Monday, July 10, 2017

NBA: Most Clutch NBA Players of the 2000's

Wade, Kobe, and Lebron are among the best to have played in
the NBA since the year 2000, but who is the most clutch to
have played over that time?  Is it one of them, or another player?
One of the hardest measurements in sports to pin down is what many refer to as the "clutch gene", which is probably why we talk about it all the time.  Go to any facebook group, you'll see discussion about who is the most clutch, who do you want with the ball in their hands if your favorite team is down 1?  What if they're down 2 and need a 3 to win?  How does that change the equation?

Well, I thought I'd take a look at the data, as opposed to the opinions.  We've all heard the opinions right?  The data however-at some levels-has some real surprises in there.  So I took to and started breaking it all down, using their "shot finder" tool there.  Here are the parameters that I used, to define a "clutch shot".  Yours may differ, feel free to let me know how they do, perhaps I'll run it a few other ways down the road.  Here were my parameters:

1) The shot was taken in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter or overtime.
2) The shot was to tie or lead the game.
3) The data contains shots taken in both the regular season AND the postseason

B/R's shot finder tool only searches back through the 2000 season, and you have to go year by year as far as I could tell.  I did so, compiling 17 years of last ten seconds shot data into one easy to understand chart, and then further broke those down, weeding out the irrelevant, grouping up the quick to cover, and pulling out the gems of random information you probably didn't know before but will feel smarter about knowing now (or at least I didn't and do, lol).  Here goes:

In total, between the 2000-2001 NBA season, and the 2016-2017 NBA season, 790 players took at least one shot that qualified as "clutch" under my definition (see above).  Of those players, 277 did not make a field goal that matched my definition of "clutch".

Can't make the game winner
Of those 790 players, 277 did not make a field goal that matched my definition of "clutch", the most attempts taken by any one of those players were taken by Bob Sura.  Sura's career started prior to 2000, so we don't have all the data available, but over the course of the final 7 seasons of his career it seems he took 11 shots in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter or overtime to tie or win the game, but didn't manage to make a single one!  8 of those shots were three point attempts, and the 11 shots took place over the course of 9 games (multiple attempts in the same game from time to time for some of these players), meaning basically that Bob Sura single-handedly lost 9 games for teams (split between the Warriors and Rockets) between 2000-2007.  Which is pretty amazing really.  What a legacy.  And that's with 5 years of losing games in clutch moments that we don't have the data on yet!

Active Players that CANNOT "Seal the Deal"
Several active players appeared high on the "'clutch attempts but no makes" list.  The "top" players were:
Jared Dudley, 9 attempts 0 makes.
Roy Hibbert, 8 attempts 0 makes.
Wilson Chandler, 7 attempts 0 makes.
Ish Smith, 7 attempts 0 makes.
Joel Embiid, 5 attempts 9 makes.
There are several interesting notes here of course:
Dudley is considered by most to be a long distance threat.  Clearly not in "clutch time" however.  I've never heard that highlighted however.
Hibbert just can't do anything right can he?
Embiid catches the eye.  With something like just 31 career games played thus far, it's amazing he's even had the opportunity to win the game on 5 occasions thus far.  Those 5 attempts came in 3 games, so it's 10% of his career games played that he's had the opportunity to seal the deal.  And unfortunately come up short every time.

Wants to be clutch
Who wants to take the clutch shot the most?  Over the past 17 years, one player stands out as having taken the most clutch shots, and it's not even close.  Kobe Bryant has put up 137 shots in the last 10 seconds of games for the tie or win since the beginning of the 2000-2001 season.  Now this doesn't cover his entire career obviously, as he was drafted prior to 2000.  However, those first four years Shaq would have been more "the guy" down the stretch-or even Horry-as Kobe was kind of up and coming, so I'm not sure the numbers would balloon too much if I were able to track them back that far.  I plan to look for ways to do just that in the future, as I'd love to see some of the 90's and 80's stars included in these measurements.
Behind Kobe, comes a list of mostly the exact names you'd expect.  Here they are real quick, followed by the number of clutch attempts they've taken.  For most of these guys, this chart WILL cover their entire careers, as it goes back 17 years.  For some, it won't.  I'll try to highlight those players.  Here are the rest of the top ten in clutch FGA from 2000-2017:
101 attempts Lebron James
99 attempts Paul Pierce
85 attempts Carmelo Anthony
84 attempts Vince Carter
79 attempts Kevin Durant
78 attempts Joe Johnson
77 attempts: (2 players) Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade
66 attempts: Russell Westbrook
When it really comes down to it, volume+percentage of success may be the best measurement of "clutch gene", and so to properly measure this we should pretty much take the biggest volume guys, and look at their shot percentage.  We'll do that given two scenarios: your team down by 1 and your team down by 2.  Or 2pt fg's vs 3pt fg's.

