Ranking the NBA's Least-Clutch Shooters of the 2010sMay 12, 2020
Ranking the NBA's Least-Clutch Shooters of the 2010s
Buzzer-beaters have given us some of the most memorable moments in NBA history.
Damian Lillard has ended series with them. Michael Jordan won six championships, and one of the lasting images of his career remains his earlier-round game-winner over Craig Ehlo. Derek Fisher managed one in 0.4 seconds.
We could go on and on for several more paragraphs. You probably have plenty more of your own favorites. But this list is an attempt to find those players who've struggled the most with the game on the line.
The numbers behind the attempt are relatively straightforward. First, we'll use points over average during "clutch time," which is calculated as follows:
- Take all attempts from the 2010s in the regular season and playoffs during the final five minutes of games within five points (the NBA's definition of "clutch time") and find the average points per attempt.
- Find the average points per attempt for each individual player during "clutch time."
- Subtract the league average from the player's average and then multiply by the player's number of attempts.
The bottom 10 in just that number (among those with at least 100 total attempts) was fascinating:
- Jameer Nelson (-51.7)
- Brandon Knight (-51.9)
- Bradley Beal (-57.6)
- Tyreke Evans (-67.5)
- Carmelo Anthony (-70.9)
- Brandon Jennings (-71.0)
- Derrick Rose (-73.5)
- John Wall (-99.2)
- DeMar DeRozan (-102.0)
- Russell Westbrook (-109.0)
But it didn't feel right to penalize quite this much for volume. Westbrook's inefficiency in the clutch cost his teams plenty of points, but he was also first in the league in total makes. And his effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) ranked about 50 spots from the bottom. Calling him the least-clutch shooter of the 2010s probably isn't fair.
So, eFG% was factored into the ranking. If you sort every player with at least 250 attempts (upped to eliminate big men who were mostly finishing layups set up by wings and guards) by the average of their ranks in points over average during "clutch time" and eFG%, this is the top 10:
- Al Horford
- Chris Bosh
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Stephen Curry
- JJ Redick
- Jason Terry
- Anthony Davis
- Marco Belinelli
- CJ McCollum
- Eric Gordon
The bottom 10 is found below.
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10. Russell Westbrook
No, it wasn't fair to declare Westbrook the least-clutch shooter of the 2010s, but his aggression in clutch time has absolutely been a problem on occasion.
During the 2010s, he missed 757 shots in games in which the score was within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. LeBron James had the second most misses (though he was second in points over average with 70.4). The gap between Wesbrook and LeBron in misses is about the same as the gap between LeBron and 16th-place Paul George.
Surely, some of the 1,237 attempts Westbrook hoisted during clutch should have been passed up. That many shots at a below-average eFG% in the tightest moments of games are difficult to overcome.
The most striking example of this might have come during the first round of the 2018 postseason. In that series, which the Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games, Westbrook shot 39.8 percent from the field on 26.8 attempts per game.
In clutch time, he went 3-of-11 from the field and 1-of-4 from three in that series. The rest of the team got 15 shots in those minutes.
9. Carmelo Anthony
In that same series, Carmelo Anthony was 0-of-3 in clutch time.
Over the course of the 2010s, he was 256-of-684 (37.4 percent) from the field and 53-of-186 (28.5 percent) from three during clutch time. That gave Melo an average of 0.83 points per attempt, roughly one-tenth of a point below the league average.
That might not sound like much, but when spread out over nearly 700 attempts, it starts to add up fast.
Of course, there's something to be said for being the player the organization trusts to take these important shots. That contributes to the number of difficult attempts that are missed and contribute to the formulas employed here.
But several players, including Curry, LeBron and Kevin Durant, took more attempts in the clutch and managed to contribute positive points over average.
8. Evan Turner
Evan Turner has never received much praise for his shooting. He's hit 29.4 percent of his three-point attempts, and his 45.5 eFG% is over five points below the league average over the course of his career.
But in the clutch, things got drastically worse. During the 2010s, he went just 104-of-278 (37.4 percent) from the field and 7-of-33 (21.2 percent) from three in clutch time. His 38.7 eFG% tops that of only three other players with 250-plus attempts.
But again, this isn't the basis of what has kept Turner in the league for a decade and made him nearly $100 million in salary. Over the course of his career, Turner has averaged 6.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.1 steals per 75 possessions.
He's not being signed to shoot.
7. Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson had a long, solid run in the NBA. He was an All-Star in 2009 and ranked 132nd in wins over replacement player over the course of his career.
But his efficiency tailed off in the 2010s. His eFG% that decade was nearly two points below what he posted in the 2000s. And despite a diminishing role, he still managed to get plenty of clutch attempts up.
