Clutch is overrated

Brace yourselves. You can now browse the last ten years of play by play data with ease at Basketball Reference. The first place many have looked was at the very ends of games to find out about clutch. Jeremy and I decided to retell an old story about clutch for the 2010-2011 season with the new data.

Clutch Players shoot more

There’s nothing surprising about this finding. With the game on the line the clutchest players want the ball and increase their shots per minute.

Clutch players shoot worse

Of course when crunch time hits our clutch players have a tendency to shoot worse from the field. In fact, only Monta Ellis and Carmelo Anthony saw an improvement in their effective field goal shooting.

It doesn’t matter

It turns out that players that like to shoot in the clutch also like to shoot during the rest of the game. It also turns out clutch time is a small portion of the game and it doesn’t happen every game. Add up all the clutch shots and it’s only around 4% of the total shots our top clutch shooters take.

Summing up

With an ability to look at clutch data closer it is very tempting to use it examine certain clutch players with a closer lens. And certainly it is also tempting to try and explain clutch time. Our players must be taking riskier shots at a quicker pace. Or maybe the defense really clamps down in clutch. In fact it’s pretty easy to believe that teams will change their strategy in clutch time and equally easy to believe they will not make optimal decisions.

What is important to do though is to temper this with how important it is. LeBron James was not clutch last season and neither was Dwyane Wade (whereas Carmelo Anthony and Monta Ellis were). That didn’t stop the Heat from winning lots of games and making it to the finals. We’re likely to overestimate the odds or importance of an event based on how easy it is to remember. Clutch shots are a great example of this. I’m not saying clutch shots aren’t fun, or memorable or even not important. I’m just saying perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to define players based on actions that make up less than 5% of their offensive plays.

-Jeremy and Dre

Clutch was defined as any shot taken with two minutes left in the fourth quarter or overtime with five points or less between the teams. The top ten “clutchest” players (Russell WestbrookKevin DurantDerrick RoseKobe BryantMonta EllisAndre IguodalaJason RichardsonLeBron JamesCarmelo Anthony and Tyreke Evans) were used and were defined as those that had the most shots in clutch time for the 2010-2011 season.

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