NBA Clutch Player – The National Basketball Association debuted a new trophy on Tuesday. Fun yet little ludicrous, the league will award the Jerry West trophy to the Clutch Player of the Year. In the 2016–17 NBA season, Russell Westbrook logged the most critical minutes among all players, yet those minutes accounted for just 7.1% of his overall playing time. For the whole season, no one was able to make more than 47 critical field goals, and no one tried more than 100. Out of 1,230 games this season, just 14 were decided by a last-second shot at the buzzer. It’s only a little over 1%.
The absurdly tiny sample sizes we’re working with are really part of what makes this so intriguing. As a general rule, chaos is more likely to occur in small samples. Must a famous person be the recipient of this honor? Rookie guard AJ Griffin of the Atlanta Hawks is the only player in the NBA to have won games with buzzer-beating shots this season. Could a player who usually struggles in crucial moments defy his history and win this award this year? It’s not impossible. In the end, James Harden is the best in the NBA when it counts.
NBA Clutch Player of the Year award
Let’s predict the future of the clutch player award by looking back at the previous ten years of clutch basketball.
DeMar DeRozan in 2021-22
Without a question, the Phoenix Suns would be the winners if this were the Kia Clutch Team of the Year award. According to the NBA’s definition of a “clutch” game, which is defined as the last five minutes of a game in which either team leads by five or fewer, the Suns had an absurd 33-9 record while outscoring their opponents by 33.4 points per 100 possessions in such games. To be clear, this isn’t a group prize. We’ll get to Phoenix’s maestro in a moment, but last season, Chicago’s midrange shooter was unmatched in terms of clutch performance.
While DeRozan finished the season with fewer critical points than league leader Joel Embiid, he did so more effectively and with a better record (23-15). He was the first NBA player to ever hit game-winning shots at the buzzer on two separate occasions. The Bulls finished the season with a 71-point victory margin after being outscored by 101 points over the opening three quarters. DeRozan said that. He was the clear pick for the nonexistent 2022 Jerry West award after leading a mediocre club to the playoffs with a series of clutch jumpers.
Damian Lillard in 2020-21
Another one that could not be simpler to choose. Lillard finished first in the NBA in clutch scoring and came within a few points of a 50-40-90 shooting line in those minutes. In games when a win was crucial, the Blazers were 22-12, although overall they were just 20-18. His lone game-winning shot of the season was a ridiculous step-back jumper over Lauri Markkanen off a jump ball that transformed a two-point defeat into a one-point victory.
Despite being a perennial contender, Lillard really nailed it in 2022, the year he would have won this imaginary honor. Although his small rosters have stopped him from winning a title, his ability to come through in the clutch during the regular season is undeniable. Um, to that point…
Chris Paul in 2019-20
Now I’m going to say something that may cause some controversy. A question: are you prepared? Good. Chris Paul is one of, if not the, best players in NBA history when it comes to being in a tight game. There have been three separate occasions in the previous five years when his club earned the highest clutch rating in the NBA. The clincher: he accomplished it with three separate squads. With a plus-27.1 rating, the 2018 Rockets topped the NBA. When it came to plus/minus, the 2022 Suns were the best in the NBA. The 2020 Thunder had the best plus/minus in the NBA that season.
Paul’s magnum effort was 2020, which had the lowest net rating of the three. In Phoenix, he brought along rising talent Devin Booker, and in Houston, he brought along the actual MVP in James Harden, but in Oklahoma City? After the summer retooling, the team looked like a collection of misfits. Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder formed explosive three-guard lines for the Thunder, setting the NBA on fire. The 150 points Paul scored in the clutch were the most in the league. When most people had the Thunder down for the draft lottery, they shocked everyone by going 30–15 and sneaking into the postseason. In this article, we will discuss a few of the greatest clutch players in NBA history. If Paul were to win this honor, he would make history as the first player to accomplish so while playing for a club that had recently dealt away two All-Stars.
Nikola Jokic – 2018-2019
This season doesn’t have a definitive victor. While Harden’s 192 points led the team in the clutch, the team’s 22-17 record and 41-29-83 shooting splits left much to be desired. The same factors cause Kemba Walker’s demise. Not enough was won by Kyrie Irving. It seemed like Kawhi Leonard didn’t get enough playing time. Instead, the contest has come down to the two best clutch performers of the year.
Lou Williams, the Sixth Man of the Year, is over there on one side, where he went 25-13 in the clutch, scored 108 clutch points, and defeated the Nets in a shootout in March.
In the other, Nikola Jokic won six more games and dished out 11 more assists while scoring 13 less points in the closing minutes. With just three days between Williams’ buzzer-beating shot against the Nets and Jokic’s lone attempt, this race is very close.
There is no definitively incorrect response, although I personally like Jokic. He outperformed Williams in efficiency, victories, and boards (by 33 to 0), and was a marginal improvement over Williams. Williams has already been honored with a prize this year. Let’s give and take a little affection.
