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John Schuhmann

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Come playoff time, the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki often emerges as one of the NBA's most-clutch players.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Measuring clutch-ness takes on new definition in playoffs


Posted Nov 12 2009 11:45AM

Last week's analysis of who's clutch and who's not drew a lot of feedback. Many of you thought it absurd to consider anyone other than Kobe Bryant to be the most clutch player in the NBA.

I understand where you're coming from. It's hard to accept that Corey Maggette is more clutch than Bryant, and maybe the problem is with using the word "clutch" and the parameters that we used: shots taken with less than five minutes to go in the game and with a scoring margin of five points or less.

It's hard to define a trip to the line with 4:50 to go in a late-March game between the Warriors and Kings as truly clutch. But the five-and-five numbers are ones that NBA teams use in their own statistical analysis. Ultimately, the point of this kind of analysis is for coaches and GMs (and now writers and fans) to be able to determine the likelihood of a certain event occurring on a single possession.

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There are other factors, but the question remains: "Which player is more likely to score if the ball is in their hands in a tight game down the stretch, Corey Maggette or Kobe Bryant?" Stats wise, the answer is Maggette.

The reasoning is simple: Maggette gets to the line more often than Bryant. And getting to the line lets you score more points per possession than when you shoot from the field.

Reader George sent an e-mail asking how Manu Ginobili had a higher true shooting percentage than Steve Nash, even though Nash shot better from the field, from 3-point range and from the line. Answer: Ginobili got to the line far more often.

Because the playoffs are another level of intensity in which to measure clutch, we asked StatsCube to give us those numbers for the last five postseasons.

Highest True Shooting Percentage in Clutch Situations, Last Five Postseasons
Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA FT% PTS TS%
Michael Finley 11 25 0.440 6 17 0.353 20 23 0.870 48 0.683
Pau Gasol 20 32 0.625 0 0 -- 17 27 0.630 57 0.649
Steve Nash 24 54 0.444 11 28 0.393 24 27 0.889 83 0.630
Chauncey Billups 21 62 0.339 9 29 0.310 66 71 0.930 117 0.627
Kobe Bryant 38 84 0.452 4 15 0.267 47 55 0.855 127 0.587
Dirk Nowitzki 20 56 0.357 5 15 0.333 46 50 0.920 91 0.583
LeBron James 50 108 0.463 9 29 0.310 56 76 0.737 165 0.583
Ben Gordon 19 41 0.463 5 10 0.500 12 15 0.800 55 0.578
Lamar Odom 17 35 0.486 1 6 0.167 12 13 0.923 47 0.577
Jerry Stackhouse 14 30 0.467 2 10 0.200 15 21 0.714 45 0.573
Minimum 25 FGA
TS% = True Shooting Percentage = PTS/ (2*(FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

That list is probably closer to what you'd expect to see when you talk about clutch players. With a minimum of 25 shots, only 29 players qualify. Still, it's odd to see good players near the bottom of the list.

For instance: Dwyane Wade, who carried the Heat to a title in 2006, is No. 22 in this category.

In postseason clutch situations in the last five years, Wade shot just 34.9 percent from the field, 1-for-7 from 3-point range and didn't get to the line nearly as much as you might think (the top seven above all got to the line more frequently). So his TS% is just 0.473.

"Ultra-Clutch" situations

Just for kicks, StatsCube ran numbers for situations with less than one minute to go and a scoring margin of three points or less. When we got a bunch of point guards at the top of the list we realized that intentional fouls at the end of games were skewing the stats. We eliminated situations where the player's team was ahead, leaving us with a tie game or a deficit of three points or less in the final minute.

Let's call those "Ultra-Clutch" situations.

And for this query, we used both the regular season and playoffs.

Highest True Shooting Percentage in "Ultra-Clutch" Situations, Last Five Seasons
Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA FT% PTS TS%
Caron Butler 17 34 0.500 3 8 0.375 10 12 0.833 47 0.598
Mo Williams 13 35 0.371 7 16 0.438 16 18 0.889 49 0.571
Kevin Durant 14 32 0.438 7 12 0.583 3 3 1.000 38 0.570
Tim Duncan 27 53 0.509 1 5 0.200 13 17 0.765 68 0.562
Rudy Gay 16 35 0.457 5 13 0.385 4 5 0.800 41 0.551
Dirk Nowitzki 28 67 0.418 4 17 0.235 29 32 0.906 89 0.549
Rashard Lewis 16 43 0.372 7 16 0.438 17 20 0.850 56 0.541
Gilbert Arenas 22 64 0.344 5 19 0.263 42 46 0.913 91 0.540
Steve Nash 23 59 0.390 12 34 0.353 9 9 1.000 67 0.532
Brandon Roy 20 48 0.417 5 10 0.500 12 13 0.923 57 0.531
Minimum 30 FGA, Includes postseason

Again, we have a list that's easier on the brain than one that includes Maggette, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver. But of course, it doesn't include our fab four of Anthony, Bryant, James and Wade. LeBron is actually just one spot behind Roy at No. 11, 'Melo is at No. 17, Kobe is at No. 31 and of the 60 players that qualified, D-Wade was No. 53.

