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John Schuhmann

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As Hornets well fans know, Chris Paul is always one to watch down the stretch of a close game.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Stats prove what Hornets know: Paul consistently clutch


Posted Jan 27 2011 9:59AM

In this NBA.com StatsCube study, StatsCube breaks down the numbers behind the Hornets' remarkable success in close games since they drafted Chris Paul. All statistics are through Tuesday, January 25.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were fresh off a Video buzzer-beating victory over the New York Knicks, their 12th win in 16 games decided by five points or less. The Thunder have had their issues this season, but thanks to big plays in big spots, they were tied for the third-best record in the West when they arrived at New Orleans Arena on Monday.

That's where they ran into another team that knows something about winning close games.

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Oklahoma City had the ball out of bounds with the score tied, the shot clock off and 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Jeff Green inbounded to Nick Collison, but when Collison tried to pass to Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul got tapped the ball away and got his third steal of the game. New Orleans got the ball back off a loose ball foul, inbounded the ball and, eventually, Video David West hit a fadeaway jumper with :00.5 left, lifting the New Orleans Hornets to another narrow victory.

It was an incredible ending to a great game, but it was nothing new for Paul and the Hornets. Since he was drafted in 2005, New Orleans is 80-44 in games decided by five points or less. The Dallas Mavericks (90-40) have been slightly better than the Hornets, but the Mavs' record in close games is in line with their overall winning percentage. The Hornets' is not.

Biggest difference, winning percentage in close games vs. other games, since 2005-06
Team W L Pct. Overall Pct. Diff.
New Orleans 80 44 .645 .546 +.099
Portland 78 57 .578 .489 +.089
New York 61 76 .445 .359 +.086
New Jersey 59 62 .488 .402 +.085
Sacramento 61 74 .452 .369 +.083
Milwaukee 70 74 .486 .420 +.066

The Hornets' unusual success in close games is a phenomenon that defies accepted statistical beliefs. A 45-win team should not become a 53-win team when a game is close, at least not year after year. (The Thunder, who are now 13-5 in close games after Wednesday's overtime win in Minnesota, were 13-15 in close games last season.)

But that's essentially what has happened with the Hornets over the course of Paul's career. For comparison, the Hornets were 196-214 (.478) overall and 60-76 (.441) in games decided by five points or less in the five seasons prior to Paul's arrival.

In general, the Hornets have been about average offensively and a little better than average defensively over the last 5 seasons. But late in one-possession games, they've been exceptional on both ends of the floor.

Hornets' efficiency, since 2005-06
Situation Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
Overall 104.4 104.0 +0.4
Clutch 115.9 97.4 +18.4
Off. Eff.: Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff.: Points allowed per 100 possessions
Clutch: Point differential of three points or less (one-possession game) in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Since Paul's rookie season, only the Spurs (95.7) have been better defensively than the Hornets in clutch situations and only the Mavs, Jazz, Suns and Cavs have been better offensively.

Paul deserves a lot of the credit for the Hornets' late-game success, of course. If the Hornets are winning, he's an MVP candidate. But he's even more valuable than usual when the game is on the line.

Overall, Paul has had a usage rate (percentage of the team's possessions that he uses) of 25.4 percent over the course of his career. But down the stretch of close games, his usage rate has been 32.3 percent. Plus, he's scored or assisted on more than half (192/352) of his team's field goals in one-possession situations in the final three minutes.

Paul's shooting percentages are down in critical possessions, but he's had a steadier hand, turning the ball over just 2.4 times per 48 minutes in such circumstances, as opposed to 3.3 per 48 overall. In fact, he's had more steals (25) than turnovers (22) in those crunch-time situations.

The Hornets clearly go as far as their leader takes them, especially when that leader has the ball in his hands more often than not. But New Orleans isn't just a better team in at the end of the fourth quarter. It's a better at the end of every quarter.

In Paul's career, and especially this season, the Hornets have been better in the final three minutes of quarters than they are during the opening nine.

Best teams, final 3 minutes of quarters (any score), since 2005-06
Team Off. Eff. Def. Eff. +/- per 48
San Antonio 107.2 100.8 +5.9
New Orleans 107.8 102.9 +4.5
Boston Celtics 106.4 101.9 +4.3
Utah 107.2 103.8 +4.3
Orlando 107.5 102.2 +4.1

This season, the Hornets are a +11.4 per 48 minutes in the final three minutes of quarters, second only to Orlando (+12.2). When the clock is low, they're at their best.

Paul's name rarely comes up in the clutch-shooter discussion. He doesn't have dozens of game-winning shots under his belt like Kobe Bryant. (Heck, do a YouTube search for "Chris Paul game winner" and the fifth result is a Bryant video.) But when players walk off the floor at the end of the night, what matters most is who won the game, and not necessarily how it was done.

When it comes to winning close games, the numbers prove that Chris Paul is clutch.

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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