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Who is Clutch?

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Rob Mahoney at the NY Times is coming at us again with more wonderful numbers. This time, he teamed up with the stat guys at 82games to try to quantify who in the NBA is the most clutch.

What do we mean by clutch? Most of us might paraphrase the infamous quote by Justice Potter Stewart when we say, "I can't describe it, but I know it when I see it."

Mahoney and 82games define "clutch" thusly. It is a shot that comes during:

4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points

Identifying the N.B.A.'s Top Clutch Shooters

82games' sortable NBA player "clutch" stats

One of the most astute things Mahoney states is that:

Clutch play is often hopelessly tainted by perception bias. All it takes is one big shot to create a legend. Once a player establishes a reputation as a clutch scorer, it typically follows him to his grave, regardless of what that pesky legitimate evidence indicates.

Guess who comes out on top? It's gotta be Kobe, right?

Mahoney looks to Mr. Dirk Nowitzki first. His unique blend of size, strength, shooting accuracy, rebounding, and passing sends Dirk to the top of the list. Dirk is making a staggering 60% of his clutch field goals and 89% of his free throws. Dirk is surprising, but not fall-on-the-floor outrageous.

Up next though is another familiar but surprising entrant, Russell Westbrook. Aside from a shooting percentage that goes up as the game winds down, what impresses Mahoney the most (me too) is Westbrook's incredible 10.4 rebounds per 48 clutch minutes and a decrease in turnover rate. The numbers seem to back up what we see - when the game is on the line, Westbrook gets extra-focused. His performance in the triple OT win against the Nets earlier this year bears that out.

Here are the Thunder players that 82games included in the analysis:


all stats provided by 82games

So the question remains, who do you want shooting the ball in the clutch?