Ranking the Most Clutch NBA Players Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2021

Ranking the Most Clutch NBA Players Since 2000

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    Damian Lillard
    Damian LillardCraig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    While the best NBA players are remembered for their excellence, clutch moments can produce iconic careers.

    After all, Robert Horry is practically known solely for his winning shots. Big Shot Bob didn't make the list, but it's those type of heroics that we're looking at today.

    Now, the meaning of "clutch" is subjective. For example, your perception might lean toward someone like Kevin Durant thriving in his Game 7 appearances. Perhaps it's Tim Duncan, who excelled in the playoffs throughout his career. Defense matters too! Those are all reasonable ways to define clutch, but we want buckets.

    This list is focused on the last two minutes of a game in which a shot attempt is to either tie or take the leadboth in the regular season and playoffs since 2000.

    In an effort to reward both longevity and efficiency, the minimums for each category are 100-plus attempts in the regular season and 20-plus in the playoffs.

8. Stephen Curry

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    If we only focused on the regular season, Joe Johnson would have a stronger case. Iso Joe knocked down eight game-winning buzzer-beaters from 2007-08 to 2016-17. But he misses the cut at the expense of Stephen Curry, which probably isn't surprising.

    Among players with 100-plus clutch attempts since 2000, Curry ranks 11th with a 44.3 effective field-goal rate.

    Likely the most memorable is his 2016 winner against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not only did the 38-footer produce a rare "double bang" from broadcaster Mike Breen, the trifecta lifted Curry to a record-tying 12 three-pointers on the night.

    Curry's clutch-time effective field-goal percentage drops to 33.8 in the postseason, so there's room to improve. Still, he's buried multiple game-tying threes and sports a 52.9 effective field-goal percentage when within one-to-three points in the last two minutes.

7. Kevin Durant

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    Game 3 of both the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals featured Kevin Durant hitting a three-pointer to ultimately seal a win. The first time around, it actually pushed the Golden State Warriors into the lead.

    While those triples are KD's greatest moments, his career is loaded with clutch shots. From the Seattle SuperSonics to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Warriors to the Brooklyn Nets, there are plenty of late-game highlights from Durant.

    Since 2000, he's tallied the eighth-most (83) clutch shots in the regular season and second-most (17) in the playoffs.

    Relative to other players on the list, Durant's combined 33.6 percent field-goal rate in clutch time is low. But it shouldn't stop anyone from trusting him either.

6. Paul Pierce

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    Paul Pierce called game. A lot.

    Yes, a strong majority of Pierce's game-winning moments came in a Boston Celtics jersey. But it's just about impossible not to think about that quote from The Truth following his Game 3 winner against the Atlanta Hawks in the 2015 playoffs.

    Pierce's reputation is well-deserved, considering he made or assisted the most buzzer-beaters (12) in the NBA through 2020.

    Granted, his clutch-time performance lags slightly behind that recognition. Pierce ranks 25th in regular-season effective field-goal rate (41.2) and 11th in the playoffs (40.0).

    Again, thoughlike Durantthose are simply lower relative to the best of the best. Not much shame in those numbers.

5. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Dirk Nowitzki doesn't have as many famed moments as Pierce. Armed with a near-untouchable fadeaway jumper, however, Nowitzki certainly made his key opportunities count.

    Among the 10 players with the most clutch shots made in the regular season, Nowitzki (38.7) has the second-highest field-goal percentage. He's only behind LeBron (41.6) in that high-volume separation. Plus, overall, he's 13th among all qualified players.

    And during the playoffs, Dirk raised his game.

    Nowitzki increased his field-goal percentage to 40.6, the fourth-best mark in clutch situations. Most notably, his last-second layup to beat the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals helped the Dallas Mavericks win their first championship.

4. Ray Allen

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    Ray Allen's highlight reel is stacked with amazing threes.

    My off-the-wall favorite? Allen's buzzer-beating triple in double overtime to topple the Phoenix Suns 152-149 in 2006. Any game with 301 total points deserves an ending like that.

    But there's no question which moment is most recognizable. Allen's game-tying three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals saved the Heat from watching the San Antonio Spurs celebrate an NBA title. Miami ended up winning that series.

    Allen leads all players since 2000 with a sizzling 77.1 clutch-time effective field-goal rate in the postseason, and his 13 buckets only trail LeBron James, Durant, Kobe Bryant and Pierce.

3. Kobe Bryant

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    I can hear it already: Kobe Bryant at No. 3?! This list is garbage! We'll let some numbers do the talking.

    On volume alone, the Black Mamba could be higher. LeBron only recently passed Kobe's regular-season total of 133 clutch-time buckets to lead all NBA players since 2000, and Bryant's 17 in the playoffs is tied with Durant for second.

    Most impressively, Kobe largely did that in isolation. Only 19.5 percent of his clutch regular-season shots were assisted, and the number dips to 11.8 in the playoffs. LeBron and Damian Lillardspoiler alert!are the most comparable players.

    Kobe simply is behind those two in clutch-time efficiency for the regular season and playoffs, respectively.

    • Bryant: 37.4 FG%, 42.4 eFG%; 34.0 FG%, 39.0 eFG%
    • Lillard: 43.5 FG%, 51.9 eFG%; 37.9 FG%, 48.3 eFG%
    • James: 41.6 FG%, 46.1 eFG; 45.7 FG%, 52.1 eFG%

2. Damian Lillard

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    When you're in company with Michael Jordan and nobody else, that is generally an incredible thing.

    Along with His Airness, Damian Lillard is the only player in NBA history with two buzzer-beaters to clinch a playoff series. Lillard bounced the Houston Rockets in the 2014 postseason and eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder five years later.

    "Dame Time" isn't merely two memorable shots, though. Lillard has been a terrific late-game player throughout his career.

    Since 2000, he's tallied the 11th-most clutch buckets (80) while posting the sixth-best field-goal percentage (43.5) and second-best effective field-goal rate (51.9). In the postseason, he's tied for eighth (11 made shots), as well as ranking seventh (37.9 FG%) and third (48.3 eFG%).

1. LeBron James

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    Not a fan of LeBron James? You could cherry-pick a range to criticize him. For instance, his 22.9 field-goal rate in the last 15 seconds of a game in these situations ranks 61st among the 87 players who have attempted at least 30 such shots.

    But to us, "clutch" isn't limited to 15 seconds. The last two minutes is a far more accurate representation of key shots.

    LeBron is the leader in clutch shots during both the regular season (134) and playoffs (32), so he's unsurprisingly thriving on the volume side. That's a fair expectation of someone with a 19-year career who is considered the greatest player of his era.

    However, his efficiency is also stellar. James is seventh (41.6) and sixth (46.1) in field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage in the regular season and then second in both categories (45.7 FG%, 52.1 eFG%) in the playoffs.

    Clutch performance is yet another reason why LeBron is The King.

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