Even effective clutch is overrated

Over at Liberty Ballers, Jordan Sams compiled several tables of data on “clutch” shooting using Basketball Reference’s handy shot finder. Using various different parameters, Sams compared various players with regards to field goal percentage (FG%), three-point percentage (3P%), and the percentage of shots that were assisted. But it was missing something important (and easy to calculate) that Basketball Reference includes in its search results: effective field goal percentage (eFG%).

Effective field goal percentage — also known as adjusted field goal percentage (AdjFG%) — is a field goal percentage that takes into consideration the extra value associated with three-point shots. You can calculate eFG% using the following formula:

eFG%: (field goals made + 0.5*three-pointers made)/field goal attempts

Think of it this way: player A goes 3-6 on two-point shots, scores 6 points, and has a FG% of 50%. But player B goes 2-6 on three point shots, scores 6 points, and has a FG% of 33%. Why the disparity? Both players attempted the same number of shots and scored the same number of points. But eFG% fixes all that:

Player A: (field goals made + 0.5*three-pointers made)/field goal attempts

= (3 + 0)/6
= 0.500

Player B: (field goals made + 0.5*three-pointers made)/field goal attempts

= (2 + 0.5*2)/6
= 0.500

Adding eFG% to Sams’ tables improves our ability to interpret the data he has compiled — and it should change some of the narratives that you take away from the tables. For example, take Sams’ second table (with eFG% added):

Player FG FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% Ast’d %Ast’d Best Worst eFG%
LeBron 333 714 0.466 74 231 0.320 79 0.237 55% 42% 0.518
Vince 185 420 0.440 42 117 0.359 72 0.389 50% 38% 0.490
R.Allen 151 391 0.386 78 215 0.363 105 0.695 44% 34% 0.486
Roy 166 371 0.447 24 71 0.338 26 0.157 48% 36% 0.480
Dirk 235 541 0.434 34 107 0.318 107 0.455 48% 40% 0.466
CP3 187 430 0.435 23 73 0.315 22 0.118 50% 37% 0.462
Melo 193 447 0.432 23 72 0.319 84 0.435 52% 42% 0.457
Kobe 317 769 0.412 58 185 0.314 69 0.218 46% 39% 0.450
Durant 191 479 0.399 40 123 0.325 103 0.539 47% 35% 0.441
JJ 174 449 0.388 40 114 0.351 47 0.270 46% 32% 0.432
Iggy 158 394 0.401 24 112 0.214 28 0.177 48% 31% 0.431
Wade 205 507 0.404 27 101 0.267 34 0.166 47% 32% 0.431
Pierce 167 430 0.388 32 97 0.33 60 0.359 44% 21% 0.426
Rose 168 401 0.419 4 31 0.129 23 0.137 44% 40% 0.424
Russ 150 403 0.372 13 56 0.232 23 0.153 42% 30% 0.388
Avg. 199 476 0.415 36 114 0.3 59 0.300 47% 35% 0.456

And here are Sams’ comments regarding this table:

When we look at eFG%, some of these observations change. Kobe (45%) remains slightly below average (45.6%), LeBron (51.8%) still has the best percentage, and Russell Westbrook (38.8%) still has the worst percentage. But the comment about Andre Iguodala is no longer true. When we take into consideration the extra value of three-point shots, Ray Allen (48.6%), Kevin Durant (44.1%), and Joe Johnson (43.2%) are all better shooters than Iguodala (43.1%). Most noticeably, Ray Allen moves up from 14th (in FG%) to third (in eFG%) due to his three-point shooting, which is quite a lot.

Instead of copying all of the other tables and posting them in this space with eFG% added in, I’m going to quote Sams’ final observations, and note what changes when we make use of eFG% instead of FG%:

  • The extreme volatility of the average ‘Best season’ and ‘Worst season’ of the players suggest “clutchness” can vary from year-to-year.
  • LeBron ranked ahead of Kobe in 7 of the 8 samples, including all three playoff samples.
  • Indeed, Brandon Roy could cook.
  • LeBron is obviously in a major clutch slump right now, but it happens to every player, because the sample sizes are so small every year. The statistics indicate he will bounce back at some point.
  • If being the “best closer” means “converting shots at a fairly average rate in any and all ‘clutch’ situations since 2000″, Kobe Bryant is clearly the best.
My response:
  • “Clutchness” does indeed vary year-to-year. This is because “clutch” situations make up only a tiny fraction of a player’s time on the court, and crazy things can happen with small sample sizes.
  • When we look at eFG%, LeBron was ahead of Kobe in five of the samples, not seven, although he was still ahead of Kobe in all three playoff samples.
  • Brandon Roy does very well in these tables, but Ray Allen‘s excellent three-point shooting bumps him down a spot in tables two, four, and five. Vince Carter also moves ahead of Roy in the second table.
  • Despite the use of the word “obviously”, LeBron may or may not be in a “clutch slump”; such an assertion would require different data than this. But certainly it can be said that LeBron is a very good player and an efficient shooter, and that small sample sizes can lead us to draw faulty conclusions.
  • Generally, it’s true that Kobe Bryant is a shooter of average efficiency who simply takes a lot of shots to score his points. But when we look at tables four (45.7) and five (42.9), Kobe beats the average (38.7 and 36.4) significantly. So actually — and I hate to write this, because I know it will be misconstrued — Kobe has been significantly better in the clutch since 2006.

It should also be noted that something else is missing from these tables, and that is free-throw data. The addition of free-throw data would probably change how we view even these eFG% numbers, but alas, Basketball Reference does not have this ability as of yet.

Beyond these tables, there is plently more to be said about “clutch” situations. Like many stat-heads, I don’t think there is anything particularly special about the ending of a game. A player could be the most efficient shooter in the league in clutch situations and still be a terrible player, because clutch shots only make up about 4% of their total shots. Likewise, even if LeBron — who is by far the best player in the league this year — is terrible in crunch time, his outstanding play during the rest of the game would far outweigh any crunch time negatives.

- Devin

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