Clutch you said ? Analyzing the NBA’s clutch players.

If I tell you clutch this season I think that we all got the same pictures in our mind : Damian Lillard’s epic game-winner against Oklahoma City Thunder and also Kawhi Leonard’s incredible shots in game 7 to win the serie against the Philadelphia 76ers. Who do you think is the most clutch player in the NBA today ? In this study I will reveal the top clutch players of the NBA of today, the players that can totally reverse a game in the last moments. For that, I have used the statistics of the 2018-2019 NBA season from stats.nba.com.

First of all, we need to define the word « clutch » that doest not have a universal definition.

A clutch player is a player who performs better than a replacement player level in situations which the outcome of his actions drastically changes the game.

Most of the time when we discuss about clutch we instantly link it with shoot but there are also some other aspects that can be very interesting. As you understood, making a good play at the end of the 1st Quarter is clearly different than making the same play at 10 seconds remaining on the clock. Therefore, to evaluate how clutch the players are, I have looked their stats at 2 minutes/1 minute/ 30 seconds remaining with a 3 points (or less) difference between the teams and also at 10 seconds remaining with 2 points (or less). I have removed players who have not played more than 10 games in these conditions. Note that the majority of the players have played between 10 and 30 games where they had to be clutch to win it.

Now we need to define « clutch » with statistics and some metrics have caught my attention :

  • Winrate : percentage of games won
  • TS% (True Shooting percentage) : shooting percentage that take into account free throws, 2 point field goals and 3 point field goals
  • USG% (Usage percentage) : percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor
  • %PTS (Percent of Team Points) : percentage of a team’s points that a player has while on the court
  • OffRTG (Offensive Rating) : number of points scored per 100 possessions by a team or by the team of the player while that player is on the court
  • DefRTG (Defensive Rating) : number of points allowed per 100 possessions by a team or by the team of the player while that player is on the court

(All these metrics have been mesured in the situations defined previously)

Winrate is the most important metric to qualify a play of clutch or not because you could take the most beautiful shot but if there is no win after it, it won’t stay in people’s mind. I like TS % because it mesures the shooting ability in every areas. USG% is also significant because we are less indulgent with players who monopolize the ball.%PTS indicates how much important the player is for his team. OffRTG and DefRTG gauge the global offensive and defensive abilities of players.

Team Stats

Before focusing on players I just wanted to show a bit of Team viz’, I gave ploted the winrate according to TS% at 2 minutes/1minute remaining with 3 points or less difference. For the sake of visibility I have made different plots for Western Conference and Eastern Conference.

The first thing we can observe is that East seems better than West when it is about to win in tight games : East median winrate is higher than the Western one. Moreover teams from East have a better overall shootings in last minutes of those games. A few comments, Miami Heat winrate is quite surprising according to its bad TS% in the last minutes, Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers seems to be better the is tight. At the opposite, Milwaukee Bucks seems to crack in the last moments. We can also admit the Thunder’s difficulty to finish games properly.

To allow those teams to shine there must be clutch players.

 

Players

Here the interesting parts begins, you all think about your favorite players or famours players but be prepared because some surprises are coming !

First I have drawn the %PTS accorting to the USG% for the 25 players that are used the most in the different situations (A : 2 minutes left and 3 points or less gap, B : 1 minute left and 3 points or less gap, C : 30 seconds left and 3 points or less gap and D : 10 seconds left and 2 points or less gap)

There are interesting names : famous decisive players such as Stephen Curry, James Harden, Damian Lillard and many others but also more surprising players like Emmanuel Mudiay, Josh Okogie for example. Note that players under the dotted line are players that are less efficient than we expect them to be. If your USG% is at 30% then you are expected to score 30% of your team points. Let’s go into more details.

Now let’s display the top 5 players based on the difference between%PTS and USG% because as I told earlier, we expect this difference to be at least 0. Then, to reward player with a good winrate, on the left graph, I display the top 5 players according to the difference weighted by the winrate. Here are the results for each situation.

As we can see, this top 5 is clearly dominated by Victor Oladipo and James Harden.

The beard is still in this top 5 led by Jamal Murray and Julius Randle. Note the apparition of Emmanuel Mudiay as I mentioned.

We reached clutch time, 30 seconds left and 3 points or less gap. Emmanuel Mudiay is at the top this time with once more Julius Randle. As you can see, Mike Conley is penalized because of his winrate in favor of James Harden.

The last few seconds are here ! Jeremy Lamb is your boy dominating this top 5. But do not forget Paul George, Jimmy Butler or the young Jason Tatum.

Then, if we focus a bit more into the real clutch time (situations C and D), we can display the top 5 Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating. Once more to reward players with a good winrate we weighted those metrics with the winrate.

Nikola Jokic seems to be the guy for offensive rating in clutch time since he is doing good as well at 30 seconds remaining as at 10 seconds remaining. Remark the dominance of the team we have already seen in the first part with team graphs : the Nuggets, the Clippers, Phily.

If we focus at 30s (left graph) there are not so famous players while at 10s (right graph) we find more famous players. We observe exactly what we have already seen earlier with the team graphs. La Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons are dominating with 7,5 players (Reggie Bullock also played for Lakers) on the 10 selected. It is also important to notice that Lou Williams, Reggie Bullock and Maurice Harkless are both top OffRTG and DefRTG.

 

Players in shadow

Sometimes, a good pass instead of a shot can be valuable (ex : MJ’s pass for Kerr in NBA Finals 1997). In this section, called « Players in shadow », I wanted to put some light on guys that can be clutch by deliver a great assist for the last shot or block the last offensive. Therefore, I have decided to evaluate them on 3 metrics on situation C and D.

  • AST/G : assists per game
  • REB/G : rebounds per game
  • BLK/G : blocks per game

Once more, we weight those results with the winrate of the players because it is important.

Aaron Gordon is leading AST/G weighted with winrate ranking with 0,14 in the last 10 seconds which means that every 7 games (with a 2 poits gap at 10s), Aaron Gordon delivers an assist that wins the game. The rookie from the Hawks, Kevin Huerter, is doing good in clutch time also.

It is important to have the possession in the last seconds, you obviously need the guy fighting for the last rebounds. John Collins is definitely your guy in the last 30 seconds (REB/G weighted of 0,33) with a clutch rebound every 3 games. In the last 10 seconds players are much closer but Bam Adebayo is ranked 1st with a clutch rebound every 8 games.

[Insert your clutch block here] In tight games, every play can be valuable just like the block. A Rookie ranked 1st, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ranked 3rd in DefRTG in the last 30s I remind) has made a clutch block every 13 games. If you are a Denver Nuggets fan, you should be relaxed enough for the last 10 seconds with both Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic (yes him again) leading.

 

Clutch Team

To conclude, I have tried to build the best roster for the last 30 seconds of a really tight game (2 or 3 points gap). The conditions are to have 2 guards, 2 forwards and 1 center and to have a global USG% around 100 (so you can’t pick all the best players). Be ready here are our guys !

(USG Lou Williams : 43%, Jeremy Lamb : 24%, Maurice Harkless : 7%, Aaron Gordon : 5% and Nikola Jokic : 27%)

Notice that :

– NBA mean for OffRTG = 81,8

– NBA mean for DefRTG = 80,9

– NBA mean for TS % = 48,8 %

 

And you, who is your clutch man ?! I let you with Kevin Durant words ‘Choking is not shooting the ball. If I miss, it’s not my fault. It’s the environment. Or someone else’s fault.’