durant (36.08), Chandler Parsons (32.8), Carmelo Anthony (24.44)

Power Forward: Anthony Davis, 43.79 Clutch Score

Feb 25, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) signals after hitting a three point basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter of a game at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans haven't been a strong bunch in late-game situations, but that all changes when Anthony Davis is involved. No other Pelican's presence leads to nearly as strong a net rating:

Unsurprisingly, it's because Davis manages to assert himself in just about every facet of the game. Per 36 minutes, he's averaging 30.0 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while shooting 61.4 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from beyond the arc and 78.6 percent at the charity stripe. 

But it's still the aggression that's made him so special in 2015-16. 

Davis hasn't always appeared comfortable operating under head coach Alvin Gentry, and he's often lost his way in the new offensive schemes. When he exclusively lets the game come to him, he can find his touches far more limited than they should be. 

But when the clock is winding down during a close contest, Davis goes on the attack. He's worked his way to the free-throw line 28 times, and he's not afraid to fire away from the perimeter. Perhaps the best example came during his monstrous 59-point performance against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 21, as his continued greatness helped the Pelicans pull away: 

We also can't forget about his point-preventing prowess.

Though Davis' overall team defense still needs some fine-tuning in many situations, his ability to read and react makes him invaluable in late-game situations. Not many players are capable of forcing one perimeter shooter into a pass and then recovering quickly enough to block a three-point attempt from the other with Pterodactyl arms.

Davis did exactly that in the final minute of a tight game against the Phoenix Suns back on Nov. 22:

Come to think of it, is there anything he can't do? He's even thriving when he plays center, though we're considering him a natural power forward for the purposes of this lineup. 

Honorable Mentions: Draymond Green (40.42), Dirk Nowitzki (28.66), Kenneth Faried (26.25)

Center: Andre Drummond, 47.81 Clutch Score

Jan 30, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) goes to the basket as Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) defends at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Pistons 111-107. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Look no further than the free-throw line, even if that's the site of so many struggles for Andre Drummond. 

Per B/R Insights, the Detroit Pistons big man is shooting 40.4 percent from the stripe in clutch situations—4.5 points higher than what he's produced on non-clutch attempts. That number may remain unimpressive, but it at least represents the big man's ability to focus during key moments.

Plus, Drummond's impact has by no means been limited to the free-throw line.

During crunch-time action, he's averaging 20.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 64.7 percent from the field. The Pistons have been able to fire away from the perimeter, knowing the center is fully capable of pulling down big offensive rebounds and finishing plays right around the basket. 

And just in case that's not already enough, his defense has been superb. 

Among the eight members of the Pistons who have appeared in at least 10 clutch situations, his 91.8 defensive rating comes out on top. Considering how active he's been in passing lanes and when protecting the hoop, that shouldn't be particularly surprising. Even though Drummond is a big man, T.J. McConnell and Marcus Smart are the only players who have appeared in at least 15 clutch games and averaged more steals per 100 possessions.

Feb 22, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) defends a shot by Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) in the fourth quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Drummond doesn't fit the traditional definition of a clutch player. He's never going to intentionally loft up the final shot, and he's hardly a go-to offensive force when it matters most. In fact, Reggie Jackson actually grades out as the most clutch player on the Pistons. 

However, Jackson and Stephen Curry are the only contributors at any position to earn a higher score in this analysis. Drummond has just been that efficient and that involved on both ends of the floor whenever a game gets tight. 

Honorable Mentions: Greg Monroe (37.82), Karl-Anthony Towns (26.44), Marc Gasol (23.79)

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com's databases or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Feb. 29.

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