LeBron James : 2017-18
Not even close, this one. This season, James set a new record with 197 points in the clutch, and he also led the league in assists (third), boards (fourth), steals (fourteenth), and blocks (twenty-second). The Cavaliers finished 30–15 in close games but only 20–23 overall. Still, you can’t seem to recall any of it. You may recall that in Cleveland’s last game before their notorious reshuffling at the 2018 trade deadline, James blocked Jimmy Butler’s potential game-winner, hit his own buzzer-beater, and then snubbed Isaiah Thomas to chest bump Cedi Osman.
The one he made in Toronto during the playoffs was even better, but alas, this honor is only for the regular season. Nonetheless, he is the only player we’re looking at who made three game-winning buzzer-beaters in a season (and the first since Kobe Bryant in 2010). In this case, he is the obvious pick because of it.
Russell Westbrook : 2016-17
Aw, Isaiah Thomas. With 225 clutch points and a 30-14 clutch record for Boston, The King in the Fourth would have earned this honor in almost any other season. Why then doesn’t he prevail? This is due to the fact that:
As a 2017 player, Russell Westbrook has 247 points in the clutch. That’s higher than the whole season’s total for points scored by the Warriors. For a 6-3 point guard, he also ranked in the top five in clutch assists and clutch rebounds. When comparing him against Thomas, who was a major defensive weakness for the Celtics that year despite their overall strength, he finished third in the NBA in key thefts. For the second time, Thomas would be victorious in any other year. He presented a reasonable argument here, too. Westbrook once again steals the show with his incredible counting numbers for a team that absolutely needed every one of them in a season in which he earned MVP based on his triple-double average.
Stephen Curry : 2015-16
In 2016, Stephen Curry was chosen as the Most Valuable Player by a landslide. He almost lost this election to a very unexpected opponent. That’s exactly what I was thinking. Sam, Steph was 27-4 when it mattered most. Did you see that?
You make some good arguments here. Curry’s squad set a new record for best clutch performance (which, for our purposes, dates back to 1997). He made a clutch shot that will go down as one of the NBA’s all-time greats. He did it while trying to break a legendary NBA record that the Warriors eventually broke by finishing 73-9. The squad he was on, though, went 43-5 in games that didn’t count. Because of the Warriors’ dominance, losing a single game may not have mattered all that much in the broad scheme of things, at least until the victories record came into view.
Even if you don’t agree with it, you can’t deny that the Detroit Pistons, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, needed every win they could get to make the playoffs. They just squeaked past the Bulls by two games, but here’s the kicker: in the three most important games between the two teams, the Hawks came out on top each time. If Detroit wanted to make the playoffs, they needed every win they could get and as much clutch excellence as they could muster. Reggie Jackson was the one who provided it to them.
When compared to Curry, he has a clear statistical advantage. The increase in volume may account for some of it. Jackson scored 178 of his league-leading total in close games, but he did it in six more close games than any other player. If you break it down by game, Jackson still has the upper hand, but it’s not by much. Jackson contributed to the team’s success by setting up further assists. He was able to get to the free throw line more often, which is especially important as the game winds down because it negates the effect of the opposition’s harder late-game defense. Jackson may have a strong case for this honor depending on how you define “clutch.”
On the other hand, Curry was far more productive. His effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage were both roughly six points higher. Even though Curry’s jumper in Oklahoma City wasn’t a buzzer-beater per se, Jackson doesn’t have a single moment that compares to Curry’s. Even though the race was tight, the MVP still wins out in the end.
Marc Gasol : 2014-2015
When compared to previous clutch seasons, this one was definitely the weakest. Harden led the league with a mediocre 138 clutch points, while only four players scored at least half of Russell Westbrook’s 247 in that category in 2017. Throughout the whole season, only two games were decided by last-second shots: LeBron James’ and Paul Pierce’s.
These three main scorers are boring for various reasons. Harden has the highest odds of winning the award, yet he has a negative clutch point differential despite his 25-16 record in critical situations. Two victories short of Harden’s record, LaMarcus Aldridge was more productive and played on the same team as the reigning champion (who we’ll get to in a bit). In addition to playing on the same team as Dirk Nowitzki, another contender for regular-season clutch GOAT, Monta Ellis loses in every category except record. In the three years after Steve Nash’s departure, Nowitzki’s Mavericks won 75% of their crucial games, an absurdly high percentage (94-31).
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So, let’s try something different. While Marc Gasol only scored 105 points in the clutch, he led the NBA in clutch victories and finished fourth in clutch assists (30). Pau Gasol, his brother, came in second and scored 28 points, just seven of which came down the stretch. Even though neither Gasol is the prototypical late-game ballhandler, their teams came through when it mattered most. The younger Gasol seals the deal with a stellar defensive performance; he was named Defensive Player of the Year just two years ago.
Kobe Bryant : 2012-2013
To be honest, I don’t have many standards when it comes to award voting, but if someone else ever ties the game by making two free throws on one leg after ripping their Achilles in a game his team must win to make the playoffs, that player will get my vote for clutch performance.
Although Kobe’s 22-20 clutch record wasn’t very impressive, Bryant led the NBA with 156 clutch points. The Lakers’ postseason berth was primarily due to Bryant’s efforts, and although it wasn’t the greatest clutch performance of his storied career, it surely helps his already impressive CV.