Volume Clutch Shooter Analysis
Team Down by One Point
If your team is down by one point, and you're choosing among the ten highest volume clutch shooters (Kobe, Lebron, Pierce, Melo, Vince, KD, Joe Johnson, Dirk, Wade, and Russ) over the 2000-2017 seasons, you're best served to give the ball to Dirk.  Over that period of time, Dirk has influenced 68 games at clutch time, taking 77 shots-28 three point attempts and 49 two point attempts.  Hitting 22 of those 49 two point attempts gives him the highest 2 point shot clutch percentage amongst the top ten volume clutch shooters, at 44.9%.  Behind him come Melo (38.6% on 22-57 shooting) and Kobe (35.1% on 26-74 shooting).  The last player from the top ten you want is going to surprise some people, as it's Kevin Durant.  He's taken 36 two point shots to tie or win the game in the final ten seconds of the 4th or OT, but he's made just NINE of those shots, giving him a pretty surprisingly low clutch 2 point shooting percentage of just 25%!  Along with him at 25% is-again a shocker-Paul Pierce, who went 15-60 in such scenarios.  In fact all 7 other volume clutch shooters shot under 30% from 2 point range at "clutch time" under my definition.  (Interestingly enough Dirk-who topped the high volume list from 2-comes in 32nd on this list.)

Team Down by 2
If you need a three to win the game, and you happen to have one of the ten highest volume clutch shooters on your roster, the guy you really want to give the ball to is Vince Carter.  Over the past 17 years (and he had three before that, so he could have a few more) he's hit 18 of 45 three pointers at clutch time to put his team on top or tie things up.  This is a rate of FORTY PERCENT!  That makes him easily the leader of the volume clutch time shooters, coming in 15% higher than the next player on the list; Joe Johnson, who shot 7-27 for 25.95%.  Coming in third would be Melo, shooting 7-28 for 25%.  Only one other player shot better than 20% at clutch time from three; Kevin Durant, 10-43 for 23.26%.  The rest came in under 20%, including Wade who shot a paltry 7.14%, making just 2 of 28 clutch three point attempts.

Including other players
The clutch moment isn't just about the best players though.  In some games, the ball can end up in just about anybody's hands, and everyone is expected to be able to do the right thing.  There are some that can't, and there are some that will surprise all of us.  Let me first explain my grouping real quick:
In speaking of the entire group in percentages, I'll include only those who had at least 5 clutch FGA's.  The average # of attempts among the 790 players was 10, I figured half the average was a fair measurement.  However, I also wanted to see the ranks at other levels, so I worked those up to.

Overall Field Goals
Min 5 FGA at Clutch Time
369 players qualified for percentage measurements of the group, having attempted at least 5 field goals at "clutch time" between 2000-2017.  Of those players, 21 belong to the "can't hit at clutch time" club, having hit 0 of their attempts.  Another 17 have hit at least 50% of their clutch attempts, 12 of those players are still active).  The top performer on the overall list would be one of the first big surprises of this analysis: Eddy Curry, shooting 5 for 6 in clutch moments.  Only one of those shots was a 3, but he made it.  Amir Johnson and David Lee round out the top three on the overall list, both having shot 4 for 6 in clutch moments, for a clutch shot percentage of 66.67%.

Min 10 FGA at Clutch Time
When I cranked the requirements up to 10 clutch FGA minimum, the numbers changed a bit as you'd expect.  Eddy Curry obviously fell off the list, having taken just 6 attempts, as did Amir and David, both having taken just 6.  So who moved into the top three spots?  Three players most fans probably know well; Udonis Haslem (6 of 11 for 54.55%), Marc Gasol (8 of 16 for an even 50%), and Al Horford (7 of 15 for 46.67%).  Just behind them comes in Anthony Davis, 6 for 13 for 46.15%), which gives us our top three active (Gasol-Horford-Davis).

Raising the bar
For the next level of measurement, I've tripled the average (10) to set the floor at 30 FGA at clutch time.  Using this parameter, Rudy Gay comes in as the best clutch shooter, going 20 for 55 for a 36.36%.  Coming in 2nd and 3rd are Dirk (27 of 77) and Ray Allen (22 of 63) at 35.06 and 34.92% respectively.  With Ray retired, Tony Parker would be the next active player to round out the top three active players with 25+ FGA at clutch time, going 13 of 38 for 34.21%.  At this point, you can see some of these guys are going to start sticking around through the final top ten (Dirk here).

