Close your eyes. Think of the most “clutch” guys in the NBA, the guys you want taking that shot. Dame, Paul George, LeBron. Maybe Bradley Beal, D’Angelo Russel, or Victor Oladipo. Giannis? DBook? McCollum? Now, ask yourself: does that last shot always go in for any of those guys?
Let’s first ask ourselves, what qualifies as clutch? Well, if you’re thinking numbers-wise, the definition is: shots taken with less than five minutes left with a margin of five or less points. That makes sense. Big shots in close games. Using those stats, we can deconstruct the idea of a “clutch” player pretty easily.
Paul George averages 2.1 points per clutch scenario, a scenario he saw 42 times over the course of this season. He shot 38.2% in clutch situations, which really isn’t that good. And, after tonight’s playoff loss, he’s 1 for 26 shooting 3s with the “game on the line”, the situation that he really wanted the ball in after last year’s Game 1 loss to Cleveland in the first round. Playoff P? Not clutch.
Now, let’s take a look at our wristwatches and talk about Dame Time. I love Dame, but his watch broke during the playoffs. He was in 3 clutch situations during a 4 game sweep, and he averaged 1.3 points over the course of those 15 minutes of clutch time! That’s just awful! During the regular season, he only averaged 3.3 points over 39 clutch situations. Granted, that’s still 18th in the league, but those numbers really don’t show much. 3 points over the course of a 5-minute span is not dominating a game.
The one thing that clutch stats support is a nice 3-pointer. Guys that average one or more 3-pointers in clutch situations: Stephen Curry, Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Victor Oladipo, Russel Westbrook, LeBron James, Kristaps Porzingis, you get the picture. Those are definitely guys you give the ball to.
The thing that convinces me that clutch isn’t really real is: the guys considered “clutch” are really just the guys taking the most shots in clutch time. Guys who averaged more than 3 shots per clutch appearance? Russ, Donovan Mitchell, Kristaps, Jimmy Butler, Cardiac Kemba, Kyrie, Demar DeRozan, LeBron, Bradley Beal, again, you get the picture. It’s hard to tell if it’s that those guys take the most shots in clutch, and thus are considered clutch, or the other way around.
Now, you might have noticed something about a lot of those names I’ve listed. They’re just top talents in the NBA. I’ve always loved to say “Devin Booker is clutch” but when it comes down to it, he’s really the only person I feel comfortable giving the ball to for those shots in Phoenix. And LeBron, Dame, Kristaps, Bulter, Mitchell, they’re all the best players on the team and the best players for the clutch job.
We, as a basketball society, have given ourselves the illusion of clutch, when in reality, it’s just general talent. That being said, I’m looking forward to more of Damian Lillard pointing at his wristwatch, D’Angelo Russell signaling that all the blood in his veins was replaced by frozen water, and Russell Westbrook dramatically banking in threes to the excitement of the fans in OKC.
Verdict: Clutch isn’t real. That’s all there is to it.