He went 115-of-332 (34.6 percent) from the field and 27-of-113 (23.9 percent) from three in the clutch during the 2010s. He put up a whopping minus-51.7 points over average.
Still, he was a stabilizing veteran force for a couple of squads, particularly the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets. That season, they were plus-3.2 points per 100 possessions with Nelson on the floor and minus-1.9 with him off.
6. DeMar DeRozan
This is our last inclusion on the list who rocked a 40-plus effective field-goal percentage in clutch situations, but DeMar DeRozan's 40.9 barely clears that hurdle (and is still well shy of the 46.5 league average).
He's also another player doomed in part by volume. Westbrook, LeBron and KD were the only players who took more shots during clutch time than DeRozan. But among the top 10 in attempts, only John Wall had a lower eFG%.
Over the course of the decade, DeRozan went 365-of-911 (40.1 percent) from the field and 15-of-93 (16.1 percent) from three in the clutch.
Only Westbrook contributed fewer points over average than DeRozan's minus-102.0.
5. Derrick Rose
The 2010s represent a long road back from injuries for Derrick Rose.
When he won the MVP in 2010-11, his 6.8 box plus/minus ranked third in the league, trailing only LeBron's 8.1 and Chris Paul's 7.1.
Over the next six seasons, box plus/minus considered him a below-average player. He got back on track, at least offensively, in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but he missed plenty of clutch-time shots along the way.
During the decade, he was 207-of-547 (37.8 percent) from the field and 21-of-90 (23.3 percent) from three. His eFG% ranked 93rd out of the 101 players with 250-plus clutch attempts. And Wall, DeRozan and Russ were the only players to contribute fewer points over average.
4. John Wall
You may be sensing something of a theme developing here. This list is populated entirely by guards and ball-dominant wings (plus one forward, depending on how you classify Melo).
When the game is tight and in the waning minutes, the player who naturally has the ball in most non-clutch situations gets a lot of opportunities to shoot. And when defenses ramp up for the crucial moments, those shots become more difficult.
So, it may come as little surprise that Wall, who isn't a great shooter in most situations (his career eFG% is over four points below the league average over the course of his career), struggled to find the bottom of the net in the clutch.
During the 2010s, he was 257-of-694 (37.0 percent) from the field and 32-of-141 (22.7 percent) from three in the clutch.
3. Brandon Knight
Injuries have robbed Brandon Knight of what appeared to be a promising career.
Over the course of his third, fourth and fifth seasons, he averaged 18.1 points, shot 35.1 percent from three and posted a slightly above-average box plus/minus.
Since then, he's averaged just 29.5 appearances per season, put up 8.8 points, shot 32.8 percent from deep and posted a well-below-replacement-level box plus/minus.
Even with a significantly reduced role, and all of 2017-18 lost to injury, Knight managed to get enough shots up in the clutch to qualify for this exercise.
For his career (all in the 2010s), he's 98-of-300 (32.7 percent) from the field and 31-of-113 (27.4 percent) from three during the final five minutes of games within five points.
2. Tyreke Evans
Prior to his 2019 suspension, Tyreke Evans was having himself a very solid NBA career.
Over the course of his 10 seasons, he was 76th in wins over replacement player. LeBron, James Harden, Westbrook, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic are the only players who matched or exceeded his averages for points (19.6), assists (6.0) and rebounds (5.7) per 75 possessions over that stretch. And he finished his second-to-last full season in 17th place in box plus/minus.
But one area of his game that is difficult to talk up is his shooting efficiency. Evans' career 47.1 eFG% is 3.4 points below the league average over the course of his career. And it got markedly worse during clutch minutes.
During the 2010s, Evans shot 139-of-391 from the field and 18-of-79 from three in the clutch, giving him a 37.9 eFG% that pales in comparison to his own career mark and the league average for the decade's clutch minutes.
1. Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings started his career off about as hot as a rookie could. In just his seventh game, at the ripe old age of 20 years and 52 days, Jennings dropped 55 points on the Golden State Warriors.
To this day, he's the youngest player in league history to pull off the double-nickel in a single game.
Oer the ensuing six seasons, he at least looked like he could be a heat-check-off-the-bench guy, averaging 16.6 points and 1.9 threes while shooting 35.1 percent from deep.
Overall efficiency was always a problem, though. During those seasons, he had a 45.4 eFG%, and he wasn't even close to that in the clutch.
During this exercise's relevant time period, Jennings went 70-of-256 (27.3 percent) from the field and 27-of-112 from three (24.1 percent). Those shockingly low figures led to a 32.6 eFG% and minus-71.0 points over average.