I raised the minimum one final time before the top ten, setting the floor at 50 FGA at clutch time-or about 5 times the average.  Using this parameter-as I'm sure you can guess-we get the same initial top 3 of Gay, Dirk, and Ray (all had 50+ FGA).  However, filling out the active three we get one change, as Melo takes the place of Parker, who only has 38 attempts in clutch time.  Melo features a stat line of 39 for 85, for 34.12% at clutch time.  He and Dirk will both be in the top ten, seen above, with Dirk coming in on top in overall fg% at clutch time, as well as 2 point %.  Dirk comes in 5th of those top ten guys in 3 point % however, with a disappointing 17.86%, otherwise he'd be the clear lock for "most clutch player".  Even at 5th in 3 point % however, he makes a pretty compelling statistical case thus far, 

Overall List, Down by 1 point (Need a 2 point basket)
Okay, so I've broken down the overall FGA at clutch time, but what I want to do is find out who the best is on the overall list when you need 2, and who the best is when you need 3.  I'll give you the top 5 in both situations:
Of the 790 players on the list, 127 hadn't attempted a 2 point shot in clutch time, so they were taken out immediately.  That left 663 who had, with an average of 6.25 shot attempts per.  I used 6 as the requirement for shot percentage to count.  That left me with a list of 209 players who took at least 6 clutch shots from 2 point range between 2000-2017.  Of those 209 players, 6 were unable to hit any of their clutch time shots (Hibbert's name has already been mentioned, but I'll highlight Kevin Love as being on this list here, going 0 for 6 at clutch time).
Some players however, rise to the occasion.  The following players make up the top 5 active players who statistics over the past 17 seasons suggest you'd want most with the ball in their hands if your team was down 1 point and needed to win at clutch time:
Nene Hilario has made 5 of 7 two pointers at clutch time, for a 71.43 clutch shot %
Devin Booker and David Lee have made 4 of 6 two pointers, for a 66.67%
Pau Gasol has made 12 of 19 clutch shots from two point range, for a 63.16%
Kenneth Faried has made 5 of 8 shots at cluch time, for a 62.50 clutch shooting percentage.
Other active players in the top 20 of the past 17 seasons from 2 point range at clutch time include Brook Lopez, Al Horford, Jeff Green, and Jrue Holiday.

Overall List, you need a three
Of the 790 players on the list of clutch time shooters from 2000-2017, 194 have not taken a three pointer at clutch time.  This leaves 596 who have, with an average of just under six 3pt FGA per shooter.  Again, I'll use 6 3pt FGA as my requirement for the percentage list.  This eliminates an even 400 players who have taken less than 6 three point field goal attempts at clutch time from 2000-2017, leaving 196.  Thinking back to the top guys list, it's hard to believe many-if any-would top Vince Carter's clutch three point shooting percentage of 40%, however he comes in just 7th on the overall list, once the 6 FGA parameter has been input.  The six players he comes in behind: Chris Bosh, Moochie Norris, Avery Bradley, David Wesley, Allan Houston, and Steve Blake, obviously just two of which (Bradley and Bosh-arguably) are active.  Despite the fact that Avery has a higher 3pt percentage than Vince (4 of 8 for 50%) who comes in at 40% having gone 18 of 45, Vince may still make the better choice, given that he's had 5 times the experience taking those shots.  Tied with Vince on the list, is Ray Allen, having gone 14 for 35 over his career, putting him at an even 40% clutch three point shooting as well.

Well, one might look at these lists and conclude that with experience, comes clutch ability.  The guys that top these lists aren't the guys that just make it over the low bar in attempts, they're quite often the guys you think of when you think of reliability from range.  This list really ended up containing what you'd think of as the usual suspects for the most part, with some surprises thrown in from the 5-15 FGA range, but otherwise not really blowing anybody's hair back.  When applied to recent events, it does also kind of serve to highlight a few things:

A few things only people who read this piece are likely to know now:
*Bradley's value to the Celtics might have been understated, as he's clearly a guy they both go to in the clutch, and has success there.  Horford is another guy they have on their roster that can perform under pressure, and recent rumors have them pursing Marc Gasol, another name featured on this list.  If they were able to land him, they'd replace that clutch ability they lost when trading away Bradley, although almost nobody would see a "replacement" of Bradley in Gasol, after having read this piece, you will.
**Eddy Curry as a clutch winner...who'd have thunk it?  This may be the biggest surprise on the list, as he's routinely thought of as a contender for biggest draft bust ever.
***Embiid's number had to catch more eyes than just mine.  0-5 in clutch moments over 3 games in just 31 career games played is wild.  I mean, it's obviously not good-but it might not be all bad either.  OR it might be ALL BAD in caps.  It's really too early to say, but at the same time it's too high not to notice.  Keep an eye on him at the end of games, see if he gets nervous.
****Brook Lopez may end up being an underrated addition in the off-season.  As LAL tries to get better, like any team trying to make that "next step" they'll need to find a way to win close games.  Some teams can't do that, and it can be the difference between being a sub .500 team and being a playoff contender.  Lopez having gone 9-18 in the clutch over his career, could very well be the guy they come to depend on down the stretch, and help them turn things around in LA faster than many expect.

Thanks for reading.  After all this information, who do YOU think is the most clutch shooter in the NBA?

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