True Shooting Percentage in Ultra-Clutch Situations, Last Five Seasons
Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA FT% PTS TS%
LeBron James 40 95 0.421 5 27 0.185 44 62 0.710 129 0.527
Carmelo Anthony 21 49 0.429 4 12 0.333 11 15 0.733 57 0.513
Kobe Bryant 32 102 0.314 11 42 0.262 46 54 0.852 121 0.481
Dwyane Wade 22 89 0.247 5 26 0.192 28 35 0.800 77 0.369
Includes postseason
Ask StatsCube

"The Celtics always seem to do their best in the third quarter, what is it that they do more of in that quarter?" -- Aaron Mason

So far this season, the Celtics have been best in the fourth quarter (which has included a lot of garbage time), with their offensive efficiency increasing as the game goes on. They've actually struggled (relatively speaking) early on.

Celtics Efficiency by Quarter, 2009-10
Quarter Off. Rat. Def. Rat. Diff.
First 94.1 88.3 5.8
Second 108.7 85.4 23.3
Third 114.5 91.8 22.7
Fourth 117.5 97.1 20.5
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Interestingly, over the last three seasons (or since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived), it's been the first quarter that has been the Celtics' best. Not surprisingly, the defense has been the difference.

Celtics' Efficiency by Quarter, 2007-08 through 2009-10
Quarter Off. Rat. Def. Rat. Diff.
First 107.5 95.3 12.2
Second 107.4 95.5 11.8
Third 109.4 97.5 11.9
Fourth 106.8 101.2 5.6
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

That seems to make sense. The first quarter is when the Boston starters were likely on the floor for the longest time.

There are a couple of interesting studies when you look at quarter-by-quarter numbers from last season. The first is the Hawks, who were terrible in the first quarter (especially offensively), but got dramatically better as the game went on.

Hawks Efficiency by Quarter, 2008-09
Quarter Off. Rtg. Def. Rtg. Diff.
First 99.3 106.3 -7.0
Second 104.5 102.5 2.0
Third 109.1 105.1 3.9
Fourth 114.3 104.7 9.5
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Did the Hawks tend to come out with little energy and get more into the game as it went on? Is Mike Woodson great at in-game adjustments? That may be something to take a look at further down the line.

The other fascinating quarter-by-quarter breakdown from last season was that of the Hornets, who were very good in every quarter but the second. And in the second, they were awful.

Hornets Efficiency by Quarter, 2008-09
Quarter Off. Rat. Def. Rat. Diff.
First 106.6 101.1 5.6
Second 98.2 105.8 -7.7
Third 108.0 101.7 6.3
Fourth 112.0 107.5 4.5
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Chalk that up to how important Chris Paul is and how they don't have anything close to a suitable backup.

This season, the Hornets are performing poorly in every quarter.

Bricks for Bobcats

"Which team shot the lowest field-goal percentage and still won?" -- Aaron Wohl

The Bobcats hold the honor so far this season, and though less than 10 percent of the season is complete, it's hard to imagine anyone will get any lower. Charlotte shot a miserable 32.4 percent in their Nov. 2 win over the Nets. I watched some of that game and couldn't sleep that night, thinking about how ugly it was.

Going back to 1991-92, the lowest shooting percentage by a winning team was 27.7 percent by the Mavericks in their 94-89 win in Vancouver on Nov. 13, 1995. The Grizzlies shot 41.8 percent in that game, but Dallas beat them by getting to the line 38 times.

Jason Kidd led the Mavs with 25 points in that game, while the other two Js (Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson) combined to shoot 9-for-38.

The other 20-20

Steve Nash scored 21 points and dished out 20 assists in the Suns' win in Philadelphia on Monday. It was the second 20-20 game of his career. He first did it on Jan. 2, 2006, in a triple-overtime loss in New York, scoring 28 points and dropping 22 dimes.

The only other active players with 20-point, 20-assist games are Jason Kidd and Ramon Sessions, who each have one. Kidd's (20 and 25) was in a double-overtime game in 1996, while Sessions' (20 and 24) was in just the 16th game of his career, in April of 2008.

Chris Paul came one point shy of a 20-20 game on Nov. 6, 2007, when he scored 19 points and dished out 21 assists in a win over the Lakers in L.A. He has also come two assists shy on three different occasions.

Since 2004-05 (five seasons plus), there have 86 20-20 games with points and rebounds (Dwight Howard has 24 of them), but just three with points and assists.

The Other Agent Zero In Wednesday's win over the Bobcats, Ben Wallace played 30:35, but didn't score a point. It was the 14th time in his career that he's played at least 30 minutes without scoring a point, but the first time he did it without even attempting a shot.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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