It’s almost September. That means we’ll get our first NBA action next month with the preseason slate beginning on the 30th. Training camps will be opening, media days will take place and before we know it, we’ll be tipping off the 2019-20 season on Oct. 22.
It feels like opening night is within arm’s reach, right?
Not quite. It’s still August.
And so, as the doldrums of the NBA offseason continue, we’re looking back at the 10 best scorers in the fourth quarter — a moment not every player is built for — during the 2018-19 season.
To be clear, this isn’t an opinion piece. It’s a factual list — courtesy of our extensive stats site — with some additional context. The ranking consists of players who averaged the most points in the fourth quarter (minimum 41 games played, half the NBA season).
1. LeBron James, 8.6 points
Being a dominant scorer over the course of a game — an average of 27.4 points — in season No. 16 is one thing. Maintaining that pace throughout the game’s most important frame is another. LeBron’s been a consistent force in the fourth quarter, ranking top 10 in points per game during each of the last seven seasons. His late-game numbers alone should dispel beliefs that he’s slowed down or is coming off a mediocre (for him) campaign.
2. James Harden, 8.3 points
Harden’s historic season, which he described as “one for the books,” included a career-high in fourth-quarter scoring. Harden unleashes every skill in his distinctive arsenal late in games, with his best fourth-quarter performance last season coming against the eventual 2019 champs. The 2018 Kia MVP also led the NBA in points scored during clutch time, the last five minutes (and overtime minutes) of games within five points.
3. Kemba Walker, 8.0 points
Walker earned the first All-NBA nod of his career last season, and his end-of-game performances helped achieve that. He shot 41.7 percent from the perimeter in the final period — a 6.1 percent uptick from his season average beyond the arc. From Isaiah Thomas to Kyrie Irving to now Walker, the members of Boston’s point guard carousel have continued to have one thing in common: a propensity to deliver late.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 7.7 points
Much to Kemba’s dismay, the reigning Kia MVP also carried his team late in games, including the fourth quarter of a Jan. 26 outing in which he outscored the entire Hornets roster. Giannis has showcased steady improvement in the late frame, raising his average from 5.5 points in 2016-17 to 6.8 points in 2017-18 and now 7.7 points in 2018-19.
5. Lou Williams, 7.6 points
The cold-blooded sixth-man, who finished at the top of this list in 2017-18, knows when to put on a show. It’s something about the final 12 minutes that seems to increase Williams’ ability to pulverize defenses. The fourth quarter was his highest scoring period last season, and by a considerably large margin (3.2 ppg in first quarter, 5.1 ppg. in second, 4.3 in third). With Williams’ immense contributions, the LA Clippers averaged the most fourth-quarter points per game (28.8) since the Denver Nuggets in the 1990-91 season (30.2), per Elias Sports Bureau.
6. Paul George, 7.1 points
The Clippers added another upper-class closer to its rotation this summer. Fifth in total fourth-quarter points last season, George wore down defenses and scored at will when it mattered most. His timely baskets — just one element of his MVP-caliber season — were scored with remarkable 43.5/40.0/88.7 shooting splits. And for what it’s worth: The Clippers also just added the No. 1 fourth-quarter scorer of last season’s playoff run. Those final 12 minutes might feel like hours for LA’s opponents.
T-7. Devin Booker, 6.8 points
Booker, 22, is no doubt as fearless as they come, and while he’s virtually the only true scorer on his team, many young players shy away from these moments. Or simply can’t deliver. The Suns’ sharpshooter has averaged at least six points in the fourth quarter throughout the last three seasons, well above average. Maybe teams will throw more late-game double teams at him in 2019-20?
T-7. Anthony Davis, 6.8 points
Davis’ season of drama certainly overshadowed any of his on-court production. He only played in 42 fourth quarters, but averaged 6.8 points in those periods for the second consecutive season. The six-time All-Star simply knows how to create looks for himself down the stretch. Couple his late-game services with LeBron’s closing capabilities, and the Lakers have some key qualities needed to win tight games in the West.
T-7. Donovan Mitchell, 6.8 points
In the first two seasons of Mitchell’s nascent career, he’s finished top-10 in this category. The poised guard shoulders a massive offensive load in Utah and carries that burden into the final period. He has 39 career games with at least 10 points in the fourth quarter alone. For context, LeBron posted 33 double-digit, fourth-quarter performances throughout his first two NBA seasons. Kobe did it 13 times, and Harden 11.
10. Bradley Beal, 6.7 points
Beal authored the highest-scoring season of his career with backcourt mate John Wall sidelined. Wall’s injury also meant Beal would become the chief option for buckets in the fourth quarter. He answered the call, shooting at a healthy clip of 51.6 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from 3-point range in the last 12 minutes of games. Narrow it down to the last two minutes when the game is within five points and his efficiency is — impressively — just as productive (51.0, 38.1).