Whether or not someone is “clutch” or has the said “clutch gene” which may or may not actually exist in terms of actual psychology (although Robert Horry and Eli Manning would like to sway you otherwise) has been one of the biggest topics in the NBA, specifically as a star-driven league where one player can have a massive effect on the outcome of a game for decades.
The argument has seemed to center around LeBron James in the past decade or so. Everyone’s arguments seem to be that he is the most over-analyzed, divisive (why is beyond me) and under the microscope of all time.
Barbershops, school yards and offices around the country and world debate how “clutch” a certain NBA player is as compared to his counterparts.
So according to the data, who is the most “clutch” player in the NBA this season? The answer….Paul George.
According to data from NBA.com and Sports VU that was gathered by Indiana Pacers FanSided Ben Gibson, Paul George is leading the NBA in field goal and three-point field goal percentage in the final five minutes of a game with the score within five points. He is shooting 56.3% percent from the field and 47.6% from three-point range.
George is also shooting 100% from the free throw line in these situations or 12-for-12.
Here is a tweet of George’s shot chart in these situations this season:
Paul George — FGA for Ahead or Behind 5 Point Diff or Less Last 5 Minutes during the 2016-17 Regular Season. pic.twitter.com/VaA1dPcyyi
— 8 Points, 9 Seconds (@8pts9secs) January 4, 2017
Because of this the Pacers have won 57.9% of their games that have been decided by five points or less this season.
With this empirical data there is a very compelling and legitimate case that Paul George is the most “clutch” player in the NBA right now. Without really being able to break down team winning percentages in close games with defensive ratings, leadership abilities and a lot of other factors, Paul George is the easy answer as to who has been the most clutch player this season.
The fact that he is at the top of this list at the moment is even more proof that the ability to be clutch is something that isn’t necessarily always a trait or something to be relied upon as gospel when discussing a player. This chart shows where Paul George ranked on this list with a data sample taken a few months before the 2016-17 season.
RSoD – Players w/ at least 65 FGA in last minute of 4th or OT w/ score within 3 over last 5 years, sorted by eFG%. pic.twitter.com/MqStGuLg1y
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) September 12, 2016
The answer is dead last…
This perfectly describes the impossibility of truly labeling any superstar player “clutch.” Any star with the ball in his hands and the sample size to take that many pressure packed shots over a long period is going to regress to the mean and fall within a certain range of shooting percentages. Interestingly enough, these percentages trend below their typical shooting percentages. We can assume this is not only because of the pressure of the moment, but with the intensity of the moment and the difficulty of the shots with tighter defense and very few open looks for these stars as the focus of the opposing defense in these situations.
Either way for the first half of 2016-17, Paul George is your most “clutch” superstar.